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Health Benefits of Thai Vegetables

by Brian S.

Anyone who’s ever eaten Thai food knows that each dish is packed full of flavourful and exotic ingredients. Not only do Siamese vegetables add a bit of texture, a splash of colour and a lot of flavour to Thai cuisine, they’re also packed full of vitamins, minerals and other essential nutrients that are required by your body to remain trim, to maintain a youthful glow, and to sustain your health. The health benefits within the most commonly used veggies in Thai cooking are as follows:


Acacia Leaf or Bai Cha Om: This long, slender and somewhat feathery-looking leaf can be eaten raw or cooked. When eaten raw, the acacia leaf emits an unpleasant smell, which has earned it the nickname of “stinky leaf”. The Thais incorporate Bai Cha Om into soups, curries and stir-fries, but it’s especially popular in omelets. When cooked, the odour is eliminated and its taste is warm, nutty and fragrant. Acacia leaves contain protein, vitamins B1 and C, as well as beta-carotene. It’s also said that consuming this leaf will cool down the body and relieve flatulence.


Asian Chives or Gooey Chai: Also known as Chinese and Garlic Chives, these are a member of the garlic and onion family. The long, flat, grass-like leaf has a stronger flavour than your normal chive. It provides a distinct garlic flavor when used in Thai salads, soups and stir-fries. It also often appears as a garnish. Nutrition-wise, Asian chives will add vitamins A, C, E and K to your diet, along with the minerals potassium, niacin and riboflavin.


Bamboo Shoots or Naw Mai: If you are bovine in spirit then the consumption of Naw Mai should appeal to you because bamboo is the tallest member of the grass family. A bamboo shoot, which is the only edible part of the bamboo plant, is the sprout which grows from a mature stalk. Nutty in taste, the bamboo shoot mostly appears in Thai soups and curries. The health benefits of the bamboo shoot include the fact that it’s high in dietary fiber and low in calories; it helps control bad cholesterol, it strengthens the immune system and it has anti-cancer and anti-inflammatory properties. As far as nutrients go, bamboo shoots have more than a few—including, vitamins A, B6 and E, as well as thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, sodium, zinc, copper, manganese, selenium and iron.


Bean Sprouts or Thua Ngok: Similar in appearance, bean sprouts come in two forms—mung bean and soy bean. Thua Ngok will usually show up tossed into a salad, floating in soup and as an essential ingredient to that perennial Thai favorite of Phad Thai. Regardless of what dish they’re in, bean sprouts have a crunchy, watery, clean and refreshing taste. By adding them to anything you eat, you’ll be increasing your intake of protein, B complex vitamins and vitamin C. They are also an especially good source of folate. One cup of mung bean sprouts will provide 16 per cent of your recommended daily allowance (RDA) of folate, while soy bean sprouts will supply you with 30 per cent. By the way, folates help your body produce DNA, amino acids and red blood cells.


Bok Choy or Phak Kat Shanghai: Described as a “non-heading” cabbage, which basically means its long, not round, bok choy is also known as Chinese (Phak Kat Khao) and white cabbage. Common in Thai salads, soups and stir-fries, the leafy part tastes sort of like a cross between cabbage and spinach and the crunchy stalks have a slightly nutty flavour. If you plan on losing weight, this veggie is for you, as 100 grams contains a measly 13 calories, while providing the body with a boatload of nutrients. First, it contains a number of antioxidants which protect you from cancer and lower bad cholesterol levels. The aforementioned 100 grams will also provide 149 per cent of the RDA of vitamin A and 38 per cent of vitamin K, which is necessary for maintaining healthy bone cells and helps to limit the amount of neuron damage done to the brain of anyone suffering from Alzheimer’s disease. Furthermore, one cup of bok choy provides over 66 per cent of the RDA of vitamin C and a significant amount of vitamins B6, B5 and B1, as well as calcium, potassium, manganese, iron and magnesium.


Cherry Eggplant or Makhuea Phuaeng: The pea-shaped, green cherry eggplant is a common staple in Thai yellow, red and green curries. The small round Makhuea Phuang is tender when cooked and has a slightly bitter taste. This particular Thai vegetable is touted to eliminate stomach pain, aid with digestion, put an end to constipation and help to reduce diabetes. The chemical makeup of the cherry eggplant is also said to be helpful in preventing and curing the common cold. In fact, a top-selling cold medicine sold in Thai pharmacies contains the extract of the cherry eggplant.


Chinese Celery or Keun Chai: With thinner, more leafy stalks, Chinese celery looks, tastes and smells completely different to conventional celery. When used raw in spicy Thai salads, its smell is more intense, its texture drier and its taste is pungent, bitter and peppery. However, when incorporated into steamed fish dishes as well as soups, stir-fries and stews, the bitter taste sweetens and the pungent aroma becomes much more fragrant. Celeries of all types contain numerous antioxidants and anti-inflammatory elements, many of which are particularly beneficial to the digestive tract. In addition, celery contains a significant amount of potassium and is claimed to give relief to those who suffer from gout and rheumatism.


Chinese Kale or Kha Na: Similar to, but slightly more flavourful than cabbage and lettuce, this green, leafy vegetable is one of the primary ingredients in many Thai noodle- and rice-based stir-fry dishes. Sometimes called Chinese broccoli, Kha Na is an excellent source of vitamins A and K, and is rich in vitamin C, which is vital for your body to maintain a strong immune system. Low in calories, it’s also high in dietary fiber and folic acid. In addition to lowering the risk of cancer, Chinese kale has a high level of sulfur compounds, which aid in removing unwanted substances and detoxify the body.


Chinese Eggplant or Makhuea Muang: Sometimes known as purple eggplant, the Chinese eggplant is longer and more slender than other varieties of this vegetable. Used primarily in Thai vegetable stir-fries, soups and stews, the Makhuea Muang has a mild and sweet flavour once cooked. Its purple skin should be left on; otherwise you’re bound to lose the majority of the antioxidants contained in the rind. Vitamin-wise, your vitamin B1, B3 and B6 (all of which convert carbohydrates into energy) levels will be boosted. As a mineral resource, this eggplant is loaded with potassium, magnesium and manganese. Magnesium is essential to the human body as it keeps the nerves and heart functioning normally and it eliminates harmful bacteria from the immune system. Eating purple eggplant can also enhance night vision, prevent high blood pressure and hypertension and it can lower cholesterol levels.