Welcome to our list of fourteen commonly used Cambodian herbs and roots.
The regional cuisines of Southeast Asia are shaped through the availability of fresh and easy-to-find ingredients. Many visitors to the region enjoy discovering the varying flavor combinations of our dishes.
We achieve unique flavor profiles mainly through the use of fresh pastes. In Cambodia, we have several different combinations allowing the creation of curries, our signature dish amok, and soups. Pastes, such as kroueng, are made by pounding together different blends of herbs, roots, and spices.
Hope you enjoy reading our list of popular herbs and roots in Cambodia. Make sure to check out our piece on commonly used spices too. And, leave us a comment in case we forgot to mention something!
14 Popular Herbs and Roots Used in Cambodian Cuisine
Rice Paddy Herb – M’am
Rice paddy herb is popular throughout the region. The plant has a sharp citrus flavor similar to the taste of fresh lemon zest. This herb thrives in hot, humid, and wet environments like rice paddies! It’s often finely chopped and added to soups and curries right before serving.
Asian Coriander – Chee Bonla
Coriander is often confused with cilantro as they come from the same plant but, they cannot be substituted for each other. Cilantro, the leaves of the plant, and coriander, the seeds of the plant, have completely different flavor profiles. Asian coriander has a delicate lemony flavor that pairs extremely well with cumin and is used in many local dishes. Coriander also has medical properties and has been used for centuries in traditional remedies. Most notably for stomach ailments.
Cilantro – Chee Van Suy
Cilantro has a sharp distinctive flavor with a peppery taste. It’s often added at the very end of cooking because heat causes the leaves to rapidly lose their flavor.
Saw Leaf – Chi Barang
Saw leaf is very similar to asian coriander and is even known as long coriander, thorny coriander, and wild coriander. It has long, thick green leaves with jagged edges, like a saw. Saw leaf’s flavor is comparable to cilantro but is much earthier. This popular Cambodian herb is also used in many other cuisines around the world.
Fishwort is a native Asian herb that has several medical properties. Locals have used this plant to kill bacteria and viruses, reduce fevers and inflammation, promote wellness of the eyes, and even stimulate bladder and bowel functions. The small heart-shaped white flower got its name from its signature fishy smell.
Kaffir Lime Leaves – Slirk Krote Sirk
Kaffir trees are a native citrus fruit tree in Southeast Asia. Both the fruit and the leaves are heavily used in Cambodian cuisine. The leaf allows chefs to infuse a fresh citrus flavor into soups and Cambodian cooking pastes.
Water Spinach – Traw Kuon
Water spinach is very popular in Cambodia and can be found in many dishes. You may have heard of it by the name morning glory. The herb grows in wet humid areas. We usually eat the leaves and shoots. This is great in stir fries.
Lemongrass – Kuel Skey
Lemongrass is widely used in Cambodia as a cooking herb. It has a fresh citrus flavour and is used either dried and powdered or fresh. The exterior stalk is too hard to eat but the soft inner stalk is edible. Lemongrass is often finely sliced and added into soups and curries. You’ll find it a bit everywhere from massage oils to fried fish. It’s one of the main ingredients in kroeung paste.
The leaves of the moringa plant are small and fragile. They can be eaten as is straight from the plant but are more commonly dried and ground into a fine green powder. They can also be bought fresh and boiled to make tea. The powder actually smells like green tea and is chock full of nutrients like vitamin C, calcium, potassium, and amino acids.
The noni plant is a source of antioxidants, Vitamin C, and potassium. Every part from the leaves to the roots, has been used to treat a variety of ailments and is know to have anti-inflammatory, anti-viral, and anti-bacterial properties. We use the leaves for healing teas and traditionally to wrap dishes like the signature fish amok.
Pandan Leaves – Slirk Toi
Pandan leaves are used in a variety of dishes and drinks. The leaves have an almondy, milky sweet, ad vanilla-like flavor. The pandan leaf is also used to wrap chicken and other meats before grilling. They infuse flavor into Southeast Asia’s favourite teas and desserts like sticky rice.
Jicama Root – Peh-Coc
Jicama is a root that grows underground like a potato. It has a thin brown skin covering the white insides that resemble a peeled raw potato. Raw jicama is sweet, juicy, and crisp making it a pretty tasty snacking vegetable. Its also popular in stir fries.
Thai Basil – Chi Krahom
Thai basil is a relative of other basils but has been cultivated to produce a distinctive taste. It’s native to the region and is used in many local dishes. This herb can be eaten raw or cooked. You’ll often eat it when eating Cambodian snack foods.
Taro Root – Trao
Taro is a starchy root native to Southeast Asia. It has white flesh dotted with purple covered by a brown outer skin. Taro root and leaves should never be consumed raw because it’s toxic to the body! Taro contains calcium oxalate which makes your mouth feel numb and can cause coughing and choking. When properly prepared, taro has a mildly sweet taste and a texture similar to potato. It’s a great source of fiber among other nutrients and offers a bunch of health benefits.
Hope you enjoyed reading about fourteen of Cambodia’s most popular herbs and roots.
Some of the herbs may be familiar to you and some may be a bit more exotic. We recommend trying them out in your cooking!
Let us know if we forgot your favorite Cambodian herb in the comments and we’ll add it to the list!