If you’ve ever been to a South Indian feast, you must have marvelled at the array of dishes laid out before you, on a banana leaf! There are multiple vegetable dishes in all stages of fluidity, pickles, buttermilk and/or curd, all of it culminating on a sweet note. There are feasts that serve as many as 50 dishes in one sitting!
You would think that eating so many different dishes at one meal would probably give you indigestion. However, the beauty of South Indian feasts is that the remedy for all your digestive issues is within the meal itself – in the form of rasam! There are many health benefits of rasam.
What is rasam?
Rasam is a tangy soup-like dish, with lots of liquid. Rasam is known by the same name in Malayalam and Tamil, while it is called ‘Chaaru’ in Telugu and ‘Saaru’ in Kannada. While the origin of rasam isn’t clear, it probably started out in Madurai, somewhere in the 16th century.
The exact ingredient list for rasam varies based on regional flavors, but there are a few common ones – tamarind, tomato, black pepper, garlic, asafoetida and mustard seeds. In some places, lentils are also added, making rasam a heartier dish, closer to sambar.
One look at the ingredient list and you’ll realize that rasam is a dish that has huge healing potential! Most South Indian traditional dishes are based on the Siddha system of medicine, which follows the concept of “food is medicine”. Ayurveda suggests that the ingredients in rasam have several health benefits, and when they come together in a single dish, rasam turns into a superfood!
Health Benefits of Rasam
1. Improves Digestion
This is probably the most well-known health benefit of rasam! The key player here is black pepper, which encourages the secretion of digestive juices in the stomach. This helps to prevent gassiness, flatulence and acidity.
Besides these, rasam works as a laxative, preventing and treating constipation. Studies have shown that rasam also possesses antimicrobial activity, making it a good defence against bacteria that attack the digestive system, like Staphylococcus, Pseudomonas and E. coli.
2. Hastens Recovery
Similar to khichdi in parts of North India, rasam is the go-to food for convalescence in South India. Whether you’ve been suffering from the flu, cough, cold, fever or diarrhea, rasam is the perfect food that provides nutrition and healing benefits.
The fluid nature of rasam ensures that patients are hydrated while being nourished. Adding lentils or vegetables to the rasam turn it into a complete meal. The Vitamin C from tomatoes also helps boosting immunity.
3. Aids Weight Loss
The fact that rasam aids digestion is itself proof that it aids weight loss. When you don’t accumulate waste in your body, you’re lighter already! The spices in rasam also have a detox effect that prevent water retention and flush out toxins.
Rasam also features a weight loss-friendly spice – black pepper. Black pepper boosts the body’s metabolism which ensures the body burns calories faster, and it also promotes faster toxin removal through sweat and urination.
4. Helps Control Diabetes
South Indian meals can be carbohydrate heavy at times, which may not work for diabetics. However, rasam fixes this problem, with its hypoglycemic activity. This is thanks to the spices and tomatoes, which prevent sudden spikes in blood sugar.
A small study of people aged 30-60 who consumed South Indian meals with rasam every day showed that their diabetes was well controlled, with a good reduction in blood sugar levels.
5. Tackles Nutritional Deficiencies
With so many varied ingredients, rasam is a powerhouse of essential minerals and vitamins. A breakdown of the nutritional profile of the common ingredients in rasam show that it is packed with Vitamins A, C, thiamine, folic acid, niacin as well as iron, potassium, calcium, zinc, copper, magnesium and selenium.
Due to this, new and expecting mothers in rural areas of South India are fed rasam to ensure they don’t suffer from nutritional deficiencies. Rasam is also believed to help increase lactation in new Mums.
6. May Prevent Cancer
All the spices in rasam have another important function – they can help prevent cancer. Rasam is rich in antioxidants that fight free radicals. This can keep chronic disease like cancer at bay. What’s more, black pepper contains piperine, a compound that’s shown to inhibit the growth of cancerous cells in the body.
Rasam is the ultimate comfort food for many, especially when combined with boiled rice and a spoonful of homemade ghee. The spices for rasam can be prepared in advance, and rasam mixes are easily available. However, they don’t hold a candle to the homemade version! Not to forget the health benefits of rasam.
While rasam has a fairly standard base for its recipe, adding other ingredients or increasing the prominence of any one ingredient will give you different recipes of rasam. Here is a look at three of the most popular rasam recipes in South India.
Pepper Rasam Recipe
- 1 tomato, finely chopped
- 1 green chilli, slit
- few curry leaves
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 1 cup tamarind pulp
- 2 cups water, adjust consistency
- 1 tsp pepper, crushed
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- pinch of asafoetida
- 2 tbsp coriander leaves, finely chopped
- In a large pan, mix together the tomato, green chilli, curry leaves, tamarind pulp, turmeric and salt.
- Cover and cook till the tomatoes mushy and completely cooked.
- Add enough water to get the desired consistency and boil for a couple of minutes.
- Turn off the heat and add the pepper.
- To temper, heat oil in a separate pan and add the mustard seeds, cumin seeds and asafoetida. Let it splutter.
- Add the tempering over the rasam and top with coriander leaves.
This post was originally written for Quint Fit, you can view it here : https://fit.thequint.com/recipes/rasam-health-benefits-recipes