Flavors from the Far East, What’s What?

September 28, 2017

From the bold flavors of Thai curries to the delicate fresh taste of sushi, Asian foods are popular in the US. Find out the differences and possible health benefits here.

From the bold flavors of Thai curries to the delicate fresh taste of sushi, Asian foods are popular in the US. For some of us it’s about eating more healthily, for others it’s about great flavors, while still others love the Asian way of cooking. And the great thing about it is, you don't have to go to China Town for Chinese food anymore. In fact, you can go to your local supermarket to find not only ingredients used to prepare Asian foods, but also head to the frozen food aisle for perfectly prepared Asian food.

Soy, a core ingredient in Asian cuisine, has now become one of the favorite ingredients for lots of Americans looking to improve their dietary health. According to the United Soybean Board, soy protein provides numerous health benefits. The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) officially recognized the cholesterol-lowering effects of soy protein in 1999, and the American Heart Association followed suit one year later. The FDA-approved health claim states that 25 grams of soy protein per day may reduce the risk of heart disease. Research also suggests that soy may lower risk of prostate, colon and breast cancers as well as osteoporosis and other bone health concerns, and some research indicates that soy protein may reduce high blood pressure and some symptoms of menopause.

Thai foods can be described as a combination of Eastern and Western influences making use of aquatic animals, plants and herbs. Because of their Buddhist background, large cuts of meat were traditionally not used. Instead, meat was shredded. Traditionally ingredients such as coconut milk and coconut oil are used as a substitute for dairy products and herbs such as lemon grass and galanga are used for flavor. A Thai meal will usually consist of a soup, curry, and a dip with fish and vegetables. All of the food is served at once to be enjoyed together. Spicy dishes should be accompanied with bland dishes as not to overdo it.

The Chinese are known for the yin and yang philosophy, which are seen by most as representing opposing forces. However, the Chinese believe that these forces should be in harmony, and this philosophy applies to the food they eat as well. Some foods are thought to have cooling properties while others have warming properties. The Chinese believe in consuming a healthy balance of the two. This also means a healthy balance of color, texture, and flavor. When prepared the traditional Chinese way, these foods are nutritious consisting mainly of vegetables, some meat, fresh seafood, tofu, and lots of rice or noodles. The popular regional cuisines are Cantonese (Southern), Peking (Northern) and Szechwan (Western). Cantonese food is considered the finest and known for sweet and sour dishes and dim sum.

The Japanese specialize in a wide variety of dishes from different regions with rice being the most important foodstuff for 2000 years. Some popular dishes are rice bowls, sushi, tempura, noodle dishes, sashimi, and yakitori, which is meat on skewers. These foods are generally low in cholesterol, fat, and calories, and high in fiber, which is probably why the Japanese have the highest longevity rate. Preparing food is definitely considered an art in Japan. They believe if the food looks good, it will taste good.

What are your favorite exotic flavors?