Rasam: Functional Food Is A Twofer

Posted by Jennie Ann Freiman MD on

Modern science is slowly coming to terms with “functional food,” the idea that beyond basic nutrition, food contains many bioactive compounds that play a major role in preventing disease and optimizing health. Hippocrates is credited with, “let food be thy medicine and medicine thy food,” but the South Indian Siddha system of traditional medicine originated this insight over 3500 years before the famous Greek physician spoke those words. The Siddha version, “unavae marunthu,” loosely translated as “food is medicine,” forms the basis of preventative medicine currently staging a comeback as the limitations and pitfalls of pharmaceuticals become more and more clear. Given that Indian adults suffer less cancer, cardiovascular, metabolic and neurodegenerative diseases than age-matched Western counterparts, functional food is worth a closer look. Per Siddha, to promote an absolutely healthy state, foods must meet 3 criteria:
  • have been consumed since time immemorial
  • cause no ill effects, even if eaten regularly
  • promote both healthy body and healthy mind
Families in South India eat rasam, a spicy vegetable soup, on a daily basis along with rice. It’s an ideal, traditional functional food whose ingredients, each and every one, have scientifically validated medicinal properties. Rasam blends the six tastes (sweet, salty, bitter, sour, pungent and astringent) said to be essential for mind-body health. It tastes great, is satisfying, easily digested, can be consumed in great quantity, and contains ingredients that synergize. Based on pre-clinical and clinical studies, these are the known health benefits promoted by rasam’s chemically diverse components:
  • Anti-inflammatory: turmeric, chili pepper, garlic
  • Antioxidant: turmeric, clove, garlic, onion, chili pepper
  • Cholesterol-lowering: garlic, onion, fenugreek, turmeric, chili pepper
  • Anti-diabetic: fenugreek, garlic, onion, turmeric
  • Anti-microbial: turmeric, asafetida, garlic
  • Anti-cancer: turmeric, garlic, ginger
  • Anti-lithogenic (prevent stone formation): turmeric, garlic, onion, chili pepper, fenugreek
Traditional rasam is tamarind-juice based, but other, more Western palate-friendly options exist. Tomato rasam, known to help kick the sniffles, is a great dish to consider for the Arctic winter thats been predicted for the 2017-2018 season. To limit prep time, pre-blended rasam spices are sold.
This easy recipe uses ready made rasam spices and tamarind. Roasting spices in oil, known as "tempering," improves flavor and releases essential oils and other bioactive components.
Tomato Rasam
Serves 4
Prep + Cook Time: about 30 minutes
For tamarind pulp:
  • 1 tsp tamarind + ¼ cup hot water
For soup base:
  • 5 medium, ripe plum tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tbs chopped coriander leaves
  • 2 tsp rasam powder
  • ½ tsp red chili powder
  • ¼ tsp turmeric powder
  • 2 cups water
  • salt to taste
For tempering:
  • 1 tbs sesame oil
  • 12 curry leaves
  • 2 dry, whole red chilis (remove crown)
  • ½ tsp mustard seeds
  • ½ tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch asafetida
Soak the tamarind in the hot water for 15 minutes, then squeeze the tamarind to extract the pulp.
Puree the tomatoes and add red chili powder, turmeric, water, mix well.                             Cook in a soup pot, covered with lid, on medium flame for 3 minutes.
Remove lid and simmer 2 minutes.
Add tamarind pulp, stir well, salt to taste and simmer for 5 minutes.  
Add rasam powder, cook for 3 minutes, then cover and keep aside.
Heat sesame oil in pan on low flame, add mustard seeds and cook till they crackle.
Add the rest of the tempering ingredients and saute until red chilis change color and curry leaves become crisp.
Add the tempering spices to the soup base, cook in covered pot for 5 minutes, then add coriander leaves.
Serve as soup or over rice.
Rasam is a functional food powerhouse. While waiting for new drug discovery, remember: nature offers what wellness demands.
Disclaimer: This article was created for informational purposes only, is not intended to provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment and is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of Oobroo™ Inc or its staff.


← Older Post Newer Post →


  • great for all who love to play with spices and herbs. I’m looking forward to try it!

    Lise on

Leave a comment

Please note, comments must be approved before they are published