What is Rasam?
Rasam is a traditional South Indian spiced broth. It’s usually made using tamarind juice as a base, with turmeric, sesame oil, tomato, chilli, pepper, garlic, cumin, coriander and other spices mixed with salt and water. You may have already tried rasam, as it is a common accompaniment to Masala dosas and often features on Thali plates. Rasam is delicious, but as well as being yummy it’s also a functional food that’s rich in medicinal bio-active compounds.
Synergistic Functional Foods
It has been well known for some time in the scientific community that herbs and spices can have a protective effect against chronic and infectious diseases, however the way that these herbs and spices are studied is often reductionist and simplistic. For example, curcumin is extracted from turmeric and studied alone, even though this is not how it has been traditionally used and when left in its natural plant matrix curcumin absorbs much better. Even the studies which are used to support the addition of black pepper to turmeric are based only on studies using piperine and curcumin, which are only two of hundreds of bioactive molecules contained within the whole foods.
Research & Scientific Benefits of Rasam
The newest research has been largely focused on the synergistic effects of compounds within individual functional foods, and within combined mixes of functional foods, such as golden paste and rasam. The spices in rasam are digestive stimulants, and the soup is often had with food in order to stimulate gastric acid and aid the digestion and absorption of the heavier elements of a meal. In addition to this practical and everyday purpose, the spices in rasam have anti-microbial, anti-diabetic, cholesterol-lowering, anti-lithogenic, anti-cancer, antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties (read more about this here).
Rasam has been the subject of a number of clinical trials, one of which directly demonstrated hypoglycaemic effects simply from including rasam with meals (check it out here. Another interesting study combined rasam with spirulina and succesfully improved the iron status of anaemic plantation workers (read it here).
Naturally, turmeric is one of the main beneficial components of rasam, however the other ingredients are also functional foods, containing vitamin C, minerals and phytotherapeutic compounds that are beneficial to the body. It is highly probable, that in the same way that golden paste was created based on traditional wisdom and research suggesting that turmeric and black pepper together create a more potent therapeutic compound, rasam will be found to create the same beneficial interactions between its components. Rasam is a great example of herbal rediscovery, where we are slowly but surely confirming the healing wisdom of our anscestors, and relearning how to heal our bodies using food as medicine.
Traditional Knowledge Regarding Rasam
Rasam has great beneficial properties according to the principles of Ayurvedic and Siddhic medicine (the two main schools of traditional Indian medicine). It is a liquid food, which will contribute to good digestion as well as aiding the digestion via it’s stimulating properties. It’s ingredients are synergistic and compatible, all being warming spices, and if there is any slight tendency to contradiction it contains asafoetida which is balancing. When eaten with rice, rasam includes all six types of flavour (sweet from rice, pungent, astringent, bitter, sour and salty). Rasam is often prescribed traditionally for colds, influenza, fever, diarrhoea, coughs and diabetes.
If you’d like to try rasam, here’s our favorite recipe below – it’s got a little extra turmeric and is made with lemon juice instead of tamarind to make it a bit easier for Western chefs:
1 1/2 tsp of turmeric powder (we recommend this one)
Cumin powder 1/2 tsp
Coriander powder 1/2 tsp
Black pepper 1/2 tsp
Asafoetida 1 pinch
3 cups of purified water
2 medium fresh tomatoes, finely chopped
Thumb size piece of fresh ginger, grated
1/2 green chilli, finely chopped
Juice of 1 large fresh lemon or two small ones
1 tsp of celtic salt, or to taste
1 tbsp ghee, sesame or coconut oil
Optional – 3-5 Indian curry leaves
Optional – 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
Optional – Fresh coriander leaves to garnish
Heat a small pan on a medium to low heat. Dry toast the powdered spices, curry leaves and mustard seeds for approximately 30 seconds or until fragrant, stirring constantly. Don’t let them burn or the soup will taste bitter. Next add the water, tomatoes, ginger, green chilli and salt. Simmer on a low heat for approximately 15 minutes, without letting it boil ( boiling will evaporate some of the flavour and volatile oils). Remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice and ghee/oil. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed, you can also add a half cup or so of precooked lentils to make it a more filling course. Rasam is traditionally enjoyed poured over rice or with dosa/flatbreads. Enjoy!