THE FIVE FOODS WE SHOULD BE EATING MORE OF IN PHUKET
Updated: Jun 9, 2020
How can I eat well without ruining the planet? This is a question we need to be asking ourselves. As a Nutritionist & food fanatic who has lived across four continents, I can confidently say there is no ‘magic cuisine’ to save the world. What we do have, however, are magic ingredients. For those of us fortunate enough to call Phuket ‘home’, we look below at some of the bounteous produce our little island provides and invite you to consider ways to incorporate these local ingredients into everyday life. If we can collectively endeavor to eat more of these foods, we will be doing ourselves, the animals, our island home and the wider planet a HUGE favour. Given that they also happen to be both affordable and tasty, it sort of makes sense doesn’t it?
Jack Fruit is the largest tree born fruit in the world and if you haven’t come across it in Phuket yet, then you might need to get your eyes checked! It can frequently be found at roadside sellers and markets, weighing up to 40kg its large barrow shape is covered with pyramidal spines making it highly distinctive and eye catching. The Jack tree grows both wild and in dedicated plant nurseries on the island: as well as producing enormous fruit, it is both pest & drought resistant, therefore making it hugely sustainable. It is also a treasure trove of nutrition: rich in potassium, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, calcium, Vitamin C, Vitamin A, Vitamin B6 and protein. It’s high in carbohydrates, carotene and dietary fibre but contains no cholesterol. Enjoyed raw, the fruit flesh is strong & sweet but perhaps most notably, the flesh can be cooked and shredded as a delicious meat substitute in many plant-based dishes. Jackfruit is a sustainable, healthy, affordable, and tasty option which also happens to be locally grown in Phuket, little wonder therefore it’s been coined ‘the miracle food crop’.
Moringa is a nutritional powerhouse which is widely cultivated and fast growing across Asia. It is drought resistant and can grow with minimal soil, therefore making it super sustainable. Of course, you could go to a health food shop and buy the powder, but chances are there is a moringa tree or two growing in your local neighborhood. The leaves of the tree are easy to spot and easy to pick and with 7 times the Vitamin C of oranges, they pack a powerful immune boosting punch. Picking a few branches to remove the leaves will catapult almost any dish into nutritional supremacy and because it grows in such abundance, you don't have to worry about depleting the source. With over 90 nutrients and 40 powerful antioxidants, it might even be time to grow your own Moringa tree. Add to soups, salads, stir fry’s, smoothies and eggs or simply add it to hot water with lemon & honey for a cleansing cup of tea.
Mushrooms were cast into the superfood spotlight a few years ago – and rightly so. These humble, earth grown, fabulous funghi have health benefits which extend way beyond the realms of other superfoods. Whilst their anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, immune-boosting, nutrient intense, cancer-fighting credentials are all highly commendable, it is their ability to combat viruses which really sets them apart as the ‘Superhero of superfoods’. To really give mushrooms the credit they deserve, an entire thesis needs to be written on the various species and the correlating health benefits, as disease fighting properties differ between species. Here in Phuket we are spoilt for choice with a wide variety of locally grown mushrooms on offer in shops, markets and roadside stalls. You can even buy your own to grow at home: visit Bang Jo markets for a great option to get you started.
With the word ‘virus’ permeating our everyday lives like never before, we recommend shitake, oyster, maitake and reishi (fresh or dried) as the best medicinal mushrooms to help fight viral infections including influenza. Mushrooms are one of the few foods you can eat for breakfast, lunch and dinner: they are so incredibly versatile and easy to incorporate into virtually any meal. They even make a good snack option, delicious oven baked as a crispy, crunchy & healthy alternative to potato chips. Inexpensive, environmentally sustainable, ferociously good for us and readily available…..it’s time to believe in the magic of mushrooms.
The Roselle Plant is a species of the Hibiscus family and is often referred to as ‘red sorrel’ in English speaking countries. It does not, however, grow so well in these countries, being better suited to the warm & tropical climate of Asian regions - with Thailand being one of the leading producers of Roselle worldwide. Here in Phuket, you will notice it is on offer at many local markets where the red flowers are sold to make numerous delectable delights from fresh salads, jams, jellies and spices to thirst quenching juices and teas. For the more adventurous cooks, the flowers can even be dried and cooked as a meat alternative – excellent in tacos, tried and tested (see photo). The taste is one of tartness, not dissimilar to cranberry. As for the nutritional content, we have another wallop of vitamins and minerals with every mouthful: calcium, iron, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, Vitamin C and Vitamin A. As a Nutritionist, it would be remiss of me not to mention that this pretty red plant also has one of the highest antioxidant levels of any readily available food worldwide. Who said flowers were just for decoration……?
In the case of sea grapes, good things really do come in small (green & glossy) packages. Otherwise known as ‘green caviar’, sea grapes grow in abundance in the waters of Southern Thailand during the earlier months of the year. They are a brilliant source of long-term sustainable aquaculture: not only do they develop quickly, have strong anabolism and disease resistance, they also grow well amongst other species. With a look and texture similar to sturgeon caviar, these tiny green balls of algae also happen to be turbo-charged with vitamins and minerals. A modest 100g serving will you provide you protein, calcium, iodine, potassium, zinc, iron, Vitamin A & Vitamin C as well as being a rich source of omega 3 fatty acids. Consuming these mighty green morsels regularly can help strengthen bones, joints, heart, hair and eyesight whilst also improving blood pressure and hypertension. Already on menu’s across Phuket, particularly those with a focus on seafood, expect to see more of these as we learn to embrace the culinary gifts bestowed upon our island shores.