Updated November 18th, 2017.
Packed with more vitamins, anti-oxidants and health boosting qualities than you could ever imagine, South East Asia’s ‘Super’ fruits are all you need to keep your body in tip-top shape whilst travelling. Curing all sorts of ailments, combatting diseases and even containing bonus aphrodisiac properties, the exotic fruits that grow in this tropical climate can do you nothing but good. Here’s the lowdown on what fruit does what for your body…
Would you believe there are as many as 1000 different varieties of mango in the world? Each one crammed with powerful anti-oxidants and enzymes that can fight cancer, alleviate anemia, protect against heart disease, relieve clogged pores in your skin and even boost your sex life! Plus, they’re low in carbohydrates, rich in iron and high in Vitamin A and C. What a fruit, huh!? In South East Asia, Mangoes are the key ingredient in many famous recipes and snacks. Locals eat them dried, pickled, fresh or raw with a savoury chili dip made with palm sugar and fish sauce. Most backpackers will be familiar with the famous ‘mango and sticky rice’ with coconut juice poured generously over the top. If you’re in Thailand and you haven’t tried this, the most delicious street food dessert in South East Asia, I urge you to stop reading this now and go find it!
There are as many as 1,000 different varieties of mango in the world!
Deemed the ‘King of Asian Fruits’ the ‘durian’ is a treasured delicacy and one that is almost an icon for South East Asia itself. Even Bangkok, Thailand’s flavoursome capital, is sometimes referred to as the ‘Big Durian.’ It’s got a deserved reputation as a bit of a stinker, which is why you’ll see signs banning durians on many forms of public transport, cinemas and hotels in this part of the world. The riper the fruit, the more intense the lingering aroma. But once you get past the smell, it’ll do wonders for your health and would you believe your sex life! Rich in Vitamin B, C and E, the durian has the power to lower cholesterol and with a high level of protein, it’s a great muscle builder. The peak season for the durian is May to August, and when the flesh becomes ripe it is slightly soft to touch, but without being crunchy. A distinct flavour, with a light creamy texture, the durian is undoubtedly an acquired taste.
Durian: The King of Asian fruits
Available all year round, the coconut is the consistent superstar fruit of South East Asia. It’s the fruit that says you’re on your travels, you’ve arrived in a far off, exotic land! Sipping fresh coconut juice straight from the shell whilst on a white sandy beach is the stuff of dreams when you’re sitting in the office at home. Aside from the glamour, the coconut is a truly remarkable health restorer and it is the coconut oil that is the real elixir.
The oil has been used in traditional folk medicine amongst Asian and Pacific people for generations to treat a variety of ailments such as asthma, baldness, bronchitis, constipation, earache, scurvy, gonorrhea, tuberculosis, upset stomach, dysentery, fevers and more! Today, scientists are discovering amazing new benefits for the use of the oil in modern medicine, ranging from the power to kill the viruses that cause herpes, measles (and some believe even HIV) to the ability to prevent dandruff, wrinkles and sagging skin!
For thousands of years coconuts have provided a staple source of nutrition with nearly one third of the world’s population depending on it for food and as an important part of their economy, leading some cultures to call it ‘The Tree of Life.’ It is also used as a base for many dishes in Asia; famously, Amok Curry in Cambodia, Tom Yum Gung soup in Thailand and Malaysia’s Laksa Curry. It’s also great in cocktails!
Sipping fresh coconut on a white sandy beach is the stuff of dreams
The dragon fruit is actually a type of cactus that flourishes in the high temperatures of tropical regions throughout the world. It is believed to have originated from South America, and introduced to South East Asia when they were brought to Vietnam by the French over a hundred years ago, where they were originally grown for royalty and the wealthy. The flesh is refreshing and sweet and is often served as a juice, in fruit salads or made into jam. They are sometimes blended with alcohol to make a delicious cocktail. Amongst other health benefits, dragon fruit is said to improve eye-sight and prevent hypertension. They are regarded as particularly beneficial to people with diabetes as are said to help lower blood glucose levels. High in Vitamin C and dietary fibre, they are also believed to have the potential to reduce fat and aid weight loss for those looking to stay trim!
The dragon fruit is actually a type of cactus, originating from South America
Believed to have been first cultivated in Indian rain forests, the jackfruit is known to be the largest tree borne fruit in the world growing up to 90cm long and weighing up to 50kg! It’s a wonder how these enormous swollen fruits stay on the trees. Hard and prickly on the outside, soft and chewy on the inside, the jackfruit is bursting with health benefits – even the seeds are good for you! Rich in potassium, the jackfruit is said to help lower the blood pressure. It is also believed to have anti-aging, anti-oxidant, anti-ulcer properties and help treat a number of skin problems. For travellers with a case of ‘traveller diarrhea’ you’ll be pleased to know that jackfruit has been found beneficial in relieving symptoms, as well as curing fever. The jack fruit becomes sweeter as it ripens and its delicate taste and fragrance means that it is often used as an ingredient in desserts such as a traditional home-made coconut ice cream. Deep-fried jackfruit is also a popular snack. From the leaves, to the flowers and the seeds, every part of the jackfruit is edible and are featured in savoury dishes such as curries or eaten with chilli dips.
