The Greens of Vietnam: A Guide to the Herbs in Vietnamese Food
There is something so fascinating about the unique flavourings of cuisines from across the globe. From the ingredients to the methods of preparation, the flavours, textures, and aromas can vary substantially from one side of the world to the other. While Japanese cuisine emphasizes its fresh, seasonal ingredients, authentic Punjabi cuisine is known for its rich, buttery flavours.
When it comes to Vietnamese foods, the use of fresh herbs and spices is integral to the flavour and balance of each dish. Not only are these herbal ingredients traditional to authentic Asian meals but many of them offer a ton of health benefits too. Throughout this article, we will discuss the restorative nature of these herbal ingredients as we explore the top 10 herbs in Vietnamese food.
Top 10 Herbs in Traditional Vietnamese Cuisine
In true Vietnamese cuisine, combining unique flavours with the benefits from restorative herbal ingredients can make for some of the most wholesome, healthy meals.
Our selection of herbs is not only intentional to help keep the balance of Yin and Yang in each dish, but they also help our body in plenty of different ways. From boosting immunity, improving digestion, promoting better sleep, and so much more, Vietnamese herbs play an important role in our health and well-being.
1. Cilantro (ngò gai)
Cilantro is a magnificent herbal ingredient that helps to flavour a variety of dishes. Also known as Ngò Gai, fresh cilantro leaves are integral to authentic Vietnamese cuisine. Given its sweet, citrusy, and peppery aromatic notes, cilantro works to add balance and help tie the flavours of a dish altogether. Most commonly, cilantro is used as an accompaniment to Pho or Banh Mi subs, which is a traditional stuffed rice pancake.
Not only is cilantro delicious, but this herb adds a ton of nutritional value to a meal. Like most other plant-based foods, cilantro is high in fibre which helps promote healthy digestion. As an excellent source of vitamins and minerals, including vitamins A, K, C, potassium, and manganese, cilantro is thought to boost energy, improve skin and hair health, and potentially minimize the risk of heart disease. Although it’s not yet considered a “superfood”, it’s certainly among the most super herbs around.
2. Thai Basil (húng quế)
Thai basil is another beneficial herb used prominently in authentic Asian cuisine. Also known as Húng Quế, Thai basil is the exotic cousin to our everyday sweet basil. Originating from the southeast of Asia, Thai basil has a little extra kick of spice, leaving you with a taste of mint blended with zesty pepper. As one of the most popular herbs used in Vietnamese culture, Thai basil is commonly found in Pho, along with beansprouts, lime wedges, and chopped Asian chillies.
Among the many benefits Thai basil has to offer, it’s best understood for having powerful healing properties. Research has shown that Thai basil is abundant in antioxidants, anti-bacterial, anti-viral, and anti-cancer properties which can all contribute to a healthier, more robust immune system. On top of this, Thai basil is an excellent source of vitamins and essential nutrients such as vitamins A, K, C, calcium, iron, and omega-3 fatty acids.
3. Vietnamese Coriander (rau răm)
Much like your everyday coriander seasoning, Vietnamese coriander offers a ton of great benefits and delicious flavourings to most meals. Known as Rau Răm, Vietnamese coriander has a spicy and slightly lemony taste which pairs well with salad rolls, fresh spring rolls, and most soups.
Thanks to the spice of Vietnamese coriander, the subtle heat helps to promote better digestion. Oftentimes, when people are experiencing stomach pain, abdominal swelling, or flatulence, Vietnamese coriander helps to provide relief of these painful and uncomfortable symptoms. Packed with beneficial compounds known as flavonoids that provide antioxidant qualities, Vietnamese coriander is also thought to reduce the growth and spread of cancer cells.
4. Mint (bạc hà)
We all know and love mint for its refreshing qualities, but did you know it’s one of the top restorative herbs in Vietnamese cuisine? Served in spring rolls or topped in salads, mint adds flavour and nutrition to every bite. Mint is even a great addition to the classic Bánh Mì submarine sandwich.
