5 Crazy Healthy Asian Flavors and How to Use Them
“Let food be thy Medicine and medicine be thy food”
Hippocrates spoke these words more than a thousand years ago.
I am a firm believer in food as medicine, it promotes or destroys health and choosing a healthy diet is probably the single best and easiest way that we can impact our long term health.
How AMAZING is that?
Traditional folk medicine has used herbs and plants to heal, but in the modern world we have strayed from that.
These flavors not only taste amazing, they also pack some serious health benefits.
I chose Asian flavors for two reasons. One, we are here in Asia and these flavors take the forefront on most of the dishes here so they are often on my mind. And two, while I love the flavor profile of Asian foods, I am not as comfortable with it as I am some of the other flavor profiles.
I can rock Mexican flavors like a boss, but I am a little more timid about these flavors.
So this was a learning experience for me as well and I am finally learning how to use some of these flavors.
I cannot tell you how many times we would wander through the Farmers Market in Kansas City and I would see lemongrass. Without fail, I would turn to Nick and say “oh look, lemongrass. I wish I knew how to use lemongrass.”
Every weekend this would happen and every week life would get busy and I would forget about lemongrass.
Well, no more!
I am finally learning how to use lemongrass and so many other flavors.
And I am sure glad I am, these flavors are not only amazing, but they offer some serious benefits!
Here are 5 examples of amazingly healthy Asian flavors and how to use them.
Ginger is native to Asia and has been used to flavor foods for over 4,000 years! It has been used in medicine for almost as long, in China it has been used to aid digestion and cure stomach aches and nausea for over 2,000 years.
Ginger is rich in active compounds like volatile oils and phenolic compounds which not only gives ginger its hot, slightly sour taste but may also be the key to the health benefits.
Scientific studies have started backing up the claims that folk medicine has traditionally bestowed upon ginger.
It has been investigated as a digestion aid that helps with upset stomach and nausea (especially with motion sickness or chemotherapy).
It may also help decrease pain with periods and osteoarthritis.
Animal studies also indicate that ginger may help reduce swelling, blood sugar, cholesterol and even protect agains Alzheimer’s disease.
How to use it:
Peel the ginger before using the rhizome- with a spoon.
Yup, a spoon!
It removes the thin skin from the knobby, uneven root easily and without a lot of waste.
Slice it thin or grate and use it like you would other aromatics (onions, celery, peppers, garlic).
Or, pickle it and use as a garnish. It goes well in curries or soups and complements fish, chicken and shrimp.
Pair it with honey, lemongrass, mint, basil, garlic and chili peppers.
Give Ginger A Try With These Recipes!
Lemongrass is used in folk medicine all over the world.
In Brazil it is used to treat upset stomach and nervousness, in Nigeria it is employed in the battle against obesity, diabetes and coronary artery disease and in Cuba it’s known for lowering blood pressure and its anti-inflammatory benefits.
Science backs up some of these claims. Scientific studies show that it may have cholesterol lowering capabilities.
There is also evidence it protects DNA against chemical damage and has anti-carcinogenic compounds.
Lemongrass contains all kinds of healthy compounds from flavonoids and phenolic compounds to terpenoids and essential oils which may be responsible for what seems to be an ever growing list of health benefits.
One review article found studies that indicate it has antibacterial, antioxidant and antidiarrheal effects.
Plus, it smells like sunshine, happiness and lemons and provides an earthy lemon flavor to all it touches (this is a result of those fragrant essential oils that are also used in aromatherapy).
How to use it:
Trim the ends of the lemon grass and then smash the bulb to release the essential oils.
It can be finely minced and added to marinades, or left bigger and used in curries, stews or soups.
It is edible, but big pieces sure are strong and taste a bit like lemon flavored sticks, so watch out!
Its flavor goes well with poultry, fish, seafood and pork and it is traditionally used in teas, soups and curries.
Give Lemongrass A Try With These Recipes!
Fermented foods have been around for centuries. Fermentation was once a necessary way to preserve food, but it also provides a unique flavor and tons of health benefits.
Kimchi is one such fermented food- it is a cabbage based dish (already a rockstar) and it only improves from there with the addition of healthy ingredients like garlic, ginger and spicy peppers.
It is then fermented by lactic acid bacteria. This gives it all the benefits of vegetables, plus the healthy bacteria of yogurt- so much healthy goodness!
Kimchi is a total boss when it comes to promoting gut health. It feeds the healthy bacteria that help keep your gut and immune system going strong.
One review found that the super functional food kimchi has tons of potential health benefits including: anticancer, anti-obesity, anti-constipation, anti-aging and colorectal health benefits.
It is loaded with antioxidants, lowers cholesterol and helps keep your brain and immune system healthy and strong.
How to use it:
It can be a bit of an acquired taste. But, just like salt and vinegar chips, once you give it a real chance, you will never want to live without it again.
Sweet, salty, spicy and tangy all wrapped into one crunchy package, kimchi makes a great condiment.
Add it to sweet and smoky grilled meats or serve with steamed (brown) rice.
Give Kimchi A Try With These Recipes!
Spicy Korean Beef Bowl (with quinoa)
Five Spice Powder
This spice blend is a great way to add flavor without adding calories, sugar, salt or fat.
Its unique blend of flavors adds a smoky sweetness, a hint of heat, and notes of lemon to add bitter and sour flavor.
It gets a hint of sweetness from the cinnamon and cloves, its heat from the red or black pepper (using red pepper also adds a lemony aftertaste), while star anise and cardamom add an exotic x-factor and the bitterness that contrasts so nicely with the sweetness.
How to Use it:
Make your own by combining equal amounts of: cinnamon, cloves, red peppercorn (or another colored peppercorn), star anise and cardamom. Many recipes use fennel in place of cardamom. You can find all of these spices at most supermarkets or you can find them on Amazon.
Mix and match and adjust the amounts to find your perfect five-spice combination, then make up a big batch and then use it on everything!
I love it on grilled meats, especially pork, and poultry.
Try it as a marinade for tofu (seriously, do this! It will rock your world and make you a believer in tofu). It also works well with pork, fish, chicken and other meats.
The sweetness that it provides makes it a good accompaniment to fruits (think along the same lines as pumpkin pie spice, it’s a little spicier but can be used in the same places).
This herb is part of the mint family. Used in traditional Chinese medicine as far back as the 12th century it has been used to treat food poisoning (the nausea and all the other gastric unpleasantness that comes along with food poisoning) as well as the stuffy noses, headaches and coughs associated with the common cold.
Perilla leaf may also help with seasonal allergies.
Perilla leaf is a source of rosmarinic acid (guess where else rosmarinic acid is found… if you guessed rosemary, you would be correct!).
Rosmarinic acid has shown some success at inhibiting seasonal allergies and helping reduce inflammation.
How to use it:
The perilla leaf is super versatile.
It can be added to stir-fries, pickled or marinated or used fresh as a garnish to noodle dishes, mixed with lettuce in salads, as a garnish to grilled veggies or meat or a a wrapper (try it with spring rolls).
Give Parilla Leaves A Try With These Recipes!