Here’s an interesting diet question: “is tea leaf salad healthy?” The fermented tea leaves in Burmese laphet salad retain much of the same beneficial ingredients as brewed green tea, which makes the salad quite healthy. However, watch out for factory-made versions.
Because tea is generally healthy, you may assume that tea leaf salad is healthy too. When I researched the recipes as a nutritionist, I found that the health benefits varied greatly depending on the ingredients. Most recipes include legumes and vegetables that can be healthy for you. However, some add excessive amounts of vegetable oil that counter the overall health benefits.
If you are thinking about trying laphet tea leaf salad, this article will explain:
The Burmese traditionally have many ways to prepare laphet-thoke. In all versions, the main ingredient is fermented tea leaf. Other than that, the salad contains a mixture of legumes, tomato, shredded cabbage, and garlic.
It’s typical to see generous amounts of spices, chilies, fried garlic cloves, and roasted sesame seeds in the mix too. The salad is then seasoned with oil, usually vegetable oil, but sometimes peanut.
As recipes vary, you may come across ingredients such as dried shrimp, peanuts, seasoning powder, or fish sauce in the salad. In the street markets of Yangon, this salad is especially greasy.
Traditionally prepared tea leaf salad is delicious and safe to eat. Some manufactured versions, however, may not be so. In 2009, several South Asian governments banned the import of Burmese tea leaf salad because of the presence of Auramine O. This yellow dye is a known carcinogen that damages the liver and kidneys. Not all brands are bad but buyers beware.
As there are so many ingredients in a tea leaf salad, it’s quite nutritionally dense. The salad tends to be high in vitamin A, vitamin B, copper, and manganese with good amounts of calcium. It’s also quite high in potassium, sodium, and saturated fat.
Laphet tea leaf salad generally tastes tangy with tones of nuttiness. The most prominent taste comes from the tea leaves. It doesn’t taste like drinking tea because the leaves are fermented. So you can expect a strong, salty, savoury flavor.
The overall taste can change slightly depending on the other ingredients. The spice combination can make the salad zestier or hotter. If there’s too much oil, the salad will taste like it has been fried. Some ingredients like roasted sesame or dried prawns can make the finished product crispier.
The carb count for tea leaf salad varies. Some calculators give laphet-thoke around 200 kcal per serving while others claim that it is as high as 500 kcal. The amount of oil the recipe has will remarkably change the overall calorie count for tea leaf salad.
The fermented tea leaves in the laphet salad contain around 3 milligrams of caffeine per gram. This is the maximum rate of caffeine for tea leaves. Fermented tea leaves thus have more caffeine than a cup of coffee. However, scientists consider this amount of caffeine to be safe enough to consume.
The high caffeine count in tea leaf salad means you should watch how much you consume per day. It’s recommended to not eat more than 66 grams. Avoid eating fermented tea leaf salad if you are pregnant or breastfeeding, or have a major cardiovascular problem because of the high caffeine concentration.
Studies have shown that fermented tea leaves contain some of the health-promoting compounds of green tea. In this sense, fermented tea leaves can be quite good for your health.
Just like green tea, fermented tea leaves have polyphenols, a compound brimming with antioxidants. Polyphenols can clear substances in your body that damage cells and put you at high risk for chronic diseases like heart disease. Polyphenols may even have anti-cancer properties and will protect you from some of the effects of aging or UV ray damage.
Fermented tea leaves don’t have as many polyphenols as green tea, but there’s enough to be beneficial. What’s more, fermented tea leaves have the lowest concentration of a substance known as EGCG, which green tea has a high concentration of.
EGCG blocks an enzyme called DAO in your body, which is responsible for clearing out histamines that causes allergic reactions. Doctors don’t recommend beverages with high EGCG amounts like green tea for people who have histamine intolerance. However, as EGCG levels in fermented tea leaves are low, it might be safe to consume on a low-histamine diet.
It’s risky to consume raw tea leaves that have not been fermented or steeped. Studies have shown that raw tea leaves contain higher concentrations of contaminants compared to brewed tea.
Untreated tea leaves may contain harmful amounts of heavy metals such as aluminum, mercury, cadmium, and lead. Consuming heavy metals in high amounts can lead to many health complications, including hormonal dysfunction, oxidative stress, neurodegeneration, and immune system problems.
If you are preparing tea leaf salad at home, it’s best to do it as the Burmese do and modify the leaves in some way to reduce the risk of heavy metal contamination. The Burmese traditionally do this by fermenting, steeping, or steaming the tea leaves.
In the traditional method, Burmese cooks steam fresh juvenile tea leaves for 5 to 10 minutes. Then the leaves are crushed to remove the water. Afterward, the paste is fermented in natural bacteria. After two weeks, the results are heavy-pressed and used as the base for laphet salad.
Other than salads, you can add the treated tea leaves to soups, pasta, or rice. You can use it as a topping for other salads too.
Laphet tea leaf salad contains many health-promoting compounds like green tea, albeit in lower concentrations. Thanks to added veggies and legumes, this salad is rich in many micronutrients as well. However, it can also contain caffeine, sodium, and saturated fat, so it’s only healthy if you consume it in moderation.