Fruit Sauces, Cooking Spices, and Cooking Ingredients for Asian Food

Thanks to the rising popularity of Asian cooking, many of the once-exotic cooking spices, fruit and chili sauces, pastes and other ingredients are now readily available in your local supermarket. You can also find them in Asian markets that cater to a specific country or region. The variety of cooking sauces and ingredients in Asian cuisine is enormous, but the following short list is a must for a well-stocked Asian pantry.

TERM: Asian greens
DEFINITION: Includes bok choy, Chinese broccoli, Chinese long beans, Napa cabbage, edible pea pods and garlic chives.

TERM: Bamboo shoots
DEFINITION: Available fresh and canned as whole tips, young tips, sliced or diced. They all have a slightly sweet flavor but their textures differ. Young winter tips are the most tender.

TERM: Basil, Thai
DEFINITION: A purple basil with small oval leaves and a distinctive anise-like flavor

TERM: Bean curd (tofu)
DEFINITION: Made from soybeans and water, it comes in a variety of textures from silky and light to dense and springy. Used as a meat substitute.

TERM: Bean sprouts
DEFINITION: The most common are soybean and mung bean. Refrigerate and use within a day or two of purchase.

TERM: Bean thread noodles, dried
DEFINITION: Also known as cellophane noodles and bean threads, they're made from mung bean starch. Soak in plenty of warm water before using.

TERM: Black bean sauce
DEFINITION: Made from salted black beans and rice wine.

TERM: Candied Citrus Peel
DEFINITION: Scrape most of the pith from thin strips of orange, grapefruit, lemon and tangerine peel, then simmer in a simple syrup sauce till translucent to create sweet, jewel-light garnish for Asian desserts.

TERM: Char siu
DEFINITION: A thick Chinese barbecue sauce of soybeans, honey, vinegar, tomato paste, chilies, garlic and other spices. Used with grilled meats.

TERM: Chili sauces
DEFINITION: There are several styles and most can be used interchangeably. Fine Chinese chili sauce is made from ground chilies and is similar to Tabasco but slightly thicker. A coarser, thicker Chinese chili sauce made of crushed chilies often contains ginger and fermented black beans. Chili garlic sauce is regular ground chili with minced garlic. Sweet chili sauce is slightly transparent and contains garlic, sugar, vinegar and salt.

TERM: Chinese black vinegar
DEFINITION: A fermentation of rice, wheat and millet that is slightly less sweet than balsamic vinegar.

TERM: Chinese five-spice powder
DEFINITION: A flavorful light-brown powder of ground cinnamon, star anise, fennel, cloves, ginger, licorice, Sichuan peppercorns and dried tangerine peel that complements meats.

TERM: Cilantro (Chinese parsley)
DEFINITION: A delicate herb with a distinct refreshing flavor that is widely used in Southeast Asian cuisine.

TERM: Coriander seed
DEFINITION: The fragrant dried fruit of the cilantro plant has a slightly sweet flavor of caraway, lemon and sage.

TERM: Fish sauce
DEFINITION: Fermented fish extract is a critical flavoring throughout Southeast Asia and Southern China. Its distinct, sharp aroma (like soy sauce with fish) mellows with cooking and adds a slightly salty taste to foods.

TERM: Ginger
DEFINITION: Fresh, dried, pickled and candied ginger adds spicy bite and aroma to many Asian dishes.

TERM: Hoisin sauce
DEFINITION: A robust, spicy-sweet sauce of fermented soybeans, garlic, sugar, vinegar and spices that complements dishes such as mu shu and Peking duck.

TERM: Kung pao sauce
DEFINITION: Often used as a Sichuan stir-fry seasoning. A hot sauce of red chilies, sesame oil, soybeans, sweet potato, ginger, garlic and spices.

TERM: Lemons
DEFINITION: Essential for Lemon Chicken and a key ingredient in many other Chinese dishes. Grated lemon zest adds color, taste and texture to stir fries, soups and desserts. Use Sunkist® lemons for the freshest flavor.

TERM: Lemongrass
DEFINITION: An essential herb used widely in Thai and Southeast Asian cooking to add lemony flavor and aroma.

TERM: Mustard (dry)
DEFINITION: Mixed with liquid to make a pungent, spicy hot condiment for appetizers.

