Of all the Asian countries, Thailand is possibly the most interesting to visit in regard to the enormous variety of fruit and vegetables grown, the market displays and the propagation and cultural skills which have been developed.

The average Thai - whether a town dweller or from the country has a good knowledge of fruit varieties and is usually more interested in the taste, aroma and textural qualities of fruit than we are. Australians in general and probably most Europeans, tend to buy according to eye appeal - and varietal names mean very little.

One of the problems we all have when visiting Thailand is coming to grips with the language - and perhaps particularly with the names of species and varieties (cultivars) of fruit and vegetables.

Thai Language
The Thai language is tonal - There are 5 tones (normal, low, rising, falling and high) and in some cases, similar words have different meanings according to tones used in their expression. Most of us don't have sufficient contact or need to learn to speak Thai - but would like to learn fruit species and varietal names. There is no official romanised spelling system for Thai - although there are a number of systems developed.

If you were to ask 10 different Thais each to spell a fruit variety name to you then it is possible you will get up to 6 different variations. For example - Gaan Yaow durian. It could also be presented as Gan Yow or Kan Yow, and variations of these. Thais also have a problem with deciding between a 'g' or a 'k' when writing in romanised script. However, that is our problem and not theirs since their own Thai script can give them the exact pronunciation.

It pays to be aware of the complications with romanisation though - since you may even find that the spelling of a Thai person's name (in romanised script) may vary considerably as to your source.

Arrangement of Fruit Names
In common with many other Asian and European languages, Thai adjectives (usually) follow the noun they refer to. Thus, Mon Tong (the name for a durian variety) reads as pillow golden.

Fruit variety names are usually simplistic and refer to colour, quality, similarity to animals (or animal habits), inanimate objects, districts, towns or qualities similar to other fruits. Seldom is a person's name given to a variety. Hence, a little knowledge of meanings can often explain the particular fruit's characteristics. There are however anomalies which are hard to explain. For example the word 'E' in reference to a person is derogatory - and means 'it'. To be called 'it' is bad. However longan varieties E-Dang, E-Daw, E-Haew (How) cannot be adequately explained except perhaps that without the 'E' the name is regarded as too short, or needs 'E' as a 'filler' in conversation.

Some translations of the more common fruit variety names are:

(E)-Haew*(How)-water chestnutGob (Kob)-frog
Biew Kiew-lop-sided fruitChanee-gibbon ape +
See Chompoo-colour pinkChompoo See-pink colour
(E) Dang-redMon Tong-pillow golden
Bai Dum -leaf blackGaan Yaow-stem long
(E) Wai-fast (quick)Luang-deceive

+ Referring to the habit of fruit held on thin branches - as with a gibbon body suspended on long thin arms and legs.
* Haew (water chestnut) - refers particularly to the crunchy quality of water chestnut.

Keow Savoey-green eat(ing)Bang Yi Khan-province (of)
Ok Rong-chest dint*Rongrien-school
Nam Dokmai-water flowerSee Tong-colour gold
Ngar Charn-tusk elephantSee Chompoo-colour pink
Tong Dum-golden black 

* (suture between cheeks)

Kaloke Bai Yaow-lychee leaf longHom-fragrant
Kom-turtle backHom Tong-fragrant gold
Sampao Kaow-boat small 
Haew (How)-water chestnut 
Bai Dum -leaf black 

SapodillaWax Jambu
Makok-(like Makok fruit) Keow Savoey-green eat(ing)
Kai Hahn-egg gooseKaek Dum-Indian black*

*(No racial slant - but means as black as an Indian)

MaprangMalay Apple (Mamiew) (Mahmeeoo)
Wan (Waan)-sweetChoompoo-pink
Bai Vai-leaf black 

Pummelo (Som-oh)Jujube
Khao(Kow) Yai-white bigRien Tong-coin gold
Khao(Kow) Puang-white bunches 


N.B. Order of translation (eg. boat small) is retained so that each word can be referenced but obviously most of these must be reversed for appropriate English.

D.P.I. Naming Systems
Unfortunately because there is no documented standardised system for romanisation of Thai fruit variety names we are still unhappy about many spellings which we have accepted. Sources of spellings are so various and appreciation of the spoken Thai so difficult (to us) that we cannot see any resolution of the problem until the Thais themselves come to common agreement on a system. The fruit research group at Kasetsart University is apparently working on a list.

In the meantime it is a matter of putting up with spelling variations which we and others may have provided for plant quarantine computer entries, fruit variety recommendation lists, etc. These have in the past and will continue to be changed from time to time in the future.

We have also taken some liberties to shorten names, for example: E-Dang to Dang, Chompoo See to Chompoo, etc.

Fruit Species Pronunciation
The following list of species names may be of assistance to travellers in Thailand. The system is not from a recognised text but is meant to provide a reasonable pronunciation. As a matter of interest, I took the trouble to learn a few Thai phrases including 'what variety is that'. However when pointing to a durian variety and asking 'tooreeun chinit ny tee dee tee soot' the response from vendors was usually 'tooreeun'. They could not initially believe that a foreigner (fahraang) could possibly know what the fruit was let alone understand anything about varieties. However, a little persistence with the question usually got the right answer.

English NameThai Pronunciation*Botanical Name
bananagloo-way Musa spp.
breadfruitsah-gey Artocarpus altilis
citronmah-grootCitrus medica
clovesgahn-plooSyzygium aromatica
coconutlook-mah-prowCocos nucifera
coffeegaa-fahCoffea spp.
duriantooreeunDurio zibethinus
grapeah-ngoonVitis spp.
guavapohn-fahraangPsidium guajava
jackfruitkah-ngoonArtocarpus heterophyllus
langsatlaangsaat or, Longkhong Lansium domesticum
longanlaamyai Euphoria longan
lycheelin-jee Litchi chinensis
malay apple mahmeeooSyzygium malaccense
mangomaa-moo-ungMangifera indica
mangosteenmaang-khutGarcinia mangostana
nutmegjahn-tetMyristica fragrans
orangesohm-jeenCitrus sinensis
papawmah-lah-gaw Carica papaya
pineapplesahp-bpah-rotAnanas comosus
pummelosohm-oh Citrus maxima
pomegranatepohn-taaptimPunica granatum
rambutanraambootaan or, NgawNephelium lappaceum
santolkah-tonSandoricum koetjape
sapodillalaamut-fahraangMakilkara zapota
sugar applenoi-nahAnnona squamosa
tamarindmah-kahmTamarindus indica
watermelondtahng-mahCitrullus lanatus
wax jambulook-chompooSyzygium samarangense
B.J. Watson,
Kamerunga Horticultural Research Station

DATE: November 1985

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