Tom yum is a Thai dish that is prepared in the form of a soup. The main meat in it is usually shrimp, though chicken and pork may also be used.

Tom Yum

What is Tom Yum?

Tom yum is a Thai dish that is prepared in the form of a soup. The main meat in it is usually shrimp, though chicken and pork may also be used. The base is made from a mixture of traditional Thai ingredients such as kaffir lime leaves, galangal, fish sauce, chilies, and lemongrass. These ingredients are made into a paste known as the nam prik pao, which is also commercially sold.

  • The soup has a distinctive hot and sour flavor.
  • The name of the dish comes from the Thai words ‘tom’ and ‘yum’, which literally translates to boiling and spicy salad.

Some of the most famous Thai dishes are:

  • Pad Thai
  • Tom Yum Goong
  • Kaeng Lueang
  • Gaeng Daeng
  • Gaeng Keow Wan Gai
  • Khao Soi
  • Khao Pad
  • Pad Kra Pao Moo
  • Som Tam
  • Laab
  • Khao Niao Mamuang

Origin of Tom Yum

The exact origins of tom yum are unknown. However, there is some evidence that it may have originated in central Thailand. Freshwater shrimp was available in abundance, and was consumed boiled in water. This led to a fishy taste, which the Thai then decided to spice up by adding a variety of ingredients, leading to the creation of this popular Thai dish. The earliest written mention of a recipe for this dish is from the Tam Raa Gap Khao cookbook published in 1890 by Maawm Sohm Jeen. It has become so synonymous with the country’s culture and heritage that Thailand has submitted an application to include it in UNESCO’s intangible cultural heritage list. 


Nutritional profile for tom yum (1 serving):

The spices in the soup have properties that help in inhibiting tumors in the digestive tract. The presence of these herbs and spices provides antibacterial, antimicrobial, antiviral, and antioxidant benefits. In addition, regular consumption of tom yum can help in preventing diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, and cancers. 

Commercial production

This dish is very popular in Thailand and is found in almost every restaurant. In addition, it is regularly prepared at Thai homes. Tom yum may be prepared by using either fresh ingredients or prepackaged paste. 

The broth uses kaffir lime leaves, lime juice, fish sauce, galangal, crushed peppers, and lemongrass, which are ground together into a paste. Then, this is stir fried in a little oil. After that, the shrimps are shelled and stir fried in a little oil, then water is added. Once boiling, chicken stock is added for flavor and the cooked paste is added as well. Mushrooms may also be included in the soup at this stage. Finally, the soup is garnished with coriander leaves. 

Tom Yum Recipes

Thi is a dish that is pretty consistent in the broth and the spices. However, the meat and the vegetables inside can provide variations. Here are a few recipes to try:

FDA regulations

According to the FDA, canned shrimp is defined as the food consisting of the processed meat of peeled shrimp that is free from heads, shells, legs, and antennae. The main species of shrimp that may be commercially sold are Penaeidae, Pandalidae, Crangonidae, and Palaemonidae. The herbs present in the paste, making the base of the soup, are classified under the generally recognized as safe category. These include lemongrass, galangal, kaffir lime leaves, lime, onion, and peppers. 


Susan Waggoner, Tom Yum Soup: The Heart and Soul of Thailand, Fork + Plate, 

Sunisa Siripongvutikorn, Paiboon Thummaratwasik, Yao-wen Huang, Antimicrobial and antioxidation effects of Thai seasoning, Tom-Yum, 10th June 2004, LWT – Food Science and Technology,