Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders has had an impact on America not only through their service, but also through their traditional cuisine.
Traditional Asian and Pacific Islander food tends to be healthier and include a variety of spices and herbs. Rice, soy (like tofu), and legumes (beans) are all staple foods found in the regional cuisine. Each of these foods are versatile and nutrient dense. Spices are used to make traditional dishes such as sweet and sour chicken over rice, a vegetable tofu stir fry, or a peanut sauce to put on noodles (peanuts are a legume) using these staples.
Some common herbs and spices that are used in Asian and Pacific Islander cuisine are turmeric, mint and curry. Each of these flavorings is thought to have health benefits in addition to adding flavor to food. Always be mindful that high doses or supplements of some herbs and spices can influence certain medications. It’s best to check with your doctor or dietitian on the safety of using herbs and spices in combination with your medication regimen.
Turmeric is a bright yellow herb that is closely related to the ginger family of herbs. Turmeric smells slightly like mustard, but has a hot, peppery taste. It is commonly used in soups, sauces and rice dishes. The herb is a powerful antioxidant and is thought to aid in the body’s ability to reduce inflammation, protect the digestive tract and have antiseptic properties.
Mint is another herb that has interesting benefits other than taste. Before mint was used for fresh breath with products such as candies, gums and toothpastes, it was used to help with digestion, nausea and headaches. In food, mint can be found in teas, ice cream and sauces. It is even popular in the leaf form.
Lastly, curry is another spice that has benefits beyond taste. Curry comes from a plant native to tropical and subtropical regions. Curry is used in soups, rice and sauces. It provides healthy antioxidants. Specifically, curry is thought to have an impact on brain health.
Check out this Healthy Teaching Kitchen video to see how to create a spice rub. If you’d like to learn more about how to incorporate herbs and spices into your diet or have other nutrition-related questions, contact your local VA or PACT team and ask to speak with a registered dietitian.
Anais Barzowski is a dietetics student at the University of Memphis who is completing her senior project at the Memphis VA working with geriatric Veterans. She hopes to learn more about how to use nutrition and culinary medicine to help individuals maintain their health.