What Are the Different Types of Thai Desserts?

G. D. Palmer

Most Thai meals finish with fresh fruit, but may occasionally feature sweet desserts. Also consumed as between-meal snacks, Thai desserts rely heavily on rice and coconut, and often include pandan or jasmine as flavoring agents. Many have their ancestry in Portuguese food, such as dense cakes and egg yolk-based dishes. Desserts in Thailand are usually very sweet, but may also include savory elements unusual in Western cuisine.

White rice is a key ingredient in many Thai desserts.
White rice is a key ingredient in many Thai desserts.

Thai desserts may be composed only of fresh fruit, either plain or cut into decorative shapes. Some fruit desserts come with other elements, such as mango and glutinous rice, often served as Thai sticky rice in Western restaurants. More complex desserts take a few basic forms, such as sweet soups, custards or jellies, cakes, and fried dough. Candied egg yolk strands are an iconic Thai sweet made for special occasions.

Rose water is used to make some Thai desserts.
Rose water is used to make some Thai desserts.

Most Thai sweets include a base of white or black rice, which may be used whole or in the form of noodles, balls, or pancakes. Coconut appears either as shredded coconut meat or coconut milk, and acts as a base for most dessert soups and many puddings. Popular dessert flavorings include the pandan leaf, or screwpine, and floral extracts like rose water and jasmine. Bananas, jackfruit, and mango, as well as melons and pumpkin also appear in many dishes. Thai desserts also use mung bean noodles, sweet black or red beans, and sesame seeds.

Coconut is often used in Thai desserts.
Coconut is often used in Thai desserts.

Portuguese influence in the 16th century changed traditional Thai desserts. Prior to this period, Thai foods rarely included wheat flour, egg yolks, or refined sugar, now common in many recipes. Some Thai sweets are versions of Portuguese ones, with thickened coconut milk substituted for cow's milk and flavors adjusted to suit Thai preferences. Egg tarts, egg yolk threads, and coconut palm cakes all belong to this group of Portuguese-influenced foods. When dairy milk does appear, it is usually evaporated or condensed. Sweet versions of Western-style bread are sometimes used for dessert sandwiches and toast.

Black rice is used as a base for many Thai desserts.
Black rice is used as a base for many Thai desserts.

Thai food tends to include very strong flavors, and desserts are no exception. Most sweet foods are very sweet, and provide contrast to the spicy flavors of the main meal. They may be consumed with tea, alcohol, or coffee. Thai desserts often feature savory ingredients uncommon in European or North American sweets, such as fresh or fried onions, sweet corn, and pork floss. Some desserts also include shrimp or fish in dried, chopped, or paste forms.

Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.
Pandan leaves are from a screwpine.
Thai desserts often contain jackfruit.
Thai desserts often contain jackfruit.
Mung beans, which are used in many Thai desserts.
Mung beans, which are used in many Thai desserts.

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Discussion Comments

burcinc

We were in Thailand last summer and one thing I noticed was that Thai desserts are very decorated and they actually hold certain meanings. They come in a variety of shapes such as flowers, petals, egg shapes and strings. And they are believed to hold different meanings and are eaten on specific occasions suitable for that. For example, there is a dessert for wealth, there is a dessert for success and health, etc. I think that's very interesting.

SarahGen

@donasmrs-- There are definitely many delicious and beautiful Thai desserts beyond sticky rice and mango. Like other Asian desserts, Thai desserts are also very nice in appearance and coconut milk, glutinous rice and gelatin are frequently used. Another ingredient that's often used is pandan. This is a green reed with a sweet flavor. It's called Bi Tua in Thai.

A very simple and delicious Thai dessert that can be made at home is pandan gelatin dessert topped with shredded coconut.

donasmrs

The only Thai dessert I've ever had is sticky rice and mango. I love it but I really don't know anything about Thai desserts beyond this. The thing with sticky rice and mango is that it's best when the mango is in season perfectly ripe. But many Thai restaurants in the US offer the dessert year around and I've ordered it when it was not mango season. Since much of the aroma and flavor comes from the mangoes, this dessert is not as good when it's the wrong time of the year.

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