Tom Kha Gai: Thai Coconut Soup

tom kha gai thai coconut soup
Tom Kha Gai, the famous Thai coconut soup is my favorite soup for cold and flu season. It’s not just medicinal; it’s delicious. The first time I tasted Tom Kha Gai, a friend served it to me in a large mug. I thought it was the most scrumptious beverage I’d ever had.

“What is this?” I asked in awe.

“It’s Tom Kha Gai, a Thai coconut soup,” my friend replied. “You know, it’s in that book Nourishing Traditions. Do you like it?”

“I love it! It’s like heaven on my tongue.” Ever since then, I’ve been an addict.

Hey, don’t laugh! It beats being addicted to Dr. Pepper.

Made with real bone broth and coconut milk, Tom Kha Gai is surprisingly nutrient-dense and filling for being such a creamy, flavorful, savory soup. Think Chicken Noodle Soup is the king’s bean when it comes to broth-y comfort foods ideal for colds or sore throats? Think again. The Thai coconut soup Tom Kha Gai is the champion in any match up.

Homemade broth made from the leftover carcass of a roasted chicken is not only aromatic, but surprisingly healthy. Bone broths are rich in the minerals of the bones, cartilage, and marrow that go into preparing them. The gelatin in homemade bone broths aides digestion and acts as protein sparer, allowing the body to better use the few complete proteins that are taken in. If you’re sick, the electrolytes present in homemade broth will help replenish your body’s stores and speed your recovery.

Stir in the coconut milk, which is high in the medium-chain fatty acids that quicken your metabolism, and suddenly Tom Kha Gai is a powerhouse against colds and flus. More than half the medium-chain fatty-acids found in coconut milk are lauric acid — the immune-boosting anti-viral, anti-fungal, anti-microbial so vital to human health.

Top it all off with ginger (a pain reliever), chile (an immune booster famous for clearing sinuses), and lemon juice (a liver stimulant and natural detoxing agent), and Tom Kha Gai simply can’t be beat when you’re feeling under the weather.

Tom Kha Gai: Thai Coconut Soup Recipe

Tom Kha Gai: The Players

  • 1 quart chicken broth (where to buy chicken broth)
  • 1 1/2 C. coconut milk (where to find BPA-free coconut milk)
  • 1/4 tsp dried chile flakes
  • 1 tsp freshly grated ginger
  • juice of 1 lemon
  • sea salt (to taste)
  • 1-2 C. pulled or cubed cooked chicken (optional)
  • 1-2 green onions, chopped (optional)
  • chopped cilantro (optional)

Tom Kha Gai: The How-To

Bring the stock to a boil, skim any foam that rises to the top and add coconut milk, lemon juice, chile flakes, ginger, and optional chicken. Simmer for about 15 minutes. Season to taste with salt. Ladle into soup bowls or mugs and garnish with cilantro and green onions.

(From Sally Fallon Morell’s Nourishing Traditions, p. 198)

Yes, this Tom Kha Gai is THAT easy!

It may look exotic. It may even sound exotic with a name like Tom Kha Gai, but this Thai coconut soup is as simple, quick, and easy as they come.

And, don’t forget, it’s like heaven on your tongue.

For recipes and practical instructions for eating this way (dairy-free and grain-free), I highly recommend the PaleoGrubs Cookbook.

It’s the simplest way to get started, and it includes every kind of recipe you’ll ever need (more than 470 of them!).

(Click here to check out the PaleoGrubs Cookbook.)


(photo by tasteoforegon)


  1. says

    This soup is one of my favorites, but I’ve never made it at home because I thought I’d have to buy all sorts of exotic hard-to-find ingredients. I’ll definitely be making this recipe — soon. The cilantro is good for detoxing, too!

  2. says

    This is one of my favorite soups. I make it all the time. When I first decided to make it I had no idea how I would without galanga but ginger is an acceptable substitute.

    • KristenM says

      I’ve also made it with lemon grass instead of lemon or lime. I know the lemon grass and galanga are more traditional, but honestly I can’t tell much difference in flavor. And it’s so much better to use ingredients that everyone has on hand.

    • says

      My first taste of this soup was just 5/24/2012 for our combined anniversaries dinner at a local Thai restaurant. Our friends are Vietnamese and go here all the time. They love this soup. I was looking for recipes for making it. I may try this sometime as it seems quite easy.The galanga sub for ginger, our friend couldn’t remember what it was called in English, but said that it was like ginger. Now I know. I will tell her. ha We are in Silicon Valley, Ca. area and have many markets to get this stuff.

  3. Jennifer says

    This is one of my favorites as well. I make it everytime my throat even remotely feels scratchy! In fact, I just made broth today, so I may have some of this soup tomorrow!

