Thai cooks simmer up a batch of delicately sweet sugar syrup, to use when cool sweetened beverages. Sugar dissolves easily in hot water, but for making lemonade, using hot water would ‘cook’ the bright fresh flavor of lemon juice; same with tamarind juice. By making syrup in advance, you have the sweetness ready to stir in and dissolve, even in cold liquids. This is called ‘simple syrup’, and it’s widely used around the world. Thais use it in sweet snacks such as som loy gaew, orange in syrup, as well as in other desserts, lemonade and many other beverages. It keeps well for a few days, at room temperature or in the refrigerator. It’s so easy to make that I don’t bother keeping a great deal on hand.
I added wild lime leaves to this batch which I’ve photographed for this blog post, and they provided a lovely delicate aroma and taste, as I had hoped they would. I cooked the syrup very gently, as I wanted the flavor to remain and not be boiled away. Without the lime leaves, the color would be quite pale. You could flavor your nahm chuam with lemongrass, fresh ginger, or fresh mint leaves. Let me know how yours comes out if you experiment with flavors!