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Lemon Grass is Greener
The doctor is in... the kitchen

By Bobby Lei | Oct 26, 2006

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Whether you have an upset stomach, or upsetting news of your girlfriend’s surprise elopement, few things can snap you back to focus than a massive Thai meal. That’s because many of the herbs and spices used in Thai food also have medicinal properties, making the cuisine one of the healthiest for you.

Chili Peppers

Thai dishes rank among the spiciest in the world, using a variety of peppers in minced, powdered, or curry paste form. The general rule when picking chili peppers is “the smaller, the hotter.” Capsaicin, which is also the primary chemical in pepper spray, generates the heat in all chili peppers. The taste of Capsaicin stimulates the brain to produce endorphins, your natural pain-killing, happiness hormone. It also benefits the respiratory system, blood pressure, and heart, and aids in digestion. Red chili peppers contain lots of vitamins C and A, while yellow and green ones contain significantly less. Chili peppers also contain lots of B vitamins, as well as potassium, iron, and magnesium. Southern Thai food contains especially high amounts of scorch.

Ginger

In western cuisine, ginger is mostly found in sweet foods, but in the east it’s used for just about anything. Maybe because eastern cooks discovered that ginger has a sialagogue property, which literally causes mouth-watering. In Thai cuisine, it is used as a main ingredient, spice, or herb in practically all dishes. Medical research has found ginger to effectively treat nausea from motion sickness or other illnesses. But health officials do not recommend taking lots of ginger for morning sickness, though it is a Chinese tradition to eat it during pregnancy. Research has also found ginger to be an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent. Several studies already demonstrated its effectiveness in minimizing joint pain from arthritis and other inflammatory disorders. In India, ginger paste is applied to the temple to relieve headaches. On top of all this, ginger may thin out blood and even lower cholesterol, lending more credence to its current popularity.

Coriander

Coriander is a very versatile plant, since every part is edible. Otherwise known as cilantro, coriander leaves are used as a garnish or side ingredient in many Thai dishes. Heat diminishes their flavor quickly, so they’re often added right before turning off the fire. Coriander seeds usually add texture to curry paste, and the root is used in Thailand to flavor meats and curries. Coriander is generally beneficial to the nervous system and recent studies have found it effective as a stomach soother, with problems ranging from indigestion to flatulence. It contains anti-bacterial substances, which can prevent internal and external infections, as well as antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also traditionally used for treating ulcers, hemorrhoids, headaches, and swellings.

Lemon Grass

The stalks and leaves of lemon grass are used in Thai food to add a light, refreshing citrus flavor to a dish. It is used in teas to alleviate depression and bad moods, and it can fight fever as well as nervous and digestive disorders. Studies show that it has antibacterial and antifungal properties, while the oil can be used to clean oily skin.

Kaffir Lime

Almost every home in the Thai countryside has a kaffir lime leaf in its yard. Kaffir lime leaves add a sour, lemony aroma to many soups and curries. It can also be used as a flavor enhancer in drinks. The juice of the fruit is used in many ointments and shampoos to invigorate the scalp and clean the hair. It’s also a natural bleach used for ages to remove tough stains, and is said to promote gum health. For rural villagers, a single kaffir lime tree supplies enough limes to keep the whole house clean. The rind is believed to be good for the blood and also benefit the digestive system. Northeastern Thai dishes tend to favor the use of lime juice.

Star Anise

Star anise is used to flavor sweets and soups in Thai cuisine, and comprises one of the components of Chinese five spice. It’s the industrial source of shikimic acid, a primary ingredient used to create the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, regarded as our primary hope in battling avian flu. Star anise has been used in tea to remedy colic and rheumatism, and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid with digestion.

Garlic

Garlic is used throughout the world as a seasoning or condiment for its powerful, distinct flavor. Its sulfur components cannot be digested and get passed into the bloodstream, through the lungs, and excreted from the skin and breath. Therefore, the only way to permanently alleviate garlic breath is to sweat it out, which is easy to do in Thailand. Research shows that garlic can help with the common cold, lowering cholesterol, treating infections, and even battling cancer.

Thai Restaurants

Tru - 2/F, Grand Progress Building, 15-16 Lan Kwai Fong, Central. 2525-6700
The coconut crepes with crab meat and papaya ($88) will run circles around your taste buds. Strips of unripe green papaya are mixed in a sauce made of garlic, Thai pepper, and tamarind juice, then added to crab meat flakes and coconut milk plus cream. The crisp fried barramundi ($195) is sizzled in the wok with red chilis, garlic and tamarind paste, and sprinkled with thai basils. Its spicy juices make a splash with each crunch.

Lotus - 37-43 Pottinger St., Central, Hong Kong. 2543-6290
There’s a Monday special on the Pad Thai ($80) which comes with a choice of chicken, seafood, or vegetables, stir-fried with rice noodles, eggs, tamarind juice, red chili pepper, and garnished with coriander and banana flower, among other things. Awesome for a case of the Mondays.

Simply Thai - 11/F Times Square, 1 Matheson St., Causeway Bay.
The delectable chicken satay ($46) is slow-grilled till it’s golden and then wrapped in banana leaf for more grilling, adding herbal flavor while locking in the chicken’s tenderness. The vegetarian fried rice ($52) is also worth a try. It explodes with fried ginger, garlic, mint leaves, and crispy shallots, among other veggies.

Ayuthaiya - G23, Festival Walk, 80, Tat Chee Avenue, Kowloon Tong
For spices that pack a Thai kick, chomp on the traditional crispy catfish ($62). It’s poached and deep fried, garnished with a sauce containing lemon juice, fish sauce, garlic, and crushed mint, surrounded by coriander, dried shrimp, mango, and onions. Sip green tea with mint leaves and a lychee ($23) for the full tropical treatment.

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