    • KristenM says

      Me too. I think it was providential that Keri made it last week for Tea. Everyone got sick over the weekend except ME, and I’m the only one of us who had any. I think I had three bowlfuls at Keri’s and another one at home! When everyone else in the house was feverish or vomiting, I just got a scratchy throat and some drainage. I’m making more tomorrow, too.

  4. says

    Even though we are heading into summer here this sounds fab and I think that we will have it tomorrow for tea. I love coconut and try and put it into most things, not always to the delight of my kids!

  5. says

    one of our all-time favorites … i’ve tried many different recipes for it, this is the simplest and looks great … we always add fish sauce to it too though.

    • KristenM says

      I’ve also used fish sauce instead of the salt. But, salt works just as well and makes it so that this recipe is do-able without any special ingredients on hand. By that I mean that I can make this at any time, since I just about always have all the ingredients.

  6. Julie says

    Thanks for this recipe–what do you know–I’ve got all the ingredients at hand! I just made a large vat of turkey stock yesterday — I will try this recipe today.

  7. Martha says

    Thank you! Now I know what we are having for lunch. I just made stock yesterday and bought lemons, coconut milk and cilantro as well. I LOVE Tom Kha Gai and didn’t realize the recipe was in NT.

  8. says

    This recipe is one of my favorites! Sometimes I have leftovers for breakfast, especially nice on a chilly morning. Last time I made it I added some chopped baby pac choi to the bowls before serving it up–the heat of the soup “cooked” the leaves just enough.

  9. says

    Nice! I’ve been wanting to make the soup from Real Food: What To Eat And Why, which is almost identical (equal parts chicken stock and coconut milk plus ginger), so I’m sure that I’ll give this a try soon. Besides, I need to train hubby away from chicken corn noodle soup soon, as I want to try going grain free in January and need a good cold weather soup substitute. :-)

  10. says

    I made this soup last night! It was SO quick and easy. It wasn’t quite as tasty as a similar, more complicated (but also pretty easy) Bon Appetite recipe I have, but making it showed me I can do as much on it as I have time and ingredients for. Last night, I also threw in a package of sliced mushrooms, and some leftover brown rice. Also, I just added raw chicken cut up, as in my other recipe. It cooks through in minutes. So that made it quicker and easier than having to have cooked chicken to put in. Next time, I think I’ll add some fish sauce and chili garlic sauce; that’s no more work and more flavor. Maybe some fresh basil if I have it on hand, and a serano chili pepper (can replace the dried red pepper flakes). Lime juice is another great addition. My other recipe calls for lemon grass. That’s the hardest part. I have some growing, but cutting it and cleaning it and chopping it (I actually just throw it in in big pieces) and all adds time and effort. Thanks for pointing me back toward my Nourishing Traditions book. I didn’t notice this recipe in there! I need to start digging through it again.

    • KristenM says


      Coconut water won’t work. It absolutely MUST be the milk, preferably with a heavy bit of cream, too. There are several decent canned brands available. I look for ones without any additives or preservatives.

  11. Kris says

    Will this soup lose a lot of it’s goodness (vitamins/minerals) by freezing? I’d be the only one eating it and most would spoil before I could finish. But maybe I could freeze some in jelly jars (enough for a serving) and thaw periodically.

  12. Sue says

    Is this the coconut milk that comes in a carton (like the “So Delicious” brand, or the kind that comes in the can (like the kind from Thai Kitchen)?

    • KristenM says

      I’d use any coconut milk so long as it was preservative free. Of course, anything canned is “less than ideal” because of BPA, but sometimes you just have to make do. I believe the nourishment found in coconut milk outweighs the fact that it comes in a can. After all, if you have a healthy liver, drink detoxing beverages like kombucha, and have healthy intestinal flora from living & fermented foods, you can probably safely handle the toxins that come your way from the occasional canned good.

  13. Julie says

    I made this last night- It’s not often that I find a recipe that is delicious and easy and economical–this one is all that. I even had some for breakfast. Many thanks!

  14. Cirra Lecour says

    mmmm this is one of my favorite soups too!

    Btw I wrote you an email back in the fall but didn’t get a responce. I just needed to know if you will be offering the health and nutrition class in the new year as well. My daughter had no time to do the course this fall but would really like to take it in the new year. Could you please email me and let me know what the dates of the next course will be. Thanks so much!


  15. Alex says

    This recipe may be easy; but, it uses lemon (should be lemongrass) and pre-made stock. Stock will always be the key to good soup.

    • KristenM says

      You don’t also make your stock first before using it? I always make it in large batches and then freeze it (some in cubes, some in quart-sized containers) to use later.

