Sunday, November 16, 2014

The whole scoop on Chyawanprash

Some advertising slogans are so powerful, their message just sticks with you even after years. One such instance is a very popular Chyawanprash ad with the punchline - 'Saath Saal ke Bhoodhe ya Saath Saal Ke Javan (60 year old aged man or a 60 year old youth?' The ad classically pitts the energy levels of  a seasoned senior citizen against a young sedentary office worker. The old man climbs several flights of stairs and even helps the poor next gen make it to the the top. The secret of his energy .... was Chyawanprash, the ancient Indian Ayurvedic jam.  Ayurveda in its infinite ancient wisdom has developed a recipe for rejuvenating the body and rendering it ageless. If you like me are curious about the origins of chyawanprash, you have reached the right place on the internet. It has all the elements of Bollywood movie. Chyawan was an aging Rishi, said to be touching his nineties. At this ripe old age, he was presented with an opportunity to marry a young princess and carry his blood line forward. He consulted with two Ayurvedic Vaids, who developed a recipe for longevity and rejuvenation. Chyawan rishi got his youthful vitality back and went on to father his children. It was 10,000 years ago that Chyawanprash is first said to be made and today, several pharma companies stake their claim on the recipe. 

Amla (amalaki in Sanskrit, gooseberry in english) is the key ingredient in Chyawanprash. This herb is the jewel of Ayurveda, considered one of the most powerful rejuvenating ingredients that supports a healthy digestive system and ensures coronary health. It is one of the ingredients in Triphala which is a very important tonic in Ayurveda. Even modern medicine identifies Amla for its high antioxidant levels notably vitamin C which is crucial for immunity. In addition to amla, Chyawanprash contains two classic ayurvedic ingredients - ghee and sugar which are believed to carry the medicinal properties through the cell boundary.
What's concerning to me is that most commercial Chyawanprash recipes are over 50% sugar. The refined kind of cane sugar. Now, I am sure when Chyawanprash was first made, sugar in the modern form did not exist. Amla has a very complex taste, I don't think there would be a word in the english language to explain it. It is quite sour at first bite, then it tastes cool, and then a certain astringent taste in the back of your palate. If you drink a glass of water after biting into amla you get a wonderful cooling sensation all over your mouth. So, a fair amount of sugar gets added to make the amla palatable. There is no reason why you can't make Chyawanprash with the likes of jaggery and honey. Just how sweet you want it to be should be up to you. 
Then there are all the herbs that go into Chyawanprash. I don't think there is a record of what the Ashwin brothers used to make the first concoction. But Dabur and Himalaya have their secret recipes and their high profile marketing claims the benefits from 100s of herbs. While I am sure that the herbs are quite beneficial, I can't fathom the complex interactions of the bouquet of herbs. If you are interested in learning about some of the herbs that go into Chyawanprash, I encourage you to watch this video. 

As you can see Amla is still the star of Chyawanprash, and the herbs just play a supporting role. Amla is cooked in a soup of herbs, then strained out and cooked. So for my first batch of Chyawanprash, I decided to use spices and herbs commonly found in an Indian kitchen and are known to have anti-inflammatory properties - like cinnamon, black pepper, cloves and fennel.  I just don't know enough about the other herbs - where they are grown, how they are sourced, how to prepare them and what effect they have on our system. Until I enlighten myself, here is my 'vanilla' chyawanprash recipe.

A note about buying fresh Amla - you should be able to find these in well stocked Indian grocery stores in major North American cities in the winter months. Amla season in India starts in winter and extends into spring (March/April). Incidentally, my maternal grandmothers house in India housed a gooseberry tree. How visionary of my ancestors to invest in the family's future health and vitality. Unfortunately, in the name of urbanization, that tree (among others) in that flourishing backyard was cut down, to make way for a sprawling community. Even the least blemished amla fruit from the grocery store today, doesn't match up to the fresh taste of the fruit from my grandmothers tree. Lament!


20-25 fresh amla
1/2 cup ghee
1 cup jaggery
3 tablespoons non-pasteurized honey (or to taste)
1/2 black pepper corns
2 inch stick of cinnamon
1 tsp roasted fennel seeds
4-5 cloves

1. Wash and clean the amla and steam it in a pressure cooker. Allow it to come to full steam and cook under pressure for 4-5 minutes. You can use another device to steam the amla, but note that cooking time will be longer. 
2. Let the amla cool to room temperature. The amla should fall apart on touching. Take out the seed from the amla and place the pulp into a blender. Blend it till all the fibers are incorporated. I have seen some recipes that call for running the pulp through a fine mesh to discard the stem and flesh. But that seems unnecessary, running everything through a high speed blender gave a very smooth texture. 
3. Now take a heavy bottomed pan, heat 1/2 cup of ghee. Add the amla puree to the ghee. On low heat, fry the amla for 6-7 minutes stirring often until the water evaporates and the mixture comes together and stops sticking to the pan/spoon.
4. Grind the pepper corns, cinnamon, fennel seeds and cloves into a fine powder. Add this to the amla.Turn off the heat and add the grated jaggery to the pan. Use the heat of the pan to melt and combine the jaggery. Let this mixture cool down.
5. Taste for sweetness and flavor. At this point the chyawanprash is more sour than sweet. You can add honey to your taste when the mixture is completely cooled. I prefer to use non pasteurized honey which preserves the natural enzymes, so it should not be heated after this. I added about 3 table spoons of honey and got to my desired sweetness. 

Transfer to a jar and enjoy a spoonful each day!

