Top 5: Healthy exotic foods

George Shankar searches for the secret to health and happiness in fresh, foreign delicacies

By George Shankar
Published 1 Apr 2016, 12:00 BST

George Shankar searches for the secret to health and happiness in fresh, foreign delicacies

Kokoda, pronounced ‘kokonda', is the delicious South Pacific alternative to the popular Hawaiian fish salad poke. Like ceviche, kokoda is made from marinating raw fish in lime juice, the citric acid ‘cooking' the fish over a period of several hours. This traditional Fijian dish has a major health (and taste) advantage over other raw fish dishes, though — it's packed full of coconut milk. Usually served as an appetiser, it contains generous levels of omega 3, vitamin C and iron. Small portions of kokoda can reduce the risk of heart disease and boost the immune system due to its combination of fish, chilli, raw vegetables and coconut.

Injera is a type of African sourdough flatbread made using teff flour. As an ‘ancient grain', teff is naturally gluten-free, unprocessed and high in nutritional value. Injera is the national dish of Ethiopia and a staple food in East Africa, noted for its spongy texture and slightly sour flavour. Quick to cook and iron-rich, it's a perfect accompaniment to meat stews and salads. Health benefits result from teff's high-fibre and low-fat content, which supports healthy digestion, growth and immune response. Ethiopian food is surging in popularity in Britain, so expect to see injera on restaurant menus soon.

Sambal comes in two flavours: spicy and very spicy. The generic name for over 300 varieties of Indonesian condiments, the most common style is sambal terasi — a combination of red and green chilli peppers with terasi shrimp paste, sugar and lime juice. Other common ingredients include shallots, garlic, ginger and lemongrass. The base of all sambals is chilli, meaning that they contain high levels of capsaicin and other compounds that reduce cholesterol, relieve stress and decrease the risk of cancer. In Asia, sambal is often paired with fish and fried chicken, but its flexible recipe makes it incredibly versatile.

Matcha tea is the health food trend of the moment. Made from ground green tea, it has been used in traditional Japanese and Chinese tea ceremonies for over 1,000 years. Its health benefits are only just being understood in the West, however, and matcha has become a principal ingredient in healthy drinks, cakes and even ice cream. Studies have shown that matcha contains extremely high levels of antioxidants, speeding up the metabolism and helping to regulate the body's cholesterol. While it's a highly versatile ingredient, matcha experts insist that it's best consumed as tea — the benefits are as much about the ceremony as the tea itself.

Turmeric, the wonder-spice from India, is one of the most-studied ingredients in medicinal gastronomy. A bitter member of the ginger family, its supposed healing properties include prevention of cancer, delaying the onset of Alzheimer's and reducing the likelihood of diabetes. Due to its vibrant orange-yellow colour, Turmeric is used as a base ingredient in South Asian curries, Vietnamese mi quang noodles and sweet dishes throughout Persia (Iran) and Lebanon. In India, turmeric also plays an important role in Hindu spiritualism — the robes of Hindu monks were traditionally coloured with yellow dye made from the spice.

Images (from top):
Kokoda. Image: Inaba, Tomoaki, Flickr
Matcha. Image: Kirinohana, Flickr
Sambal. Image: Irwandy Mazwir, Flick


Explore Nat Geo

  • Animals
  • Environment
  • History & Culture
  • Science
  • Travel
  • Photography
  • Space
  • Adventure
  • Video

About us


  • Magazines
  • Disney+

Follow us

Copyright © 1996-2015 National Geographic Society. Copyright © 2015-2023 National Geographic Partners, LLC. All rights reserved