Garlic Chives (a Complete Guide)

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What are garlic chives, what are they used for in Thai food, and are there any good substitutes? In this complete guide, you’ll even learn how to grow them at home, with expert tips from Thai elders.

Landscape view of garlic chives farm in Thailand.
Garlic chives farm in Khon Kaen, Thailand.

In Thai cuisine, garlic chives aren’t as common as other herbs like kaffir lime leaves or coriander, but they’re definitely an important part of our kitchen.

Did you know that an authentic pad Thai and beef pad Thai are made with garlic chives? They’re also quite popular in Isan cuisine, in the Northeast of Thailand, with many people growing them in their own gardens.

Last week, my grandmother’s neighbor brought over a bunch of garlic chives, and she and my grandmother shared their best secrets for starting a garlic chive garden.

Thai woman holding fresh garlic chives.

I also traveled all the way to Khon Kaen and met with a Thai elder who has been harvesting garlic chives for as long as she can remember. She lives in a small village in Khon Kaen that’s known for its production of white and regular garlic chives.

Let’s find out what they add to our meals and talk about their taste.

What are garlic chives

Garlic chives, also known as Chinese chives, are a grass-like fragrant herb with flat, green leaves and a mild, garlicky taste. They’re perfect for stir-fries, salads, and even dumplings, making them a versatile ingredient in Asian kitchens.


Close-up of lush Thai garlic chives in a farm.

Garlic chives are related to onions and garlic, but are not the same as either. They’re easily recognizable by their long, thin leaves, vibrant green color, and distinct garlic scent. In fact, I once forgot a bunch of them in my car overnight, and my whole car ended up smelling like garlic!

In Thailand, we call them “gui chai.” They can also be referred to as oriental garlic, Asian chives, and Chinese chives to distinguish them from regular chives.

White and Yellow garlic chives

In Thailand, we have green garlic chives (gui chai kiao) and white or yellow garlic chives (gui chai khaaw).

White and yellow garlic chives often have a milder garlic flavor and are a bit sweeter with a crunchier texture compared to regular garlic chives, but both can be used in similar ways in cooking.

Yellow garlic chives growing next to clay pot.
Yellow garlic chives are grown under a clay put to block all sunlight.

Yellow and white chives are grown in darkness to prevent the development of chlorophyll, which keeps them tender and mild in flavor. The elder lady in Khon Kaen uses a clay pot to cover the leaves. This method blocks all sunlight while allowing airflow, ensuring the chives remain moisture-free and yellow.

We’ll go more into detail about growing garlic chives later.

Cooking with garlic chives

If you want to cook with garlic chives, you can typically find them at Asian grocery stores, in the fresh produce section. They are also commonly available at farmers’ markets and larger supermarkets.

You can use garlic chives to add a hint of garlic and onion flavor to your dishes. They’re popular in many Asian recipes, like the much-loved pad Thai.

When you’re ready to use them, just trim off their roots and give them a good wash. In my family, we like to keep the sturdy stem, the white part, on.

Sunset over a Thai garlic chives farm.
This is the beautiful garlic chives farm from the elder Thai lady who provided me with lots of information!

Stir-fried with liver: My grandmother says that garlic chives stir-fried with liver are good for pregnant women as this is believed to enhance milk production. This is just something she said, so it’s not scientifically proven.

Chinese dishes: In Chinese cuisine, garlic chives (known as 韭菜, jiu cai) are a staple in stir-fries, dumplings and buns, pancakes, and omelets.

Garnish: You can use them as a garnish to put on top of finished dishes, just like coriander and mint.

Eggs: I love adding some chopped garlic chives to my scrambled eggs. They make your eggs taste amazing with a hint of garlic!

Pickled garlic chives: My grandmother loves making this; it’s so simple, and you can use it to flavor your stir-fries and salads anytime.

She takes garlic chives, about 2 inches long, and kneads them to get all the juice out. After a good wash and knead, she mixes them with plenty of salt and a bit of MSG. Then, she pours in some water left from soaking glutinous rice for making Thai sticky rice, which adds a sour touch. Store it in an airtight container like a mason jar for preserving.

Recipes with garlic chives

Thai chive pancakes: Thai chive pancake, known as gui chai tod, is a savory, crispy snack prepared from a batter that includes garlic chives. This batter is first steamed and then deep-fried, creating a classic Thai appetizer known for its crispy outer layer and soft, tender filling.

Garlic chive dumplings: Garlic chive dumplings, also known as kanom gui chai in Thai, are a type of savory steamed dim sum. They consist of a mixture of tapioca and rice flour filled with garlic chives.

