A matter of taste
While Koreans have their kim chi, Singaporeans have achar.
The word "achar" comes from the Indian language and simply means pickled vegetables.
There are many recipes for achar, given the cultural influences of different regions. Although nutritionists recommend eating fresh vegetables, the pickled version is just as good.
"A typical serving of achar (20g) has about 20 calories, which is low," says Pindar Yu, principal dietitian at SGH.
However, the downside is the relatively high sodium level: One serving contains 6 per cent of the daily recommended sodium intake of 2,000mg.
Yet, there's no need to raise the alarm. Most of the time, people consume achar as a side dish, so the amount they eat isn't too much and won't likely become an issue, says Yu.
The nutrition factor
According to Yu, the way achar is prepared affects the level of nutritional value it contains.
For starters, go easy on the salt used to soak and pickle the vegetables, as well as the sugar used to add taste.
Since no heat is involved in the nutrients are preserved. Also, the vinegar used for curing achar can increase the body's metabolism. But hold your horses: The effect is so small, it's unlikely to translate into any noticeable fat loss.
However, research has shown that vinegar does have a noticeable effect on your blood sugar levels.
The acids in it slow the digestion and absorption of carbohydrates, which prevents spikes and drops in your blood sugar levels that cause energy slumps and food cravings.
"The fruit and vegetables in achar are also good sources of dietary fibre as well as vitamins A and C," says Yu.
The antioxidant properties in both vitamins may also help neutralise the harmful effects of free radicals that may cause cancer.
Typically, achar comes in a spicy paste, says Gary Chiah, a dietitian at SGH.
The commonly used vegetables are cabbage, cucumbers, long beans, pineapple, carrots and chilli slices, he adds. The methods used to prepare the vegetables vary, but mainly include soaking the vegetables in brine to make them crunchy, blanching them in hot water or serving them raw.
The spicy dressing is made from a blended paste of shallot, garlic, ginger, turmeric powder, vinegar, sugar, salt and chillies.
The paste is then pan-fried with oil before being mixed with the vegetables. Some places that serve achar this way add chopped peanuts or sesame seeds.
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Eng Chee Koon is a senior writer with Men’s Health magazine by SPH Magazines.
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