  16. says

    Yum! I made some this week (I did forget the chili flakes and onion, and left out the chicken and cilantro) for break time at work. Our lunch break is 7 hours after my breakfast, so I HAVE to have something in between. And since I’m trying to avoid the microwave as much as possible, I came up with a rather clever idea, though it’s not perfect given that my containers are plastic freezer jam jars.

    I fill my 8oz jars with the Tom Kha Gai and make sure that they’re sealed well. I keep a few in the work fridge, and about 45 minutes before break, I take my over sized mug and fill it half way with the scald-you-if-it-touches-you hot water from the water filter, then plop my little jar into the mug. About 15 minutes before I want it, I pour out the water and refill it. By break time, it’s the perfect temperature for drinking. I add a little seaweed for the iodine right when I’m ready to drink it.

    The basic recipe is so versatile! I plan to do some experimenting soon, and in a week I should have some good turkey broth to play with. :-) Thanks for posting this!

  17. Carolyn Kennedy says

    I LOVE this soup! I made a second batch this week with MY homemade broth and since it’s a bone broth is just like jello when cold… My preference is to pour out a mug at a time from the fridge. I don’t have room really for ideas like bunch of 8 oz jars (but I guess ice cubes would work, but take a lot of time for me! :p) Any tips for going this with the gelatin-ized seing as how the coconut milk settles to the top. My only guess is to shake it up often while it chills until it’s set. Then I can just scoop. Any other ideas?

      • says

        Really? I figured the less it get’s reheated, the better the nutrients will “survive”. I might be able to split the 1 quart and 1 pint jars I store it into, and use 3 pints instead…

        I made this soup up to take as a “bug be gone” vaccine while we traveled recently, since I ALWAYS get sick after travelin’. (stored in jars in ice chest) I drank a big mug daily. So far, no sickies- but two weeks will tell. All signs point to good tho, since my hubby who didn’t want any has a wicked (I suspect due to his cough and wheeze) brochitis.

  18. Melody Rice via Facebook says

    Wow, I never knew how easy this could be. I’ll definitely be trying this recipe over the weekend.

  19. Andrea Jill Berman via Facebook says

    i make a version of this with fresh corn, potatoes and scallops (any seafood or none at all would work though), it’s a little spicy, creamy and sweet all at the same time. i love it.

  20. Danielle LaBelle via Facebook says

    How funny, I just made this last night with fresh bone broth! Delicious! Had some for breakfast today too.

  21. Danielle LaBelle via Facebook says

    I added a 4 oz jar of thai kitchen green curry paste too (clean ingredients), turned out well!

  22. deidre says

    I am making this for my sick son today (at his request). He loves Thai coconut soup and this looks easy and delicious. I have the chicken carcass boiling down now!

  23. says

    I took the idea of this soup and have made a flavored chicken stock “drink” with it. I let the ginger and garlic simmer for a bit and then I strained it into a cup. I also added coconut oil, since I’m trying to get more of that into my diet! Thanks for this soup link!

  24. says

    we made a variation of this ,. the kids LOVE it- basically cook a pile of differnt veges in your stock/broth , (in a portion of it in a small pot) eg brocoli, cauli, spinach, carrot, onion, garlic etcetc, then blend and then mix coconut cream in at the end. makes a thick green creamy soup .

  25. says

    This is so good! I didn’t even have the chile flakes, green onions, or cilantro, and my two little boys and I love it!! We are on GAPS and I added some of our homemade yogurt to it and they both drank tons. So nice to have another tasty option of soup that is simple and so nourishing for us to eat! Thanks so much for sharing this!!

  26. May says

    Noooo. You cannot make this without lemongrass ( fresh) and especially not galangal. Tom kha gai means boiled galangal and chicken. Also mushrooms are always in this soup. Ginger is not a good substitute. Please don’t cheat yourself with this terribly innacurate recipe.

  27. says

    You read my mind! I’ve been ordering Thai take out and thought to myself the other day that I could make a big batch and enjoy the yumminess all week. Not to mention I can make it with an organic chicken and use bone broth.

    I like to add mushrooms to mine, it gives it a little something extra. And if you want to go even more traditional, get some lemongrass. Whole Foods usually sells it fresh in their produce section, or dried in the spice aisle.
    Looking forward to a few bowls of this over the weekend!

  28. Danielle Koalani LaBelle via Facebook says

    Thank you for sharing! I woke up with a sore throat and have been taking GSE, ACV, and raw garlic. This is just what I need for dinner. I adapted the recipe from NT and include fresh lemongrass, thai chilis, kaffir like leaves, onion, garlic, and ginger. So good!

