Neither a worldwide H1N1 virus pandemic nor political unrest in Asia could keep me from exploring the exotic, exquisite, mysterious paradise of Thailand. My opportunity came when attending Thaifex--World of Food Asia, organized by the Thai Chamber of Commerce, Dept. of Export Promotion and Koelnmesse Pte. Ltd., and held at the Impact Arena in Bangkok May 13-15.
In addition to being a popular tourism destination, Thailand’s vibrant export-led economy reflects its status as a pre-eminent trader to the world and logistics hub of Southeast Asia. Scrumptious tropical fruits and vegetables, seafood (particularly shrimp), frozen and processed chicken, sugar cane, tea, coffee and rice are Thailand’s major exports, and the Thais want to expafnd their markets.f
Despite the worldwide economic crisis, there were 2,100 exhibitors at Thaifex, one of the few trade shows with increased attendance -- 21,101 trade visitors and some 100,000 international buyers and visitors from China, Hong Kong, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore and the U.S., a 40 percent increase compared to 2008.
“Due to increasing world demand, there is room for considerable business growth for Thai food exports,” said Permanent Secretary to the Ministry of Commerce Siripol Yodmuangcharoen. “We aim to generate $22 million in exports this year.”
“More Asian manufacturers are producing more quality organic and Halal products,” said Michael Dreyer, managing director of Koelnmesse, which also sponsors the Anuga Fair in Cologne, Germany. “Halal-certified products could be the boom for the region, as there are 1.5 to1.8 billion Muslims in Asia.” The population in the region is gaining in income and they have the ability to eat and live according to religious standards.
Show security was tight, and attendees had to pass through airport-type detectors. Food safety is the No 1 priority in Thailand, as evidenced by the vast numbers of quality certifications prominently displayed in booths – ISO 9001-2000, HACCP, GMP.
Food Safety was also the primary emphasis during a plant tour at I.T. Foods Industries Co. Ltd., a seafood and prepared foods manufacturer; our tour of the Halal kitchen of Thai Airways International, a member of the Star Alliance, which feeds passengers of most major airlines; and even during a walkabout at Thai Organic Farm. In fact, the number of masks, gloves, booties and lab coats I wore could have clothed a plant shift, and my hands were in washing mode at every step.
We shared the wonderful flavorful dips called nam prik, sampled the flavorful, spicy sauces and stews, pork wrapped in banana leaf, salads with every fresh herb known to man, perfectly prepared seafood, fresh fruit with intensely sweet flavors and fragrant curries to die for, all family style. In Thailand, soup is served before each meal, both to curb appetite and for its healthful properties. Thais also eat five or six small meals a day, rather than three large meals. Although I ate every minute I was there, I lost three pounds.
Thailand is known as the “Rice Bowl of the World,” and of all the rice grown there, Thai Hom Mali Rice, naturally fragrant with a distinctive taste, is the most prestigious. Thailand also produces organic Thai Hom Mali (jasmine rice), long and slender, with its aromatic flavor and flowery scent released during the cooking process.
During the show, we found some unique products including black colored duck Century Egg (also known as 1,000 year old eggs) from Kasmmchai Farm Group; Juthathip brand Tuna Fish Sauce consisting of vitamin C, B2, iron and potassium; and Conz Corn Stick, square spherical sticks with corn in the middle, which contain no trans fat, no MSG and no sodium by San SeSan Global in three flavors: Roasted Corn, Chocolate and Cheese.
One of the most interesting concepts at the show was from C.P. Group, a supermarket chain. Most supermarkets deliver, but this one is setting up kiosks in office buildings and commuter train stations. Consumers can touch the screen and choose from a huge selection of groceries, including fresh meats, vegetables, fruits and prepared meals, which will be delivered to their home by CP Fresh Mart in time for dinner. As the store gets to know their taste, the kiosk also gives them suggestions and recipes.
