With a life expectancy of 83.7 years, Japan ranks No. 1 in the world when it comes to longevity (a position it’s held for more than 20 years) . Comparing this to the global average of 69.1 years, it’s no wonder people have been trying to uncover the Japanese secrets to a long and healthy life.
Many of Japan’s longest living people are from Okinawa, a chain of tropical islands in the southernmost part of Japan, that is home to a large number of the world’s centenarians (people living to 100 years and more). Among the many reasons contributing to their longevity, nutrition and the “Okinawan diet” are said to be key factors .
So what makes the Okinawan diet so special? One local ingredient, known as gettou (月桃, alpinia zerumbet, moon peach or shell ginger) has been the focus of various studies and is said to be a significant contributor to longevity in Okinawa .
Shell ginger is a plant that grows in abundance in Okinawa and has been used both in traditional Okinawan cuisine and as a traditional herbal remedy. It’s part of the ginger family and gets its name from its beautiful, pink, shell-shaped flowers.
Shell Ginger Plant and Flower
Results of recently published studies have shown that shell ginger contains abundant bioactive phytochemicals, with additional anti-obesity, antioxidant, and anti-aging properties. In addition, animal studies have shown shell ginger to be a life-expanding plant and suggest that this plant, if used in humans, could expand their lifespan by 22.6% .
The leaves also work as a natural preservative and bug repellent and are used to help foods last longer. Okinawans use the leaves to wrap mochi (pounded rice cake mixed with kokuto (black sugar) or purple sweet potatoes - another staple in the traditional Okinawan diet), for steaming rice buns, meat or fish, or dried into a powder and mixed with buckwheat to make local soba. However, one of the most common ways to consume it, is by using its leaves and flowers to make shell ginger tea (one tea can have 34 times more polyphenols compared to red wine! ).
Mochi Wrapped in Shell Ginger Leaves
Okinawan Purple Potato Mochi Wrapped in Shell Ginger Leaf
Shell ginger tea has a beautiful golden brown color when steeped and a subtle flavor with floral and clove undertones, followed by a slight spicy ginger aftertaste. Traditionally, this tea has been used to reduce fat absorption, increase metabolic rates, reduce inflammation and allergy symptoms, prevent high blood pressure and sudden rises in blood sugar, and improve digestion .
The taste alone makes this a favorite when it comes to Japanese tea. The added potential health and longevity benefits keep us coming back for more!
Lillian Rowlat is co-founder of Kokoro Care Packages, which offers hand-crafted monthly and seasonal Care Packages filled with premium-quality, all-natural Japanese foods delivered straight from Japan to your door. Each item (including snacks, spices, soups, teas and more) is carefully selected for its quality, ease of use and of course, great taste! All products are free from chemicals and many cannot be found outside of Japan. They work closely with local producers who share their values and are passionate about the products they create. They also proudly share the stories behind the producers, farmers and the regions from where the foods are produced. Their mission is to reconnect people and communities over a shared meal. You can learn more about Kokoro Care Packages at www.kokorocares.com or @kokorocares. You can also reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org
 Global Health Observatory Country Views from the World Health Organization.
 Willcox B.J., Willcox D.C. Caloric restriction, CR mimetics, and healthy aging in Okinawa: Controversies and clinical implications. Curr. Opin. Clin. Nutr. Metab. Care. 2014;17:51–58. [PMC free article] [PubMed] [Google Scholar]
[3, 4] Rolf Teschke and Tran Dang Xuan Viewpoint: A Contributory Role of Shell Ginger (Alpinia zerumbet) for Human Longevity in Okinawa, Japan? Published online on 2018 Jan 31. [https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5852742/]
[5, 6] Green Plan Shinjo [http://www.gettounakijin.com/goods.html#point]
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