Kroeung: Cambodian Marinade and Spice Paste

Close up of kroeung in mortar and pestle.
Hugh Johnson / Dorling Kindersley / Getty Images
Prep: 15 mins
Cook: 0 mins
Total: 15 mins

Kroeung is the generic term for a wide array of spice pastes in Cambodia. Many Cambodian dishes are cooked with kroeung as the base.

Royal and Individual Kroeung

There are two categories of Kroeung: "Royal Kroeung" and "Individual Kroeung". The terms have nothing to do with social or economic class. Rather, they are descriptive of how the paste is used.

"Royal Kroeung" is a standard spice paste that can be used for a number of dishes. "Individual Kroeung" has few or more ingredients added to the paste to suit the specific dish for which it is going to be used.

Yellow, Red, and Green Kroeung

Kroeung is further labeled by color. Red Kroeung derives its color from red chilies or their dehydrated pods. Green Kroeung has lemongrass as the dominant ingredient. Yellow Kroeung gets its color from the amount of turmeric added.

This is a recipe for Yellow Royal Kroeung made the traditional way with a pestle and mortar to draw out the natural oils and flavors of each ingredient. If for convenience, you prefer the use of a blender or a food processor, you may need to add a couple of teaspoonfuls of water to help the motor along.


  • 3 stalks lemongrass (thinly sliced, use only the bottom 3 inches of the stalk)
  • 1 ounce galangal or ginger (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 4 makrut lime leaves (finely sliced with the hard center ribs removed)
  • 8 cloves garlic (finely chopped)
  • 2 shallots (finely chopped or 1 small finely chopped onion)
  • 1 ounces turmeric (peeled and finely chopped)
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

Steps to Make It

  1. Gather the ingredients.

  2. In a mortar and pestle, start off with the toughest (most fibrous) ingredients like the lemongrass, the makrut lime leaves, and the galangal. Grind them with a circular motion to release the juices and oils. The texture that you are looking for is a paste. So, grind the ingredients to a pulp until the mixture forms a thick paste.

  3. When the first three ingredients have been sufficiently crushed, start adding the rest of the ingredients, one after the other, and grinding well after each addition.

  4. If the motor has difficulty, add a teaspoonful or two of water to get it going. After the toughest ingredients have been crushed, the water combined with the herbs' natural juices and oils should be sufficient to grind the rest of the ingredients.

  5. Transfer to a jar with a screw-type store. To prevent the paste from drying out, pour a tablespoonful of oil on top. The kroeung will keep well in the fridge for about five days. 


This recipe can also be made in a food processor, following the same instructions.