I.P. Trading Ltd. showed its shelf-stable (packaged in Tetra Pak containers) Ivy Drinking Yogurt products in Mixed Fruit, Lychee, Hi-Calcium, Strawberry, Orange, Blueberry, Natural and Raspberry flavors and Ivy Chrysanthmum & Lo Han Guo flavored juice drinks. N.B. Value Link Co.’s Jus Cool & Rite brand includes an unusual but tasty beverage: Roasted Coconut Juice with Pulp.
Tipco F&B Co. Ltd. featured Juice Latte 100%, containing 98 percent of real fruit juice blended with 2 percent of soy milk in pomegranate and orange. Its Super Star beverages contain collagen, fiber, folate, vitamin B12, and vitamin C for beauty, body and brain in pomegranate and acerola-cherry varieties. And Cool Fit is mixed fruit and vegetable juices containing L-carnitine to boost fat burning plus vitamins A, C and E. I was rather partial to the Beetroot Mix.
Food and Drug for Health Co. Ltd. offers five varieties of Brighty health drinks – ginseng (high ginsenosides), mangosteen (high xanthones), pomegranate (high antocyanins), goji (high zeaxanthin) and malva nut (high fiber).
White Crane Health Products Co. Ltd. grows organic wheatgrass for juices and smoothies. Besides chlorophyll and a myriad of vitamins, minerals and enzymes, wheatgrass juice is said to have 30 times the vitamin B1 as a glass of milk, seven times the vitamin C in an orange, five times the iron and carotene in spinach and 11 times the calcium of a glass of milk.
Several Thai people told me the most popular brand of mangosteen juice in Thailand is Mung Koot from Tako Foods Industry Co. Ltd. Tako also produces 100 percent mangosteen juice under the NatureXan Gold brand, 90 percent mangosteen juice blended with grape and lemon under the NatureXan brand and 80 percent mangosteen juice blended with apple, pomegranate, lemon and blueberry under the NatureXan Silver brand.
Energy drinks are popular everywhere, and one of the most intriguing is Emu Energy Ltd.’s Hang Original and Hang Foreplay, which are said to prevent a hangover because of the benefits of more than 20 natural herbs. The idea is the drink Hang before and after alcohol for best results. You might not know that Red Bull originally was a Thai drink (Krating Daeng is actually a “red water buffalo” and the logo is exactly the same). In 1987, Austrian businessman Dietrich Mateschitz made a deal to introduce the product worldwide, and tweaked the formula (taste and carbonation). The original Thai company owns 52 percent of the new Red Bull, which is based in Austria.
On the main menu
For authentic Thai Curry Paste, Nature Spice Co. Ltd. has a delicious line of Khun Shine instant pastes including Red Curry Paste, Panang Curry Paste, Masaman Curry Paste, Green Curry Paste, Yellow Curry Paste and Chilli Paste in Oil. I was fascinated by the claim which states “Main ingredients of our curry paste are chilli, shallots, garlic, galangal, lemongrass and leech lime. These fresh herbs and spices are effective in balancing the body, lowering cholesterol level, helping you to have good appetite, also being carminative, anti-bacteria, may reduce the risk of cancer. And these can surely keep you in good health.”
Tom Yum curry soup is the most popular soup in Thailand, and Theppadungporn Coconut Co. Ltd. has a delicious line of canned curry soups for convenience-driven consumers.
M&R Laboratory Co. Ltd. produces a line of crispy flours with flavor. Its GOGI seasoning Tempura Flour contains Hot Spice 2 in 1 Garlic Pepper, and it’s great for consumers and foodservice – no guesswork here. K J C Interfood Co. Ltd. manufactures Ka-I-so Noodle from Seaweed Extract, perfect for salads, soups and desserts, and Zen Thai Marketing Co. Ltd. distributes Zen Thai Rice Vermicelli, which is all natural, wheat-free, gluten-free, cholesterol-free and fat-free. Kanom Mae Oey-Pley & Pie provides organic fillings for the bakery industry including Grean Bean Paste, Red Bean Pastes, Black Bean Pastes, Tar Paste and Sesame Pastes.
