The Misunderstood South East Asian Gem: Rendang Dishes - Part 2

<b>The Misunderstood South East Asian Gem: Rendang Dishes - Part 2</b>

The Misunderstood South East Asian Gem: Rendang Dishes - Part 2

Here is a continuation of the last article on the world-renowned South East Asian (SEA) dish, Rendang 

We have established that Rendang is not as unhealthy as we once believed as we learned about coconut milk and coconut oil. This article will look at the myriad of herbs and spices and their excellent health benefits. 

Since there may be as many rendang recipes as there are cooks (my aunts can never agree on who has the best recipe after all these years), here are five herbs that you will find in every Rendang recipe but may not know as much about:


Turmeric has long been used in eastern cuisine and traditional eastern medicines for its powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory properties. Turmeric is a part of the ginger family. Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, and it is also what gives turmeric its distinct color. Studies have associated turmeric intake with reduced inflammation, improved memory, lessened pain, and reduced risks of heart diseases and certain cancers. 

Turmeric is generally safe when consumed as food, as the amount consumed in a regular diet is unlikely to be dangerous. But, there can be side effects and risks if taken as a supplement in large doses; it may also interact with other medications. For example, turmeric can act as blood thinners; you should avoid turmeric or curcumin supplements if you have any bleeding disorder or are on blood-thinning medications. Always consult your doctor if you are thinking of supplementing with turmeric.


Galangal is a cousin of ginger and turmeric that is less known to the western world. Still, it has been a significant member of traditional cooking and medicine in South Asia. It is found in Malay, Thai, Indonesian cuisines and also in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese medicines. 

Like its cousins, it has traditionally been used to treat ailments, and an increasing amount of research supports its benefits. Galangal is rich in antioxidants such as polyphenols. Polyphenols are thought to improve memory and help protect against mental decline, heart diseases, and type 2 diabetes; however, there haven't been studies directly connecting galangal with these benefits. Other potential benefits of galangal that are being studied include its anti-infection and anti-inflammatory relieving properties and how it may relieve pain, improve male fertility and protect against certain cancers.


Lemongrass is a plant that is probably most well known as a spa drink or essential oil. But long before the spa world caught up with the old traditions, lemongrass was widely used in Asia in foods and beverages. , it is also used to detoxify the body, relieve cold and fever, and improve digestion in this part of the world. In ancient Rome and Greece, it was also used to make cosmetics and fragrances. 

There is a lot more to be studied about lemongrass. As of now, we know the lemongrass contains antioxidants and may help prevent some bacteria and yeast. It also contains substances that might relieve pain, reduce fever and stimulate the uterus. Until more is known, lemongrass is still a well-loved ingredient in your tom yam soup, spa tea, and soaps!

Lime Leaves

Traditionally, Kaffir lime leaves are used in Rendang, and they are very different from leaves of other limes such as key limes or jeruk limo, another popular lime in Indonesian. Recently, there were discussions on using the name "Kaffir” as the word "has been used a racial slur in South Africa," according to Waitrose, the UK supermarket chain. It is also known as "Makrut" lime, or jeruk purut in Indonesia or limau purut in Malaysia. 

Makrut limes have a wrinkly appearance and a sharp, intense citrus aroma. As with the first three herbs, the fruit, oil, and leaves are commonly found in cooking and traditional medicines, especially in Thailand. It is rich in antioxidants and biochemical compounds that reduce stress and inflammation, aid digestion, and boost immunity. It is also widely used in personal care and as a natural insect repellent. 


Candlenut trees are native to Indonesia, Malaysia, and the northern tropical rainforest in Australia. Candlenut received its name because of its high oil content, and it has been used in varnish, soap, or have its oil extracted for lamps in the old days.

Roast candlenuts have been a food source to the Australian and Pacific island aborigines; in SEA cuisine, it's often used to thicken the food, and it adds a nutty flavor to the dishes. However, in its raw form, it may be mildly toxic and cause vomiting and gastrointestinal upsets. Do handle the candlenut with care if you are cooking with it. Candlenuts are rich in omega fats, fiber, potassium, and calcium. Traditionally in its native regions, it is used to treat headache and inflammation, but there have not been any clinical studies supporting its medicinal use.

Final Words on Rendang Dishes

At the end of the day, wholesome, old-fashioned dishes made with wholefood ingredients are always going to offer you more than tastes and calories. One potential problem with Rendang dishes is that it's so flavorful that we often end up eating more rice or accompanying staples than we should. 

As with the herbs, there is still more to be learned about the vast array of health properties. They are usually safe at the level that we would typically consume in foods. However, as they do contain active biochemical compounds, do always consult your medical practitioner if you are considering them as supplements as there may be side effects and contraindications.

Don't miss out on Umami Chefs' gourmet special Lamb Rendang!