Sep 16, 2019 Last Updated 6:31 AM, Nov 9, 2017

Taking Inventory of the Ethnic Pantry


Coconut, calamansi, & more Asian ingredients to consider for your next dessert inspiration.

What follows is an admittedly selective primer on Asian ingredients, some common, some not so:


Sweet-tart citrus fruits, common in Southeast Asia and the Philippines.



Whole pods, greenish or almost white outer skin; fragrant; pairs well with floral flavors such as rose, jasmine, geranium and orange blossom.


Whether fresh, shredded, dried, sweetened or toasted or in liquid form as coconut water or coconut milk, this ubiquitous tropical fruit (not technically a nut) blends well with other tropical flavors in dairy based and pastry based desserts.


Bracing, perceived as hot and spicy; fresh, dried, candied, in syrup; prominent flavoring note in chocolate desserts.

Thai jasmine rice uncooked

Instant Sizzling Rice

Ready to fry or pan sauté

(Find sizzling rice in the Sesame Panna Cotta with Cherry Cacao Nib Ice Cream recipe.)

Japanese Lime

Also known as Sudachi, small fragrant citrus fruit; its zest works well as an accenting flavor in a crème anglaise, ice cream base; its juice could work well anywhere where lemon, Meyer lemon, lime or grapefruit juice fits.

Jasmine Rice

Fragrant long grain rice; basis of Asian-accented puddings set off by tropical fruits.

Kaffir limes

Kaffir Lime Fruit

The rind is highly fragrant; the inside flesh and any juice are generally not used.

Kaffir Lime Leaf

Can be julienned or minced and then put into any liquid to infuse.


Korean Corn Tea (Oksusucha)

Naturally sweet, based on a special variety of corn whose kernels have been roasted.



Tiny citrus with sweet mellow skin and a sour interior; variants--mandarinquat and limequat, similar outside sweetness and tart acidic interior pulp and pith.

Lemon Grass

Widely available fresh, this mainstay of southeast Asian soups, sauces and stews; it lends a delicate citrus note to dairy based preparations, syrups and frozen desserts.

Miso Paste

Adds a salty edge to dairy-based preparations such as cheese cake, custard, caramel.

Pandan Plant

Pandan Leaf or Extract

Known as “the vanilla of southeast Asia,” available as frozen leaves or in extracts; its strong earthy “green” taste slightly reminiscent of vanilla works well to flavor mousses, custards, panna cottas.

Sesame Paste

Made from toasted sesame seeds, either white or black; potent roasted nutty flavor; may be used in pastry doughs, streusels, cooked sugar based confections and syrups such as brittle or nougatine.

Sesame Seeds, Black or White

Nutty when toasted; used in confections such as brittles, in cakes, as garnish.

Soba Flour

Nutty, fine textured; may be used in sablés, short doughs.

Soy Sauce

Used very effectively in caramel to balance sweetness; sweetened soy sauces such as the Indonesian kecap manis, also have a place in the sweet pantry.

Star Anise

A little goes a long way; outstandingly fragrant; pairs well with dark high percentage chocolate couvertures when infused in the cream for a ganache; may also perfume a caramel.

Sticky or Glutinous Rice

Sometimes called sweet rice; soaked and then cooked with coconut milk and a small amount of sugar, this can be the base of many desserts with tropical fruits, the simplest being a Thai classic which pairs the cooked rice with fresh, in-season mangoes.


Grown in many tropical areas of the world, its pods contain pulp which is bracingly tart; versatile as a flavoring in sorbets, ice creams; used in jams, confections; available as pods, concentrate and paste forms.


Teas from China, Japan and India

Ranging from greens (such as powdered Japanese matcha) to oolongs (fragrant and orchidy in aroma) to black teas, this is a category that can yield some hauntingly memorable flavors,; infuse good quality tea leaves in dairy (milk for crème anglaise, butter to flavor cakes, heavy cream for plating sauces, ice creams), flavor syrups with tea leaves and then sieve out leaves (for use in sorbets, as plating sauces, or as a moistener and flavoring element onto baked cakes).

Thai Tea Mix

Often flavored with star anise, crushed tamarind, cardamom and most commonly augmented with food coloring; the powder can be steeped in liquid dairy to yield a flavoring for frozen desserts including ice cream and milk ice as an element on a multi-component plated dessert.


Deep orange rhizome available fresh and in dried and powdered form; slightly bitter, earthy and hot peppery flavor; lends its startlingly bright yellow/orange color to custards, panna cotta; a little goes a long way here.

Yuzu Fruit (fresh) and Juice (bottled)

The darling of the pastry chef, this yellow or green citrus fruit is highly aromatic; used in Japanese savory cuisine but also finds a home in marmalades and jams and cakes.

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