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.
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.
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.
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.
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.