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Health & Wellness: The rise of healthy food options & nutritional transparency in Cambodia

Updated: Jul 20, 2023

Health & wellness: The rise of healthy menu options & the increasing awareness toward transparent nutritional information

What is Healthy Food?

Healthy eating means eating a variety of foods that give you the nutrients we need to stay healthy, feel good and have energy. These nutrients include protein, carbohydrates, fat, water, vitamins, and minerals.

Nowadays, people with healthy eating patterns live longer and are at lower risk for serious health problems such as heart disease, type 2 diabetes which is now very common in Cambodia, and obesity which is also one disease we may observe in Cambodia within the future generation.

According to the Cambodian Diabetes and Endocrinologists Association, more than 600,000 people are currently living with diabetes in Cambodia and another 600,000 are expected to develop the disease. As a reminder, there are about 17 million people in Cambodia, so an estimated 1.3 million who may have a chronic disease. The disease is mainly caused by excessive consumption of fatty, salty and sugary foods as well as overeating, alcohol consumption and lack of exercise.

That is why a healthy, balanced diet is so important, first of all to be healthy. Then, faced with global warming and climate change, we must adopt ecological consumption and, therefore, healthy food consumption.

Healthy food is based on several principles:

  • Choosing quality products.

  • Mix and match your diet.

  • Eat locally.

  • Consuming in a more responsible way.

Michel Guérard, french chef awarded by the Michelin Guide

The multi-Michelin star French chef Michel Guerard was the first to research and write a book on diet cuisine in 1976. He is considered one of the founders of the "new cuisine". He prepares dishes with seasonal products and vegetarian menus.

Since then, many chefs have been working on healthy cooking concepts and now also offer programs to reduce food waste.

What are the new consumer trends?

1) Meatless - Vegetarian & Vegan Food

Balanced and healthy food is very popular with new consumers. Many consumers decide to stop eating meat for several reasons: protection of the animal cause, improvement of their health or sustainable agriculture.

  • Vegetarians don’t eat any animal flesh such as meat, poultry, or fish.

  • Vegans are stricter vegetarians who also avoid consuming dairy, eggs, and any other ingredients derived from animals. Veganism extends to all sectors as vegans choose not to consume anything that is derived from animal exploitation, including clothing, furniture or any other object.

Organic food (produced by methods complying with the standards of organic farming) is also one the new food trends. Standards vary worldwide, but organic farming features practices that cycle resources, promote ecological balance and conserve biodiversity.

To answer to a growing demand, Cambodia has started to offer organic food in its supermarkets and in its restaurants. It is probably one of the major trends in the food industry today, especially in Cambodia where the agriculture development still offers opportunities to implement organic culture.

Many countries are concerned with good nutrition. That is why, a few years ago, the World Health Organization recommended 400 grams of fruit and vegetables per day. France, the United States, Japan and other countries have launched advertising campaigns on this theme. The saying “eat an apple a day keeps the doctor away” has never been so right.

2) Why develop local food in our restaurants?

Local ingredients are definitely an advantage for your supply chain. By shortening the circuit, by going to markets and farms, chefs can select the origins and the quality of their products. In the world of food, it is essential to have a deep knowledge of your products in order to be able to cook, sell or value them. Collaborating with local producers, forging with them long lasting relationships will weigh in your business value.

By sourcing local ingredients, restaurants can provide additional information to their clients and highlight the diversity of the national and regional products such as:

  • origin of the products,

  • method of production or farming,

  • specificity and nutritional qualities,

  • specific labels such as PGI (protected geographical indication).

Product knowledge enhances clients’ experience offering them a culinary journey and bringing awareness to Cambodia's diversity of products.

3) Food safety and transparency in food industry

Today, consumers are particularly concerned about the safety of their food and seek to ensure that it is processed in a sanitary manner. Product safety is becoming a concern for many people.

Food can transmit diseases from person to person and carry bacteria that can cause food poisoning. Food safety is about controlling products from production to consumption in order to avoid possible illnesses. Contamination can be caused by natural agents or by human intervention. Human intervention is mainly due to hygiene standards. The cleanliness of utensils, hands and cooking of food is a determining factor. Some foods are more sensitive, such as meat, fish, egg products, dairy products or raw vegetables.

Food safety is based on two criteria :

  • Product choice and safety of origin.

  • Compliance with HACCP standards during the whole food processing cycle to ensure a safe end product.

The recent law on food safety in Cambodia is setting necessary standards and regulations to protect consumers and meet international standards. To implement food safety measures shall remain a priority for all food industry stakeholders.

The Food Safety Act includes a new set of regulations for food business operators (producers, distributors and importers/exporters, etc) such as traceable food, clear labeling, packaging recommendations, etc.

A good food safety culture, in your restaurant, in your coffee shop can protect:

  • your guests and team from food diseases.

  • your brand's reputation.

  • your business financial sustainability.

New culinary trends

1) Creative dishes are part of Cambodia's cultural heritage

The richness of Khmer dishes brings the country's culinary heritage to life. Some Chefs have decided to write down their recipes to remember these flavors.

For example, "The Taste of Angkor" cookbook was published by the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation as part of its food and cultural diplomacy. It won the "Best Asian Cookbook" award at the Gourmand World Cookbook Awards of 2021.

Rotanak Ros, aka Chef Nak, is Cambodia’s first female celebrity chef, with the mission to preserve and develop Cambodian cuisine and bring it to the global stage. She has appeared in many national and international media and published her first book "Nhum: Recipes from a Cambodian Kitchen" in 2019.

