Trendy East Asian superfood From matcha to bone broth, kimchi to kombucha, the coolest health foods these past few years—the ones you’ll find at every organic, fair-trade market—have had a marked easterly bent. The East Asian diet has always been relatively healthy (though we in the West zeroed in on the fried chicken first), but today’s demand for new superfoods has clean eaters everywhere scouring the land for the next goji berry. Here, eight nutrition-packed foods from East Asian countries that we predict could hit it big in the natural foods aisle.
Photo: Courtesy of @iamabearlover
The Next Kombucha: Yakult
In the recent Studio Ghibli documentary The Kingdom of Dreams and Madness, ageless director Hayao Miyazaki was shown regularly purchasing a five-pack of red-capped bottles from a neighborhood vendor. Yakult, a probiotic drink, is part of a morning ritual—much like a multivitamin—and many households in China, Japan, and Korea get weekly deliveries.
The Taste: Four to five sips of sweet, yogurty liquid with a slight citrus aftertaste
The Benefits: Though some researchers are skeptical, founder Minoru Shirota, M.D., infused the probiotic formula with a live bacterial strain to aid digestion.
The Likelihood: Medium. Big Greek Yogurt won’t be a fan.
Photo: Courtesy of @chinaism
The Next Quinoa: Purple Rice
Also known as Korean black rice, but more commonly called purple—these grains turn violet when cooked. Usually comes laden with peas, azuki beans, or chunks of chestnut.
The Taste: More moist and glutinous than brown rice; beans make it hearty. Other varieties, like Thai jasmine black rice, are thinner and drier.
The Benefits: A healthful alternative to brown rice—high in fiber with more antioxidants than blueberries—purple rice is the next logical step for the supergrain-eating crowd. The pretty splash of color doesn’t hurt, either.
The Likelihood: High. Why not?
Photo: Courtesy of Jim Franco / @jimgl
The Next Matcha: Barley Tea
Roasted barley grains are steeped in hot water in winter, chilled in summer. Iced barley tea is a popular vending machine drink in Japan and China, and served in lieu of water in Korea. It’s naturally caffeine-free.
The Taste: Warm, toasted cereal grains when hot; refreshing brown rice–infused water when cold
The Benefits: Hot barley tea, or boricha, is served as a sort of digestif in Korean restaurants, and studies have found antioxidant properties. It’s supremely soothing, too.
The Likelihood: Medium-high. Practical, but less chic than matcha and its offspring (matcha lattes, matcha yogurt, matcha doughnuts).
Photo: Courtesy of @rlatkdgns
The Next Marrow Bones: Pigs’ Feet
Braised pigs’ feet, or jokbal, cooked Korean BBQ–style with the traditional marinade of soy sauce, sesame oil, ginger, garlic, and sugar. In their final form, they’re unrecognizable as feet—thin, juicy slices with a caramel-colored glaze. Still, it’s hard to forget, somehow.
The Taste: Fatty, melt-in-your-mouth goodness, akin to pork belly, with a slightly gelatinous chew
The Benefits: Korean women are mad for this collagen-rich dish, which is said to prevent wrinkles and keep skin plump and luminous. A dubious claim, perhaps, but those complexions don’t lie.
The Likelihood: Low. The feet factor.
Photo: Courtesy of @justinspin
The Next Kimchi: Natto
The Marmite of Japan, they say. Soybeans are soaked, steamed, fermented with bacteria, and aged for a week or so. A breakfast staple, scooped on top of steamed white rice with raw egg and miso soup, or spread on toast.
The Taste: One word: acquired. But more than the taste, the texture can be off-putting—think slimy beans.
The Benefits: Low calorie, low sodium, high fiber, high protein, packed with vitamins, and cholesterol-free—a true super.
The Likelihood: Low. Too extreme for the Whole Foods shopper, despite the fermentation trend.
Photo: Courtesy of La Macro y yo / @lamacroyyo
The Next Pickled Veggies: Umeboshi
Dried, pickled plums, though the fruit is technically a Chinese-Japanese plum-apricot. Pickled in salt barrels or vinegar, the ume turns bright red and is often included in onigiri (rice balls) or as an accompaniment to kaiseki cuisine.
The Taste: Salty, not sweet, though some recipes call for honey. Texturally similar to dried apricots.
The Benefits: Supposed to aid digestion and cure hangovers and nausea. It’s low-calorie, at least.
The Likelihood: Low-ish. The wild-card pick. Might make it into a pickled veggie assortment.
Photo: Courtesy of Sonia Mateus Curtin / @ zea0mays
The Next Bone Broth: Seaweed Soup
Edible seaweed pulled dripping from the ocean and served wet. An invasive species that has been cultivated in Japan (wakame) and Bretagne (fougère de mer), it’s a diet staple in Korea, as part of a tofu and miso soup called miyeokguk.
The Taste: Salty with a lingering sweetness. Has a slippery, wet texture—not chewy, unless eaten in big clumps.
The Benefits: High in calcium, omega-3 fatty acids, and a number of vitamins and minerals. Said to burn fat tissue. In Korea, miyeokguk is specially fed to pregnant and nursing women.
The Likelihood: High. Nutritious like bone broth with a less bland, but similarly inoffensive taste.
Photo: Courtesy of HanJ Yoon / @krazycore
The Next Goji Berry: Jujube
Not the candy. A small red fruit grown on shrubs in China and elsewhere in Asia. Popped whole into mouths, or made into teas and syrups. Turns berry red when dried, similar to the goji, which is also from China.
The Taste: More like an apple than any berry.
The Benefits: Used in Traditional Chinese medicine to relieve stress and fulfill a dozen other purposes from the realistic (antioxidant) to the less so (contraception). Small clinical trialshave shown it may help digestion.
The Likelihood: Medium. A bit of an outlier, but so was the goji berry!