Coconut is one of the most important ingredients in Thai cuisine. Chef’s Choice Foods Manufacturer Co. Ltd. was established in 1978 as the first manufacturer of canned coconut milk in Thailand. Among its many products are Coconut Juice with Meat, Coconut Juice with Pulp and Coconut Jelly in water/Syrup and flavors.
Creative salad dressings from Pure Foods Co. Ltd. include No cholesterol (Calcium Plus), Greentea Lemon (Calcium Plus), Mint Yoghurt, Soy Sauce Japanese, and Sesame.
Agronegar Ltd. makes fermented antioxidant-rich My Garden Natural Corn Cider Vinegar from non-GMO corn utilizing German technology under strict international standards. How do they do it? The company ferments fresh corn into wine then converts it to vinegar.
Mae-Ruay Snack Food Factory Co. Ltd. certainly has some unique flavors for its Koh-Kae peanuts. They include: Coconut Cream, Chicken, Coffee, Shrimp, Thai Tom Yum Spicy and Nori-Wasabi. In Indonesia, koe-kae means “a rich man,” and Koe-Kae products account for 80 percent of peanut snacks sold in Thailand and 9 percent of the total shares in the snack food market.
If macadamias are your preference, Heritage Snacks & Foods Co. Ltd. would like to introduce you to Nut Walker Green Tea Wasabi Macadamias, nitrogen flushed to maintain freshness. The company also has a line of Nature’s Sensation Tropicals & Exotics (great name) dried fruits – Mango, Banana, Sweetened Ginger, Mixed Fruits, Rambutan and Pineapple -- from the prime growing regions around the world, and Fruit of the Himalayas – Crispy Goji Berries and Fruit of the Silk Road – Figs, Large Green Raisins, Large Black Raisins, and Dates.
With 25 percent less fat than regular potato chips and gluten-free, Papa Cassava Chips are available in six flavors – Original, Smoky BBQ, Hot & Spicy, Black Pepper, Cheese, and Pizza from San SeSan Global.
As low-carb foods gain in popularity, it is not surprising that Pattera Sophon Intertrade Co. Ltd. enjoys great success with its Ko No Mi Crispy Seaweed Snacks, available in Classic and Hot and Spicy. Crispy Mango Chips, Jackfruit Chips, Banana Chips, Pineapple Chips, and Durian chips from Thaitan Foods International Co. Ltd. are an ideal healthy snack, as is a can of Pepper Garlic Green Peas in a can from Heritage Snacks & Foods Co. Ltd. Chocolate coated Pumpkin Seeds flavored with Green Tea from Carafe Co. Ltd. might be your bliss, or Cheese Packed Core Fish Strands, from Big Kitchen Co. Ltd., are a unique snack that tastes like pizza.
Thammasang Interfruits produces fresh and frozen Durian, Lychee, Longan, Mangosteen, Young Coconut, Rambutan, Sweet Tamarind, Pomelo and Sweet Honey Oranges, which have a green outer peel, yet a sweet orange flavor. Or those with a sweet tooth might enjoy a delicious soft candy from SMSC, a pocketsize fat-free Mango Sheet or mango leather, a thin roll of pure mango for on-the-go consumers and children. Another popular sweet in Thailand is Tamarind House’s Tamarind Soft Candy. A combination of sweet tamarind, a tropical fruit said to aid digestion, and plum powder, it is manufactured by Sweet Bee Farm Co. Ltd.
Dessert with meanings
Bean Cakes are considered a wonderful gift for very important people. They differ regionally, and are made from a variety beans, sesame, pumpkin, water lily seeds, whole wheat and pearl barley. They are believed to lead to prosperity and revitalization, according to bean cake maker Kanom Mae Oey.
Banana represents business prosperity, durian stands for vigor and strength, jackfruit is associated with compassion, longan represents the eyes of a dragon, or influence, pineapple is a symbol of wisdom, intellect and talent, lychee means wealth and honor, strawberries mean warmth, love and kindness, chocolate represents creativity and inspiration and bale fruit is believed to bring about popularity.