10 Herbs/ Spices Every Singaporean Should Know

Herb and spices for cooking

In Singapore we have a wide variety of food choices available thanks to the diversity of our culture. Singapore cuisine is based on a medley of exotic spices and Asian herbs. But how many Singaporean can actually identify the herbs and spices which are commonly used in our favourite hawker food? 

Let’s find out! 

1. Curry Leaves

Curry Leaves
Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are commonly used in Malay/ Indian cuisines to cook curry dishes. Other than curry dishes, our Zi Char stalls has been using curry leaves extensively in their wok hei dishes such as Nestum Cereal Prawns, salted egg yolk dishes, butter pork chop and etc. Curry leaves are extremely aromatic especially when you fry it with butter and chilli padi! 

Do you also know that curry leaves has the following health benefits? 

  • Weight loss
  • It can help in treating dysentery, constipation and diarrhea
  • Relieves morning sickness and nausea
  • Eliminates bacteria
  • Good for diabetics
  • Good for eyesight
  • Reduce stress
  • Heals wounds, burns and skin eruptions

Next time remember to finish those curry leaves that comes with your dishes! 

2. Chinese Chives 

Chinese Chives

Many people often mistaken chives for spring onions or vice versa or assume they are the same plant. Spring onions has a hollow (straw-like) long green leaves with small whitish bulbs at the bottom whereas Chives are darker green in colour and has flat leaves. 

We usually see chives in our favourite hawker food – CHAR KWAY TEOW and HOKKIEN MEE! The chives gave off a strong garlicky flavour when cooked, which imparts a strong pungent flavour to your dish! 

And there is also a western version of chives where it is commonly used as a garnish, added to a dish just before serving. It adds flavour to cream-based dishes such as risotto, soups and stews or on eggs, sauces and dips. It is easy to identify the western chives to the Chinese chives as it is generally a lot shorter than Chinese chives (usually about 6-8cm long) and is usually thinner with hollow leaves. 

Chinese medicine also identify chives as a “warm” herb and is used in food diet therapy to treat cold limbs, male impotence and also help lower risk for prostate cancer. 

However, an excessive amount of chives, with a high concentration of powerful organic compounds, can cause stomach discomfort. 

3. Spring Onions 

Spring Onions
Spring Onions

Spring onion is an essential herb in our Asian-Chinese cuisine. It is often used to elevate the taste of the dish by adding it’s fragrant to it. More than often, it is also used as a food garnish. 

Spring onion, scallions or green onions they are different names for the same plant. It has a distinct pungent smell when added to dishes. In Singapore, we can’t go without spring onions in our fried carrot cake aka chay tow kuay, Chinese fried rice and for stuffing in the cavity of the chicken to prepare Hainanese chicken rice. 

Spring onions are an excellent source of vitamin C, K and calcium which help in improving the strength of immune system and protect us from infections. Spring onions contains carotenoids and Vitamin A, that help in keeping the eyes healthy and prevent loss of vision.

4. Coriander or Cilantro 

Coriander Leaves
Coriander Leaves

Many people are confused between Coriander and Cilantro. In fact, they are just different names used for the same plant.  In Asian countries, people usually refer to Coriander while in the U.S people generally refer to its Spanish name – Cilantro.  

And do you know that it is also called the Chinese parsley? It can be really confusing for people who doesn’t really cook often and might have difficulty looking for them at the supermarkets due to the many different names that comes with this herb. 

Coriander is often used in garnishing food to add colours to the dishes and it also helps to add flavours and aroma to dishes. The flavours are so distinct that you either love it or hate it. 

Consuming coriander has a lot of heath benefits that comes with it. 

  • Rich in antioxidants
  • Supports bone health
  • Contains cancer-fighting substances
  • Rich in nutrients that protect your eyes
  • Helps improve cardiovascular health

5. Lemongrass 

Lemon Grass
Lemon Grass

Lemongrass has a long thick and rough leaves texture and a thick white stem at the bottom. The white bottom stem is often bruised or pounded and added to curries, soup or stew for flavouring. 

Almost all spiced pastes in Asian cuisine call for lemongrass in their recipes. In Singapore cuisine, we often use lemongrass in our rempah paste to make Laksa, rendang and curry. We also add lemongrass to nasi lemak to give the rice that extra citrus aromatic flavour. 

