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Spices used in the Cuisine of Vietnam

Vietnam is home to one of the healthiest cuisines in the world. In this country cooking is far more than just serving up something to eat. Vietnamese cookery is based upon balance and each dish should bring pleasure to the five senses. This principle arises from the five main tastes of spicy, sour, bitter, salty, and sweet. Each flavor will pertain to one of the elements, and pay particular attention to the health of certain areas within the body.

A sour taste relates to wood, it is thought to act upon the gallbladder, and the food will be green in color and will mostly delight the sense of sight. That which is sour should provide the body with carbohydrates. A bitter tang relates to fire. It acts upon the small intestine. The color is red and it will bring the most joy to the sense of taste. The bitter aspects will provide the body with the necessary fats. A sweet flavor relates to the earth. It benefits the stomach, and is yellow in color. Its purpose is to give pleasure via the sense of touch, and to deliver protein to the body. Spicy tastes pertain to metal, and are thought to be good for the large intestine. The color is black and brings the most pleasure to the sense of smell. Sweetness affords the body with the essential minerals. The salty taste relates to water. It acts upon the bladder, is white in color, and is good for the sense of hearing. It is believed to rehydrate in that it will ultimately ensure that the body receives water.   

Spices play a crucial role in the five taste senses and in the maintenance of balance. For example a duck dish is considered to be of a cool temperature and is therefore served with ginger to give heat to the body. It is for this reason that ginger is frequently served with seafood which are considered to be cool or cold. Ginger has enormous beneficial impact upon the body. It is thought to stimulate the liver and help to rid the bloodstream of toxins. It eases diarrhoea, helps to clear a blocked nose, relieves headache, and aids in the treatment of colic.

Ginger, along with hot chili peppers, is one of the main spices found within Vietnamese cuisine. Garlic is found in almost every dish, and cinnamon is widely used in soups, stews, and desserts. Cinnamon has high phenol content and is therefore conducive to the health of the circulatory system. In the United States it has recently been proven that cinnamon aids in glucose metabolism and therefore helps to normalize blood sugar levels. As with most oriental countries, the Vietnamese have known the health benefits of cinnamon since ancient times and for this reason it has been used in the cuisine for centuries.  

Coriander is one of the oldest known spices, and as with lemongrass and mint, which includes spearmint and hot mint, it is found in a variety of Vietnamese dishes. Perilla, also known as Tia To, is a popular complement to seafood dishes, particularly those that contain crab.

As with any country, the dishes vary according to locality. In the northern regions black pepper is used instead of chili. The dishes tend to be more subtle in flavor than those of the other areas although they do tend to use much more salt. In northern Vietnam fish dishes are almost always garnished with dill. A number of Vietnamese signature dishes originate from the north such as Bun Rieu and Banh Canh.

The central region of Vietnam produces the spiciest dishes. Recipes tend to contain an abundance of color. Chili peppers are included in most of the central Vietnamese recipes. Central Vietnam uses a wealth of lemongrass and chili, especially in beef dishes.

Southern Vietnam produces a wide range of tasty dishes which tend to include copious amounts of garlic. Sweet flavors are preferred within this region and for this reason sugar, along with coconut milk, is likely to be included in the meals.

A multitude of Vietnamese recipes can be found online. Most of the ingredients, including the spices are widely available and can be bought in Vietnamese grocery stores and supermarkets. Vietnamese cookery marries art and science and for this reason, accomplished cooks relish the challenge in mastering the cuisine of this awe inspiring country.