  29. Jennifer Trujillo via Facebook says

    Perfect! One of my favs and we have left over wild shrimp from last might….I add a little fish oil or sardines to my soup 😉 what were having tonight to…thx girl!!!

  30. Laura Altman Marron via Facebook says

    Thank you so much for posting this! It’s one of my faves & I haven’t had it since I lived in CA!!!!!

  31. Naomy Melvin via Facebook says

    Love this soup just made it! Recipe looks good however for a deeper richer authentic flavor soup & being native Thai & growing up with my mom making it; the recipe left out galanga, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, limes(Thai people rarely use lemon in cooking actually never used it in cooking Thai)& fish sauce.

  32. Naomy Melvin via Facebook says

    Love this soup just made it! Recipe looks good however for a deeper richer authentic flavor soup & being native Thai & growing up with my mom making it; the recipe left out galanga, lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves, limes(Thai people rarely use lemon in cooking actually never used it in cooking Thai)& fish sauce.

  33. greenmama says

    I love tom kha gai, and have made many different versions of it. I was excited to try this since all of the ingredients are GAPS friendly, but it just didn’t work for us, I am so disappointed. It just tastes like chicken broth, I can barely taste the coconut. I used homemade coconut milk since we’re not supposed to have the storebought kind for GAPS, so I’m guessing that’s what made the difference (although all of the recipes I’ve made in the past have had a higher proportion of coconut milk as well. Anyway, thank you for the recipe, just wanted to recommend to friendly readers not to bother using homemade coconut milk, it really needs the thicker stuff.

  34. Laura says

    I just made this tonight and I can’t BELIEVE how filling it is!!! I didn’t expect that but I drank a big steaming mug and now I feel like I’ve eaten a large meal! But it’s so, so good. I forgot to buy chilie flakes and used curry and cayenne instead. I also added a little lemongrass. Delish! Thanks for sharing.

  35. laura harmondale says

    One of my favorite soups! But traditionally it is simmered with lemongrass, galangal root, and kaffir lime leaves! I really miss those flavors if they are absent. :)

  36. Kelly Burgess says

    We make it with fresh local (East coast) shrimp, frozen veg from Trader Joe’s called Harvest Hodgepodge, and fresh mushrooms,local when available. I’m on anti-inflammatory diet, and this is wonderful for me, even for breakfast.

  37. Crystal says

    I’ve made this recipe previously and loved it, so tonight I tried it using fish stock and chunks of red snapper instead of chicken and it came out great! Thank you for an awesome recipe that I know I’ll use again and again. :)

  38. Emily Neff via Facebook says

    All grain and dairy free: split pea and ham soup, ox-tail stew, beef heart stew, chicken stew, goose soup, turkey soup, fish chowder (made it for the first time last year and it was so yummy–used cauliflower to thicken). I usually make about one a week.

  39. Maria Gladstone via Facebook says

    Mmmmm, I will try this. I usually make butternut squash soup but just made broccoli cheddar.

  40. Michele Hamilton Moorhouse via Facebook says

    love Tom Kah Gai … haven’t ventured to making my own but it is fairly simple

  41. Melissa Palmer via Facebook says

    This sounds like a delicious kind of substitute…. but not sure if I can say it has the ingredients for the actual soup. There are a lot of things like lemongrass, galanga, kefir lime leaves and fish or oyster sauce that are not in here. That being said, all of those things are why I don’t make it from home. :)

  42. Jen Condon via Facebook says

    Melissa, agreed that it’s not a traditional recipe, but I can attest that it’s super-simple and very tasty! Thai food (including soup) from restaurants has really been turning me off lately – bringing home leftovers and seeing the curry or the soup separate from the oil is kind of disgusting (especially when we know it’s probably GMO soy oil)! You should give this Tom Kha recipe a whirl. :)

  43. Suzanne Reinhold Deardoff via Facebook says

    This has become the all time favorite soup in our house. We refer to it has THE soup. Husband calls and says will you make a batch of THE soup for dinner, been craving it.

  44. Melanie says

    a little bit of heaven in a bowl, that’s for sure!!! OMGosh…just discovered this soup recently at a local, authentic Thai restaurant and I am totally addicted. Thanks for this great recipe! I will be making OFTEN. Yummm-O

  45. Jeannie Huber via Facebook says

    If you are in the Austin area, try Titayas on Lamar. It is my favorite with just the right blend of fresh lemon grass and ginger, and chili. It is delicate yet bursting with flavor. In Houston, Esarn Thai on Jones Road, theirs is very different with more red chili and they add tomatoes and onions. It is very hot, tasty but a lot bolder.

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