Lemongrass is also known to help reduce inflammation, relieve headaches, and ease indigestion. It can also be made into a drink by adding lemon to make a glass of refreshing lemongrass lemonade. A glass of lemongrass tea not only helps to boost metabolism and burn fats. It also aids digestion after meal.

6. Laksa Leaves 

Laksa Leaves
Laksa Leaves

Do you know that the Laksa leaves which we known as is actually called Vietnamese coriander? 

Because in Singapore, we only find Vietnamese coriander in our Nonya Laksa, hence it was commonly called by the name “Laksa” leaves. In Penang, Laksa leaves are also used in Assam Laksa too. 

The appearance is often confused with curry leaves. Laksa leaves has a pointed leaf and is much longer as compared to curry leaf. It is extremely fragrant and it gives off a coriander-like citrus aroma. 

This herb is not just excellent in spicing up your food but it can also helps in digestive disorders, reducing diabetes and dandruff. 

7. Kaffir Lime Leaf

Kaffir Lime Leaf
Kaffir Lime Leaf

Kaffir lime leave has a strong and intense citrus fragrance are used in most Southeast Asian cuisines. Do you know kaffir lime leaf is used in making our Singapore rendang and otah otah? 

Kaffir lime leaf also has a lot of incredible health benefits that comes with it. It not only good for simulating digestive system, the antioxidants compounds found in kaffir lime leaf also helps to minimise the appearance of age marks, scars, and pimples. Kaffir lime leaf can also eliminate harmful bacteria in mouth and helps to improve oral health. 

8. Turmeric 

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Turmeric is a key ingredient used in Malay cooking. It is frequently used to add color and flavour curries and rice dishes. However avoid adding too much to your dish as it might gives off a bitter taste. Also avoid handing fresh turmeric with bare hands as it might stain your palms and you will have difficulties washing it off for days. 

Turmeric has many scientifically-proven health benefits such as lower blood sugar or blood pressure and it also supports immune health, helps relieve pain, and can aid in digestion. 

9. Galangal 

Fresh Galangal
Fresh Galangal

Galangal which is also known as blue ginger in Singapore, is commonly used in Asian cuisines. 

It is not surprising that most people haven’t heard of galangal before. It is also commonly mistaken for ginger. Galangal has a more flowery zingy taste as compared to ginger which is more subtle in taste and smell. Galangal taste is very unique and distinct that it cannot be replace with the normal ginger. 

It is usually used to make curry paste and rempah paste in our Singapore cuisines. It is also used in some Peranakan food such as Babi Pongteh, Kari Kapitan and Nonya Laksa. 

Galangal contains many anti-inflammatory properties and is beneficial in treating arthritis and rheumatoid arthritis and helps reduce inflammation and pain in abdomen and ulcers too

10. Pandan Leaf  

Pandan Leaves
Pandan leaves

Almost all Singaporean will know what is pandan as Pandan chiffon cake is one of our favourite local snack for an afternoon tea. 

Pandan leaf is also know as screwpine leaf and its fragrant leaves are often used to flavour both savoury and sweet dishes of Southeast Asian cuisines. 

Pandan leaves are long, thin, narrow and sharp and is usually tied into a knot and added to flavour our favourite hawker dishes such as Nasi Lemak and Chicken rice! 

Do you also know pandan leaf comes with health benefits too? 

It can helps to:

  • Lower high blood pressure and hypertension 
  • Helps with sensitive skin
  • Prevent Hair Loss
  • Treat anxiety and reduce stress 
  • Increases Appetite 

Of course, it doesn’t mean binge eating on Pandan Cake from Bengawan Solo! Most of the bakeries out there are using artificial pandan essence or flavouring instead of the freshly grinned juice extract from the actual plant. 

Hope the above information helps you to identify your herb/ plant or spice better! So the next time when you go on a grocery run, you won’t grab the wrong ingredients and get nagged by your wife, gf, bf, husband or parents! 


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Trish yee

Trish yee

I was a runner up in Singapore's Masterchef Competition Season 2. Cooking has been a passion of mine since I was young. I would always follow my grandma to the wet markets to buy groceries and watch her whip up amazing dishes. Always inspired by my grandma, I look to continue her journey in the culinary world.
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