From the leaves, to the flowers and the seeds, every part of the jackfruit is edible
The papaya is probably the number one fruit in terms of balanced nutrition. Containing just about every vitamin and mineral your body needs! Foliate, Vitamin E, Magnesium, Phosphorus, Potassium, lipids, amino acids, it wipes the floor with your run-of-the-mill fruits, putting their nutritional value to shame! The papaya has 33% more Vitamin C and 50% more potassium than oranges, thirteen times more Vitamin C, twice the potassium of apples and four times more Vitamin E than apples and oranges! It has no cholesterol or saturated fat and it contains Vitamin A, C, calcium,iron and fibre, good for the digestive system and the heart. It is widely eaten as a fresh fruit and grown in many parts of the region as an economic crop. It also features widely in South East Asian cooking and cuisine. In Thailand, the green papaya is the key ingredient of one of their most famous dishes: sliced papaya, crushed peanuts, garlic, chilli, lime juice, fish sauce, tomatoes, dried shrimp and crushed peanuts go together to make the popular ‘Papaya salad’ or ‘Som Tam’.
The papaya contains just about every vitamin and mineral your body needs
An exotic delicacy, the lychee is in high demand all over the world. Sweet, succulent and likened to the texture of a grape, Thai lychees are one of Thailand’s major exports, exported in many different forms: fresh, dried, frozen, and canned. Increasingly popular nowadays is lychee juice and even lychee wine. They are usually sweet and, unlike other fruits, lychees do not ripen after picking so if plucked too early can have a bitter aftertaste. They are extremely high in anti-oxidants, potassium and vitamin C and jam-packed with anti-aging and disease fighting anti-oxidants. Studies have shown that eating lychee fruit may reduce the risk of cancer. Often considered a little bit glam and a little bit sexy, lychees have even been considered as a symbol of love and sensuality. In ancient Chinese history, legend has it that the last Emperor of the Tang Dynasty had his guards travel over 600 miles across China to bring fresh lychees to the palace in an attempt to woo his beloved.
Lychees are one of Thailand’s major exports
If the durian is the “King of Tropical Fruits” the mangosteen is the “Queen.” Hailed as ‘delectable’ and ‘luxurious’ the exquisite flavour of the fruit has been celebrated and praised by many authors and influential people. Legend has it that Queen Victoria offered a reward of 100 English pounds and the promise of a knighthood to anyone who could deliver her the fresh fruit. Crack open the hard purple outer shell to squeeze out segments of soft white flesh; sweet, tangy and tantalising to the taste buds. As well as being delicious, the mangosteen has many significant health benefits and mangosteen juice has recently become a popular health drink. Regarded as an energy booster, anti-depressant, antibiotic, anti-aging and helping to prevent diseases such as Alzheimer’s, fungal infections, diabetes, gum disease, glaucoma and many other illnesses. If a fruit this tasty can be this good for you, no wonder it’s given the royal title.
Queen Victoria offered a reward and a knighthood to anyone who could deliver mangosteen
With a thick, hairy outer skin and sweet succulent flesh clinging to the seed inside, the rambutan is considered a rare, exotic and beautiful fruit by Westerners and those living in cooler climates. To people in Thailand, The Phillippines, Malaysia, Borneo and other countries across South East Asia, the rambutan is as common as your average apple to the English. Many people are amazed by the nutritional value of the rambutan, packed with vitamins A and C, zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, copper protein and more, it’s been hailed as having the ability to fight infection and bacteria in the body and stimulate the production of red and white blood cells. A study in Malaysia showed that the fruit contains antiseptic properties, effective as a topical ointment to fight infection outside as well as inside the body.
The rambutan is considered a rare, exotic and beautiful fruit by Westerners
The citrus fruit pomelo is the Asian equivalent of the grapefruit, but much bigger and juicier! Originating in China and mentioned in Ancient Chinese literature, the fruit is now eaten as a dessert or snack all over South East Asia. Research has shown that it is rich in many essential vitamins and minerals, notably vitamins B and C, potassium, beta-carotene and folic acid, which is important for pregnant women to ensure the health of the baby. It is great for people trying to lose weight as it simultaneously satisfies hunger, whilst accelerating the breakdown of proteins and fats. Scientists also believe that the pomelo is a mood booster, invigorating our senses and improving stamina. There is even a special pomelo diet developed by doctors to treat asthma. In the Philippines, the fruit is known as ‘lukban’ and it is cut into wedges and dipped in salt before eaten.
The pomelo is great for people trying to lose weight
So there you have it! With all these natural remedies available everywhere you go in South East Asia, your mother has no need to worry about you taking care of yourself – even if you’re only sneaking the juice into your rum cocktail – it all counts, right?!
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