Steamed garlic chive dumplings, or kanom gui chai, topped with fried shallots and a side of dipping sauce.
Garlic chive dumplings with a traditional dipping sauce.

Beef pad Thai: Sprinkling finely chopped garlic chives over your noodles just before serving gives them a mild garlic flavor and adds freshness and aroma.

Can you eat chive flowers

Yes, you can eat chive flowers, including those from garlic chives. They have a milder flavor but can be used as a garnish, as a seasoning, eaten raw, and even pickled.

How to store chives

Refrigerate: To refrigerate fresh chives, simply wash and pat them dry first. Then, wrap them loosely in a damp paper towel to keep them moist but not wet. Put the wrapped chives in a plastic bag, but don’t seal it all the way to allow for some air circulation. Place them in the crisper drawer of your fridge. This way, they’ll stay fresh for up to a week, and sometimes even longer.

Freezing: To freeze chives, first wash and dry them. Then chop them up and spread them on a tray so they don’t touch. Freeze them for a few hours. After they’re frozen, put them in a bag or container. You can use them straight from the freezer when cooking.

Substitutes

You’ve probably seen in my authentic pad kra pao recipe that I’m pretty strict about using the right ingredients. I believe every ingredient, like holy basil and Thai basil, brings its own special flavor and aroma.

This is really important in Thai cooking. Thai people will never just swap one thing for another because its flavors are kinda similar.

Green onions

For example, garlic chives have a unique garlic taste you don’t get from green onions, even though they look similar.

Leek

In my authentic chicken pad Thai recipe, I mention that if you can’t find garlic chives, you could try using leeks instead. But remember, they’re not exactly the same. Also, I suggest not using green onions for pad Thai because they get too soft quickly, and I don’t really like their taste with the noodles.

It’s not always easy to find substitutes, especially because it depends on the dish and the exact flavor you need. But if you’re looking for alternatives, leeks and green onions are about the closest options.

Health benefits

Heritagegarden says garlic chives are full of nutritious benefits. They contain vitamins A and C, fiber, carotene, riboflavin, thiamine, iron, calcium, and potassium.

How to grow garlic chives

This week, I traveled and met with an elderly Thai woman to bring you unique information. All the information shared here comes from this wonderful lady. Please note, the advice on planting garlic chives is specific to warm climates like Thailand’s, where there are no frosty seasons.

Thai woman watering plants by the riverside.
The local grower washes freshly harvested plants and herbs by the riverside near her farm, preparing them for clients along with her other produce like coriander and Thai chilies.

You can start growing garlic chives from seeds or by planting them with roots.

Growing garlic chives from seeds until they’re fully mature and ready to eat will take about 8 months. If you’re growing them from the root, it’ll take about 4 months.

Field of young garlic chives growing in Thai farm.

If you plant them once, they’ll last about 3 years with good care. They’re quite easy to look after, as they’re mostly bug-free. The garlic scent helps protect the plant. One thing to watch out for is mold, which can happen if the plant gets too much water or if the environment is too moist.

To harvest, just cut the leaves, along with the sturdy white part, down to the ground. After about 2–4 weeks, the garlic chives will be ready to harvest again.

Elderly Thai woman gardening garlic chives.
My grandmother’s neighbour grows garlic chives in her front garden.

When you want to replant them, just remove all the leaves and plant them in groups of 2–3 roots because they will spread more.

Growing yellow garlic chives

The wise elder Thai woman said if you want white or yellow garlic chives, they need to grow without light.

When the garlic chives have grown and are beautifully green, she harvests them to make yellow chives because, at this point, they are rich in vitamins. She places a clay pot over the garlic chives’ roots to block the sunlight. This turns them white/yellow, and after 12 days, they can be harvested.

Row cultivation of garlic chives with traditional pots.
To grow yellow garlic chives, the roots are covered with a clay pot.

She mentioned the covered leaves grow rapidly trying to reach the sun, which makes them grow faster. After harvesting, she lets them turn green again to replenish their vitamins.

Conclusion

Now that you know how to plant garlic chives, understand what they are, and how to use them in your cooking, you’re ready to learn more about Thai cuisine. Find out more about Thai pantry staples, the essential Thai mortar and pestle, and the technique for how to shred papaya. You’re well on your way to becoming a Thai food expert!

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4 Comments

  1. Sawasdee Praew–I just saw your question on Reddit from a few days ago and looked up your blog. Nice, thorough post on garlic chives! I was interested in your question because I used to ask similar questions for my blog! I love the Khon Kaen farm photos. Best wishes from Philadelphia

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