Each month we explore interesting and lesser-known or used plant-based foods from a different region of the world, some with real value as therapeutic food or Food as Medicine. This month we focus on Asia. Covering a vast and contrasting area geographically, Asian cuisine encompasses a range of flavours. The diversity of culinary specialities makes it an exciting and versatile cuisine to experience and experiment with.
We can see similarities to other food preparation cultures like fermented Kimchi (similar to sauerkraut) and the native flora like Goji berries (comparable to Acai berry in antioxidant capacity). At the same time, Matcha tea is Asia’s answer to coffee!
Asian cuisine often signifies more medicinal properties and therapeutic value – especially for immune health and longevity. For Asia’s flavours, we take a look at the well known Shitake mushroom and the lesser-known member of the soy family Natto and the exotic Lotus root.
Mushrooms have been highly regarded as possessing enormous nutritive and medicinal values(1), and Shitake mushrooms are no exception. Different studies demonstrate this fungus’ potency and conclude that it can be applied as functional food-based therapeutics, for example, against cardiovascular diseases. (1) It has also been observed that Shitake’s regular consumption resulted in improved immunity while the test subjects were found to have less inflammation than before consumption. (2)
With a rich, earthy taste, these potent fungi are often sourced dried and make a wonderful addition to healing broths, a twist on risotto while fresh mushrooms add serious umami to stir-fries.
We have a wonderful Shitake Mushroom stir fry recipe HERE.
Natto (fermented soybeans) has been consumed as a traditional food in Japan for thousands of years and reports have suggested that natto contributes significantly to Japanese people’s longevity. (3) It has been found to contain more than 100 times as much vitamin K2 as various cheeses(4) however, its mildly unpleasant odour and stringy texture limit its use as a common food outside of Japan. (3)
Medicinally, Natto is regarded as a miracle food due to the fibrinolytic enzyme Nattokinase (NK) it contains which can break down blood clots. (3) Various clinical trials have demonstrated that NK improves blood circulation and helps decrease the risk of various cardiovascular diseases without adverse side effects. (3) With this to consider, it could be a worthy addition alongside its humble counterparts tofu, tempeh and miso, all derived from soybeans. We encourage you to try it once and draw your own conclusions.
Lotus root, an aquatic plant, is a popular food in Japan and Southeast Asia(5) known by several common names (such as Indian lotus, Chinese water lily, and sacred lotus) and is extensively cultivated primarily for food and as herbal medicine. (6) The root contains dietary fibre, vitamin C and abundant polyphenolic compounds. (5) Different parts of lotus, including the leaves, roots, seed and petals have been studied extensively for their anti‐obesity properties, attributed to both the flavonoids and alkaloids it contains. Alkaloids are considered more effective at inhibiting fat absorption, whereas flavonoids are more effective at inhibiting fat accumulation. (6)
Keep an eye out for this interesting plant at specialty stores for a point of difference in an Asian style meal. When purchased dried, it can be soaked and rehydrated and added to soups or stir-fries, while the soak water can be reserved and drank as a tea.
From fungi to fermented to fat-fighting, these plant-based food options are more ways to broaden your diet choices being inspired by traditional foods and understanding their potency from a modern-day perspective. The power of plants is fascinating! If you are considering embracing a wonderful Plant-Based Foods lifestyle, you may find this BLOG informative.