Popularity of Thai cuisine driven by demand for authentic flavours and natural remedies

Thai consumers are moving away from aesthetic considerations to prioritise nutrition and rich taste, Mintel reported

Thai food is characterised by authentic, bold, and diverse flavours. Moreover, the appeal of Thai cuisine and herbs is expanding as more consumers prioritise natural remedies for holistic health, according to Mintel’s latest research on local Thai cuisines.

Pimwadee Aguilar, director of Mintel Thailand Reports, has noted a shift in consumer priorities towards nutritive value and rich taste over aesthetic factors. In addition, Mintel research has shown that 61% are willing to pay more for high nutritional content, and 52% appreciate the richness of Thai flavours. Authenticity is highly prized, particularly among women of all ages (50%) and men aged over 35 (51%).

“The incorporation of herbs is pivotal for enthusiasts of Thai authenticity, with a rich array of herbs and spices adding depth to traditional dishes,” said Aguilar.

For sauces, fermented fish sauce (Pla-ra) is loved in North East Thailand with 33% of consumers saying that “they like it a lot”. Similarly, Tai Pla sauce is a favourite not only among its originators in the South but also even in Bangkok, with 25 and 27% of consumers respectively sharing a high affinity for it. Meanwhile, there are untapped opportunities for brands in shrimp paste (also commonly known as “kapi”) among Thai consumers aged 45 and above who expressed a strong preference for this ingredient (70%).

“Brands face the challenge of delivering authentic flavours while introducing innovative twists to packaged foods. The inclusion of trending Thai sauces, such as fermented fish sauce, could attract younger demographics while embracing regional flavours offers avenues for differentiation,” continued Aguilar.

Thai consumers also exhibit a keen interest in sensory exploration, with 70% actively seeking out “new foods/flavours all or most of the time”. Spiciness is particularly favoured, with 91% of Gen Zs agreeing that “eating spicy food makes them happy.”

Local regional cuisines have become a hub for brands to find inspiration for new flavours in packaged foods. Street foods, which cater to those seeking quick and delicious meals on the go, have found their way to packaged foods.

There are also growing expectations from consumers for formulations that offer health benefits and naturalness. Mintel research suggests that instead of limiting certain choices, Thais seek additions to their food to make it healthier.

“Thai cuisine often incorporates fresh ingredients like herbs and spices, resulting in nutrient-rich and wholesome dishes. The use of vegetables, lean proteins, and aromatic herbs like lemongrass, ginger, and basil appeals to health-conscious individuals who prioritise nutritious and balanced meals,” said Aguilar.

Since the end of 2021, the Thai Ministry of Culture kicked off a campaign called “Thai Taste Therapy” to promote authentic Thai recipes with their health functionality claims.

“Brands can strengthen the association of Thai medicinal herbs with other functional health benefits beyond immunity as consumers are willing to pay more for a range of benefits,” she said.

Thai fusion cuisine presents a promising avenue for innovation, with 42% of Thais expressing a preference for authentic regional Thai foods over their modern fusion counterparts. Innovation in snack foods is an avenue for brands to explore as 40% of Thais agree that snack foods such as potato chips that have Thai regional cuisine-inspired flavours are appealing.

According to Aguilar, brands leverage ethical sourcing practices to enhance authenticity and appeal to discerning consumers. Sauces and seasonings that simplify Thai cooking experiences at home are also poised for growth, with 57% of consumers expressing interest in such solutions.

“Emphasising authenticity, nutritive value and regional flavours can draw a premium, and the use of Thai herbs and regional sauces can broaden appeal,” Aguilar concluded.