Ratanak Ros is passionate about preserving and celebrating Khmer culture through food. Her cookbook features over 80 traditional Cambodian recipes from different regions of the Kingdom, in both English and Khmer. This year, she has decided to publish a new treasure, "SAOY - Royal Cambodian Home Cuisine", which will help to perpetuate khmer cuisine over time. With over 60 recipes from the country's traditional cuisine, Chef Nak retraces the history of royal Cambodian cooking.

At the "Villa 5 Contemporary Cuisine" restaurant, we also have a very famous chef: Chef Sopheak. He started his career in Siem Reap and then in Bangkok before making a name for himself on the international scene. In 2022, he won the Gourmet World Cookbook Award for the best Asian cookbook.

Chef Seiha Chomnab is a multi-awarded chef who has won several street food festival competitions for his Khmer cuisine. Jomno Street Food is a restaurant that offers unique dishes featuring Cambodian flavors and Japanese techniques.

In his restaurant POU Siem Reap, Chef Mengly Mork uses insects in his dishes. His most famous dishes are red ants, flying ants, roasted bees' nests and larvae. This Cambodian food heritage is gaining more and more notoriety.

2) Diversify the cooking methods

A healthy meal starts with healthy ingredients. However, the way these ingredients are prepared or cooked also matters when making a healthy meal. Some methods of preparing and cooking can require lots of sodium, sugars or saturated fat.

Some cooking methods are definitely healthier than others and should be used on regular basis:

  • Baking uses dry heat to cook foods slowly and evenly in an oven. It is often used to cook: breads, seafood or vegetables.

  • Poaching simmers food in a pan of liquid like water or stock to cook food quickly. It is often used to cook: eggs, some vegetables, some fruit and salmon and with fish.

  • Pressure cooking uses steam that is sealed in an airtight pressure cooker to cook food. This cooks food very quickly. It is often used to cook: rice, stews, soups and bean dishes.

  • Slow cooking uses low heat to cook food over a long period of time. Slow cookers allow you to assemble ingredients in the pot of the slow cooker. You can leave it to cook while you are doing other things. It are often used to cook: stews, soups and casseroles.

  • Steaming is typically done in a steaming basket (one with holes) either on a stovetop or in a microwave. Heat the water to create steam. Place the foods over the steam and add a lid to capture the steam.

  • Broiling uses very high heat for a short amount of time to cook food quickly and evenly. You can do this in the oven by putting the food on the top rack or by using a toaster oven. It is often used to cook: fish, lean cuts of meat and some vegetables like mushrooms.

  • Grilling is commonly done on a barbecue, but it can also be done on a griddle or grill pan which is most recommended now. Use a hot grill to help prevent food from sticking. Using a lid will help cook your food quickly. It is often used to cook: fruits, vegetables, tofu, fish and lean cuts of meat.

  • Roasting is normally done in an oven and often requires the use of oil. It is similar to baking, but starts at a high temperature to create a crisp surface on the food. The temperature is then lowered until the food is cooked. The food is normally left uncovered when roasting. It is often used to cook: vegetables and lean meats.

Agro-Food industry in Cambodia: the country's wealth

Working with local products for a restaurant, a coffee shop or a food & beverage chain also means working with local agro-industry products.

Cambodia is becoming a food supplier in Asia because of the quality of its products. Natural ingredients such as rice, Kampot pepper, have gained a reputation in neighboring countries and around the world. Rice of course, veggies and fruits, dairy products, eggs and mineral water are also key products of the Cambodian food industry.

You will find a list of food products from Cambodia (this list is not exhaustive):

  • Rice: Amru Rice, IBIS Rice and Baitang (Kampuchea).

  • Pepper: SelaPepper Cambodia, Kirum Kampot Pepper, Kadodé, BoTree, Hesed Pepper and La Plantation.

  • Palm sugar: Thnot, Pka Tnoat and Savannak Palm Sugar.

  • Cashew nut: Hesed Cashew Nut and Kosal Farms.

  • Coffee: Kofi and Angkor Coffee.

  • Vegetable & fruits: Khmer Organic and Amarak Farm.

  • Dairy Products: Kirisu, Angkor Milk, Moo Moo Farms, Techo Sen Russey Treb Milk and Local Cheese from Nicolas Rousseau.

  • Cocoa: Wat Chocolate.

  • Honey: Khmer Nectar Honey, Qbee, Mondulkiri Wild Honey and Honey Save Wildlife.

  • Eggs: Soma Farm, Koh Kong Eggs and Eggscellent.

Each area now has its own quality agricultural products, which should be present on our restaurant tables.

Several international agencies such as the French Development Agency, USAID agency support agri-food development programs in the provinces. The Prime Minister stressed the importance of local agriculture in food security. To secure the supply chain, the Cambodian government has established the CS 001-2000 standards for food labeling to facilitate national and international trade in goods. There are standards on labeling and packaging.

Product labels must include:

  • the date of manufacture and the use-by date.

  • food additives and the list of ingredients.

  • labeling, it is also important to promote the sale of the product.

The aim of this legislation is to be as transparent as possible with consumers and to avoid risks such as intolerances, allergies...

To conclude, we can say that food is essential for our body. Food is used to provide us with the energy (calories) and substances (nutrients) needed for our body to function. A good diet plays an invaluable role in our health. It reduces the risk of developing certain chronic diseases and as such increases life expectancy.

To develop healthy eating in your business, here are a few recommendations to help you start:

Be innovative in your menu, source local products to promote them and support the country's sustainable development. Don’t hesitate to venture into new cooking methods, give a try to slow cooking, replace salt by natural fresh herbs, and dare creativity.

Be transparent to gain your consumers’ trust and loyalty. Develop product awareness and knowledge, train your team as healthy food is a concern for all.

Propose to the food delivery platforms you are using to support this movement by implementing a "Healthy Food" or "Local Food Product" label for certain restaurants or dishes.



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