What is an Asian Superfood?
We are well aware of Western superfoods such as blueberries, mushrooms, and kale, or even superfoods from other cultures that have made way to the U.S. like turmeric, acai, and quinoa. But we’ve missed a huge class of superfoods: Asian superfoods! Asians have been eating all sorts of highly nutrient dense herbs, fruits, and roots for thousands of years to improve health and cure illnesses.
Many Asian superfoods are used in the Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) category, but you can also find many of these Asian superfoods we mention in this article in the pantries and diets of Asian Americans. While there are lots of Asian foods that traditionally have been categorized as superfoods, such as green tea, taro, red bean, and black sesame, we will be focusing more on the herbal Asian superfoods that are used to heal and safeguard our health.
Chinese Food Philosophy
In our culture, there is something called Chinese Food Therapy, whereby the food we consume daily directly impacts the quality of our health and longevity. In turn, the right combinations of food and certain ingredients may also help us to heal or prevent bodily illnesses. In addition, there is a complex philosophy called Hot vs. Cold foods, or the yin and yang in food, which states that food may either have warming or cooling properties that affect the body’s energy. Cool foods will raise yin, the energy that cleanses and hydrates, while hot foods raise yang, the energy that warms the organs and increases circulation. Many Asian herbs and superfoods are used to help protect and preserve health every day.
11 Most Popular Asian Superfoods
Here are 11 of the most popular Asian superfoods and Chinese herbs for overall wellness.
Ginseng is popular for its various health benefits and even regarded as the “Elixir of Life”. Ginseng is utilized for its cooling, qi boosting effects. Often compared to parsnips in appearance, it is a beige, lumpy root with strings stemming from its body. It is commonly used to help improve energy levels and mental function. Ginseng is also thought to be beneficial in boosting immunity and fighting inflammation.
Jujube is a small, round, lightly sweetened, crunchy red fruit that is often known as the Chinese Red Date and grows well in temperate climates; when mature, the Jujube will often shrink and turn fully red. Mature Jujubes are often used as a medicinal herb while the immature ones are eaten more as a fruit. They are thought to tonify the blood and calm the mind, making them an excellent choice for those with anxiety disorders.
3) Goji Berry
Goji Berries are bright, red-orange berries that are native to Asia and traditionally used in Chinese medicine for their numerous health benefits for thousands of years. They are packed with nutrients and antioxidants and they are thought to be helpful in boosting metabolism, improving immunity, and fighting inflammation. Goji berries can also help improve the appearance of your skin and promote weight loss.
Ginger is a popular spice that has many health benefits. It is commonly used to help relieve nausea and indigestion but it is also thought to be helpful in boosting metabolism by stimulating digestive enzymes. Ginger can be consumed fresh, cooked, or in supplement form, however if you have high blood pressure or are pregnant, it should be used sparingly because it can cause contractions of the uterus muscle tissue.
5) Licorice Root
Licorice Root is typically used as a sweetener but it also has several other benefits. Licorice Root helps balance hormones, which can impact metabolism. It also helps improve digestion and can aid in weight loss.
Astragalus is an herb that has been used in TCM for centuries. It is known for its immune-boosting properties and it is also thought to be helpful in reducing stress levels. Astragalus can be found in supplement form or as a dried powder that can be added to soups or other recipes.
7) Hawthorn Berry
Hawthorn Berry is a small but mighty red berry that resembles a cranberry in look and taste. Chinese hawthorn is often used in Chinese medicine for many purposes. Some of its many health benefits include digestion support, heart health, and abundant antioxidants.
8) Dong Quai
Dong Quai root has been used for more than one thousand years as a spice, tonic, and medicine in East Asia. Dong quai is sometimes called the "female ginseng." Although there are few scientific studies on dong quai, it is sometimes suggested to relieve cramps, irregular menstrual cycles, infrequent periods, premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and menopausal symptoms.
Chrysanthemum, a vibrant yellow and fragrant flower, is a symbol of vitality in Chinese culture. Not only is the Chrysanthemum Flower beautiful in its appearance and representation, Chrysanthemum tea has also been well regarded in Asian culture for its delicious taste and health benefits. The Chrysanthemum flower is traditionally known for its ability to detoxify and cool down the body, as well as promote a healthy metabolism and skin.
Barley is well known for its anti-cancer and healthy heart attributes. It is a nutritious grain that is a staple in Tibetan cuisine. It is packed with fiber that helps improve digestion, it is known as a high-fiber grain. Barley tea is popularly consumed in Korean and Chinese culture.
11) Lotus Seed
Lotus Seeds have been used as a functional food since ancient times, all over Asia. Lotus Seeds come from the lotus plant, an aquatic flowering plant and native to India, China, Egypt and Russia. It has been cultivated in China for more than 3,000 years for its edible seeds. As a traditional medicinal component, this lotus seed is used in the treatment of inflammation, diuretics, and skin diseases and for treating many ailments, including insomnia, palpitations, poor digestion, chronic diarrhea, and cancer.
Sources: Dragon Herbs, National Library of Medicine, Mount Sinai, White Rabbit Institute