TERM: Oranges
DEFINITION: Fresh squeezed Sunkist® orange juice complements many Asian pork dishes and is a key ingredient in several marinades, glazes and sauces. Use orange slices, thin orange peel strips and orange zest for colorful, flavorful garnish.

TERM: Oyster sauce
DEFINITION: A thick, smoky-sweet, dark brown sauce from oyster extract, sugar, soy sauce and seasonings used for cooking and as a condiment.

TERM: Peppers
DEFINITION: A variety of sweet, hot, fresh and dried peppers are widely used in Asian cuisines

TERM: Plum sauce
DEFINITION: A sweet-tart fruit sauce of salted plums, apricots, yams, rice vinegar, chilies and spices often served with roast duck, barbecued meats and fried appetizers.

TERM: Pummelo
DEFINITION: Sometimes referred to as Chinese grapefruit, the pummelo is a popular gift, particularly during the lunar festival that concludes Chinese New Year celebrations because of its resemblance to the moon. Sunkist® pummelos can be substituted in any dish calling for grapefruit.

TERM: Rice vinegar
DEFINITION: Made from fermented rice, it's milder and sweeter than distilled white vinegar. Chinese styles are usually more sour than Japanese varieties.

TERM: Satay (Thai peanut sauce)
DEFINITION: A Thai sauce of ground peanuts, curry paste and seasonings for dipping and barbecuing.

TERM: Sesame oil
DEFINITION: Pressed from toasted white sesame seeds. Use in small amounts to add a nutty flavor accent to marinades, dressings and stir-fries.

TERM: Sesame seeds
DEFINITION: White seeds have a sweet, nutty flavor; black are a bit more bitter. Toasting intensifies their taste and aroma.

TERM: Shrimp paste
DEFINITION: A condiment and flavoring agent made from salted, cured small fish or shrimp fermented for several weeks.

TERM: Sichuan peppercorns
DEFINITION: Unrelated to black peppercorns, these intense dried rust-colored berries add a woodsy perfume and taste. Toasting enhances their fragrance.

TERM: Soy sauce
DEFINITION: The mother sauce of Asian cooking made from naturally fermented soybeans and wheat. Available in many styles of varying sweetness, thickness and saltiness.

TERM: Star anise
DEFINITION: An inedible pod that adds a distinctive licorice accent to sauces and stews.

TERM: Tangerine peel, dried
DEFINITION: Adds a mellow, citrusy flavor to sauces, soups and braised dishes.

TERM: Thai chili sauce (nam prik pao)
DEFINITION: A common ingredient in Thai cuisine, this thick sauce is made from roasted garlic and shallots, dried red chilies, dried shrimp, fish sauce, palm sugar and tamarind juice. It is different from other chili sauces and cannot be substituted for them.

TERM: Vegetable oil
DEFINITION: Corn oil, canola oil, safflower oil and peanut oil all work well for Asian cooking.

TERM: Water chestnuts
DEFINITION: Look for fresh specimens without wrinkles or bold. Peel the brownish black skin to get at the crispy flesh. Canned varieties aren't as sweet and must be drained and rinsed well.

TERM: Wood ear (black fungus/cloud ear)
DEFINITION: A bland-tasting edible tree fungus used to add crunchy texture to dishes. Dried varieties must be soaked before using.

TERM: Wrappers
DEFINITION: Paper-thin wrappers made from wheat flour, eggs and water. The flexible dough comes in a variety of shapes for wonton, pot stickers, egg roll, spring roll and lumpia. When deep-fried, they turn golden brown and crunchy.

Asian greens

Bamboo shoots

Basil, Thai

Bean curd (tofu)

Bean sprouts

Bean thread noodles, dried

Black bean sauce

Candied Citrus Peel

Char siu

Chili sauces

Chinese black vinegar

Chinese five-spice powder

Cilantro (Chinese parsley)

Coriander seed

Fish sauce


Hoisin sauce

Kung pao sauce



Mustard (dry)


Oyster sauce


Plum sauce


Rice vinegar

Satay (Thai peanut sauce)

Sesame oil

Sesame seeds

Shrimp paste

Sichuan peppercorns

Soy sauce

Star anise

Tangerine peel, dried

Thai chili sauce (nam prik pao)

Vegetable oil

Water chestnuts

Wood ear (black fungus/cloud ear)


Sauces and Spices by Sunkist