What Does Pad Thai Taste Like?

Pad Thai is a dish that comes from Thailand. It is a prevalent noodle-based stir-fry dish in South East Asia and globally. As with most dishes, different variations have come up over the years, but the original characteristics and taste of Pad Thai remain the same. 

Pad Thai includes a unique blend of sweet-savory flavors. It has nutty undertones, and a distinct salty and umami taste from the fish sauce. The tamarind in the sauce adds a little sour taste but also a subtle sweetness. Pad Thai can also be spicy if chili oil or powder is added.

This flavorful dish was voted the 5th best dish in the world in 2017.

It is one of the most well-known dishes in Thai restaurants or street food, representing a lot of typical Thai cooking flavors and aromas. 

What Does Pad Thai Taste Like?

Pad Thai will taste slightly different depending on which vendor you buy from, but they should all adhere to the four flavor profile.

To enjoy authentic Pad Thai, you need to taste the harmony of all four flavors of sweet, sour, salty, and umami. Spicy is optional.


The first taste that hits your tongue should be sweet but not overwhelmingly sweet.

Original Pad Thai recipes use palm sugar. Palm sugar isn’t as sweet when compared to cane sugar.

Almost all Thai restaurants in the united states will use cane sugar as they are cheaper than palm sugar and are readily available at any grocery store.

Using palm sugar instead of cane sugar also imparts a nice distinct aromatic to the dish.


The second taste that hits your taste bud should be sour but not the sharp sourness that you get from a lime.

The sourness in Pad Thai comes from tamarind, which imparts a smoother taste and melds well with the sweetness from the palm sugar.

Salty & Umami

The last flavors you should be tasting are salty and umami coming from the fish sauce used in this dish.

Unlike salt, fish sauce provides more flavor than just being salty.

Look in the back any popular fish sauce bottle like 3 crabs brand for the ingredients you’ll find out it’s not just anchovies that are added.

Spicy (optional)

Pad Thai can be thoroughly enjoyed without the spicy components. Thai restaurants usually have powder chili available for those who want this dish to be a little spicy.

The Taste Of Pad Thai

The ingredients of a typical Pad Thai dish give a good idea of the flavor profile and aroma.

Rice noodles are used as the base, with onion, egg, bean sprouts, and roasted ground peanuts. 

Mixed with these ingredients is the sauce, and it’s generally served with lime to bring all the flavors together and add some acidity.

The secret of the taste of Pad Thai lies in the sauce, which includes tamarind paste. 

The rich and bold sauce includes tamarind as its star, added with fish sauce, brown sugar, garlic, and shallot.

The crushed peanuts sprinkled on top gives the dish its nuttiness.

People generally add fresh cilantro leaves as a topping for some extra flavor.

Sometimes a little chili is added, but this depends on which version of Pad Thai is being made.

Although there is a standard recipe, many versions or additions have become popular.

Sometimes other protein is added, like fish, chicken, or tofu.

However, the base ingredient, including the peanuts, cannot be changed for an original Pad Thai taste. 

The aroma or smell of Pad Thai is sweet, tangy, salty, and similar to fried eggs with some spice.

Most of the ingredients in the dish and the sauce contribute to the umami flavors.

Why Is Pad Thai So Sweet?

The standard Pad Thai is sweet. Although Pad Thai variations exist, the standard version includes a sweeter flavor profile.

The sugar and the tamarind in the sauce bring out the sweetness in Pad Thai. 

The sweetness also comes from balancing the flavor of sweet and salt correctly.

The right amount of fish oil in the sauce is essential not to become too salty and take away some of the sweetness. 

Some say that the original recipe of Pad Thai included palm sugar in the sauce. Palm sugar tends to be not as sweet as brown sugar, balancing well with the other flavors.

Of course, Pad Thai is not supposed to be as sweet as a dessert. The sweetness should not overwhelm the different flavors as it is still classified as a savory dish. 

It is possible that Pad Thai served outside of South East Asia is sweeter. Some places add lots of sugar to the sauce, for example, the United States, while places in Thailand rely more on the tamarind to bring out the sweetness. 

Is Pad Thai Spicy?

Pad Thai can be spicy, depending on the particular version which is being made.

There is Spicy Pad Thai, which includes chili or chili sauce, or non-spicy Pad Thai.

At restaurants or street shops, customers can ask for the level of spice they want in the sauce over their Pad Thai. 

Pad Thai is quite versatile in this sense, as it can be as spicy as you want it.

Sometimes instead of chili oil, people also sprinkle chili powder on top. Some people who enjoy spicier food use fresh chili pieces in the dish. 

Most people who eat Pad Thai in South East Asia will add some chili to the dish.

The food usually comes with condiments at restaurants, including sugar, chili flakes or ground chili, vinegar, and fish sauce. 

What Gives Pad Thai Its Color?

Sometimes Pad Thai has a reddish color, but this is not the original color of the dish.

If it is more on the red side, this usually means that ketchup has been used in the sauce.

Not-so-typical ingredients can be used in countries outside of Thailand and are not the authentic way of making it. 

Pad Thai typically has a dark, orange-type color to it. The sauce, including the fish sauce, sugar, and tamarind, caramelizes a bit when it cooks, which helps to give the dark orange color.

Some of Thailand’s most famous street food vendors make their Pad Thai bright orange. This color specifically comes from shrimp or prawns. 

Tamarind paste is one of the crucial ingredients that make up the unique Pad Thai color.

Tamarind paste comes from the pulp of its fruit, found in parts of Asia and South America.

Of the two types of the tamarind fruit, one is more acidic with a slightly sweet taste. This type of fruit is the one that is used for tamarind paste in Pad Thai. 

Sometimes dark soy sauce is added, but this is not too common.

If soy sauce is used, the Pad Thai tends to be darker in color. Another thing that influences the color of Pad Thai is if prawns are used. 

The prawns must be really fresh, and the fat is what adds to the color.

Sometimes Pad Thai can come out a little pink, which would be due to dried shrimps being used in the recipe.


The taste of Pad Thai is a perfect mix of sweet, salty, and a touch of acidity.

It has an umami flavor profile and can be spicy, too, depending on your personal preference. Pad Thai also has a nutty flavor from the peanuts in the dish.

Overall, Pad Thai is a delicious and bold flavored dish originally from Thailand.

It is very popular street food, as well as in restaurants, and has many different variations worldwide now.