As a potent source of antioxidants, much like Vietnamese coriander, mint helps to protect our bodies from oxidative stress and minimize cellular damage from foreign cells. Rich in vitamin A, mint also helps improve eye health and night vision.
5. Ginger (gừng)
Ginger is a unique and flavourful herbal ingredient in many authentic Asian dishes offering a ton of health benefits. As a popular ingredient in soups and meat-based dishes, ginger is used nearly as often as cilantro!
Gingerol, which is the main bioactive ingredient in ginger that contributes to its taste and scent, is what is responsible for many of these medicinal properties. For instance, gingerol is thought to have powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties which help your body fight chronic diseases such as hypertension, heart disease, lung disease, and so on. Recently, a 2019 study found that ginger supplementation can have significant effects on weight loss.
6. Garlic (tỏi)
Among the different restorative herbs, garlic is the most widely used across all different types of cuisines. As a cheap yet flavourful ingredient, garlic is just as delicious as it is beneficial for your mind and body. In Vietnamese cuisine, garlic is typically used in meat-based dishes as it pairs well with pork, beef, and chicken. At the Wrap and Roll Corner, we have some of the best oil-showered chicken fried rice that includes a ton of restorative herbs. Among them, garlic is a key ingredient that helps add more flavour to the dish.
What is unique about garlic is that it is high in nutritional content yet low in calories. Having only 4.5 calories per clove, garlic is surprisingly rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. Nutritionist, Jo Lewin explains that garlic helps to prevent and reduce flu and cold symptoms, lower blood pressure, and potentially even improve symptoms of high cholesterol.
7. Chinese Chives (hẹ)
Chinese chives, also known in Vietnamese culture as Hẹ, are similar to traditional chives but with a more intense garlic flavour. Oftentimes, this herb is used to garnish a dish and add some extra zest to each bite.
As for their beneficial qualities, Chinese chives are rich in flavonoid antioxidants which, much like Vietnamese coriander, helps to fight inflammation and potentially even minimize your risk of cancer. Packed with fibre, Chinese chives are also a helpful ingredient to ease digestion.
8. Bitter Herb (rau đắng)
Bitter herb, which is also known as Rau Đắng, is the perfect herbal ingredient for many Vietnamese dishes. As the name describes, the herb itself is bitter which helps offset some of the sweeter ingredients giving a meal more Yin and Yang balance.
If you’re looking to get a little extra digestional support, bitter herbs are just what you need. Working as a natural digestive aid, bitter herbs can improve symptoms of indigestion, nausea, bloating, and flatulence.
9. Shallots (hành tím)
Shallots are a sweeter, more subtly flavoured version of an onion. Without having such a potent taste, shallots are perfect for salads, soups, and various other dishes where sweetness needs to be enhanced without being watered down. While both shallots and onions are rich in fibre, vitamins, and minerals, shallots are higher in most essential nutrients giving them the edge in its beneficial qualities.
Rich in phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, manganese, iron, and copper, shallots are a powerful herbal ingredient to improve bone and tooth health, heart health, energy, and so much more. Additionally, having high antioxidant activity gives them anti-inflammatory and disease-fighting powers.
10. Fennel Seed (hạt tiểu hồi)
Fennel seed is a bittersweet herb that contains an abundance of aromatic essential oils. Surprisingly, these oils help to increase saliva production and kill harmful bacteria in your mouth. Not only does this herb help freshen your breath, but it is also delicious in traditional Pho soups.
What sets fennel seed apart from the other herbs is that it actually benefits women more than men! Packed with phytoestrogenic properties, otherwise known as estrogen-like chemicals, fennel seed helps improve symptoms of menopause by providing relief from hot flashes and sleep disturbances.
The Wrap and Roll Corner
If you’re in search of a tasty, affordable, and convenient Vietnamese restaurant, we have you covered. At The Wrap and Roll Corner, we serve authentic Vietnamese dishes which include a variety of healthy herbal ingredients. Given your busy schedule, we work around your day by offering convenient delivery services for any meal. With Vietnamese cuisine to go, you’ll be able to eat healthy whenever you please.
Visit our website at www.wraprollcorner.ca today to order your next meal!