Verdict - The chyawanprash is more brown in color due to the use of jaggery and also due to the absence of all the herbs that give the deep dark color to commercial counterparts.  But, it has all the complex amla flavor. My two year old didn't fall in love with the taste, but toddlers don't fall in love at first bite. I will be trying every trick in the parenting book to get him to eat a half a teaspoon a day.

Anyone reading this, willing to point me towards resources to learn more about the herbs that can be cooked into chyawanprash, feel free to share your knowledge and get in touch using the comments below!

Friday, April 04, 2014

Banana Blueberry Kamut Muffins

Once upon a time, not too long ago, wheat was a staple grain in our diets. Depending on which part of the world you were in rice was a close contender as mankind's favorite grain. But we will tackle rice in another post. For better or for worse, the wheat crop has taken a battering all in the name of increasing production to feed the explosive human population. The poor humble wheat has apparently been hybridized by crossing it with different strains, crossing with non wheat plants and exposed to chemical rays to induce mutations. So, the latest nutrition studies report that wheat is no longer a complex carbohydrate, it has been reduced to the likes of simple sugars like *gasp* glucose. As if that wasn't bad enough, our food chain has been inundated with refined wheat also known as all purpose flour. To make us feel better about our choices, they are now marketing all purpose wheat as 'enriched'. Really?  Ever since, the controversial wheat belly book came out the gluten free food market has exploded in North America. Now, I personally know of individuals who have severe sensitivity to gluten - the wheat protein - and for them simple pleasures like bread and pasta can mean severe discomfort and questionable nutrition availability of food consumed and as a result poor immune system. For them gluten is poison. Then there are others who don't have any medical symptoms of gluten sensitivity, but they can feel a difference in their energy levels and well being once gluten is eliminated. What I find extremely disturbing are the gluten free products that sit on supermarket shelves like wolves in sheep's clothing. More than half the gluten free products are stuffed with all kinds of highly processed starches (potato starch, tapioca starch, corn starch to name a few) and many binders or edible gums. So we may be replacing one evil with another by going gluten free the wrong way.

Should we all be saying no to wheat? We should definitely be shunning the refined and 'enriched' varieties of wheat.  Apparently a lot of us already are. So way to go, us :) The worldwide sales of bread has dropped so much that even the French government is reportedly concerned about losing a sacred tradition. The good news is that there are so many other nutrition packed whole grain options available outside the realm of wheat. To me, adding a variety of grains to our diets seems to be the key. And, the world around us seems to be cycling back to making everything from scratch and at home. The pressure is on the businesses to churn out more food with real ingredients. I predict that sometime in the near future, we will see a supermarket brand of bread with 5 simple ingredients - 'non enriched' real whole flour, water, yeast, salt and sugar. So, to anyone reading this post with earnest, the take-away should be that we should make a variety of grains as part of our daily diets. Look beyond wheat and you will find a whole new set of options!

During a trip to the farmers market a few weekends ago, I discovered Kamut. It is a an ancient strain of wheat historically originating in Persia. It is currently cultivated mostly in the USA and western Canada as the growers need to adhere to strict 'brand' guidelines. It has a higher protein and fat content than traditional dwarf wheat. So, the grain naturally yields a better crumb to baked goods. Kamut is an excellent choice of grain to put in your morning muffin. I have tried many different combinations and have locked in the recipe below for Blueberry, banana kamut muffins. I do use a large number of eggs... I do so, because I want to get more of the good nutrition from eggs into my 19 month old. You could get away with using only 1 egg in the recipe. I have had success with the eggless version using a chia egg, read on below.

Blueberry Banana Kamut Muffins
Preparation time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 30 mins (+ cooling time)
Makes: 6 muffins

1 ripe banana
2 eggs ( or 1 chia egg - 1 tbsp ground chia seeds soaked in 1/4 cup warm water for 10 minutes)
1/2 cup kamut flour (preferably coarsely ground flour)
1/4 cup oat flour (1/4 cup oats ground in a spice grinder)
2 tbsp almond flour (handful of raw almonds ground in a spice grinder)
a pinch of cardamom powder
1/3 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup yogurt
1 tsp baking soda
1/2 cup frozen wild blueberries
Blueberry Banana Kamut Muffins


Preheat oven to 350 deg F.

In a large bowl, mash the banana till smooth. Crack open the eggs (or chia egg) and whisk together. Add kamut flour, oat flour, almond flour, cardamom, maple syrup, yogurt and baking soda and mix with a large spoon till combined. Last, fold in the blueberries gently so that it doesn't bleed into the batter.

Line a muffin tin with good quality parchment baking cups or use a silicone muffin pan. Scoop out about 1/2 cup batter into each prepared  muffin mold and place in the oven for 30 mins or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.

1. Please do make sure to use good quality baking cups. Or grease the cups as a precaution before putting the batter in. I once baked a batch which ended up sticking completely to the paper. Such a waste of good ingredients
2. You can substitute finely chopped apples for the blueberries and use cinnamon instead of cardamom for yummy apple-cinnamon muffins

And Oh my, I used kamut flour to make chappatis (the Indian flatbread), and I must say I was pleasantly surprised with the fantastic results. It must be the higher fat content that made the chappatis stay soft long after they came out of of the stove. If you are one of those who struggle to make soft chappatis on an induction stove you got to give kamut a try.

If you don't get kamut where you live... well... you can try using regular whole wheat flour. But I highly recommend going out of your way to source kamut for this recipe. You won't regret it!