The horsepower of Ashwagandha

The horsepower of Ashwagandha

Known to be otherwise bitter, this Ayurvedic herb seems to be getting a gourmet makeover, making it easier and tastier to consume, writes Simran Ahuja

Superfood Ashwagandha in powder and root form

No conversation is complete without a mention of how anxiety and stress are routine visitors these days. So, when it came to helping her elderly family member cope with the same, Vimki Giria started including Ashwagandha in his weekly diet plan. It, however, doesn’t always go down easy. Usually mixed with water, the concoction is consumed only after Vimki coaxes the sexagenarian, standing around to make sure the glass is really emptied.

To say that Ashwagandha is a tough herb to consume would be an understatement. After all, its name (which translates to “like a horse”) is an apt description of the smell of its root powder. Vimki, however, found an alternative: a fettuccine pasta that contained Ashwagandha, among other herbs like coriander, mint and curry leaves. “Once I tossed it with an Indianised red sauce, the Ashwagandha’s taste was smartly masked,” says the Bengaluru-based recipe developer and gut nutritionist.

Of late, Ashwagandha consumers are being offered a variety of choices when it comes to consuming this popular adaptogen herb, which is said to help the body deal with stress. Typically consumed as a powder or tablet, Ashwagandha seems to be getting a gourmet makeover as it now features as a star ingredient in
various common food and drink items like hot chocolate, pasta and chocolates. According to Deepak Agarwal, Ashwagandha has two main benefits: It aids in building strength and immunity, while also helping the body relax and sleep better. It was these traits of the herb that prompted him to experiment with a hot chocolate infused with Ashwagandha, a product that his Ayurveda-focused health and wellness company started selling in December last year. “We see 2,000-2,500 packs of this being sold each month,” says Agarwal.

But to credit the pandemic with making Ashwagandha popular might not be entirely correct. People have been turning to Ashwagandha for years now, even before Covid-19 prompted a prioritisation of one’s health and well-being. But it is now that one can find different options to digest this without wrinkling their nose. A case in point is the Ashwagandha fettuccine made by Simran Makkar and Kamna Choudhary, two Delhi-based home chefs who sell handmade pasta. The duo introduced the Ayurvedic variant in September, the idea for which came from their motherly instinct to give their kids both taste and tonic. “Ashwagandha is hard to consume as a beverage because of its flavour and children, in particular, can be picky,” explains Simran. “Traditionally, it is had with milk, since it activates the herb. Which is why we recommend having the pasta with a cheesy sauce to replicate the same benefits,” she adds.

Impressed with Ashwagandha, Rebekah Sood, is now considering infusing kombucha with the Ayurvedic herb. “Since it is a heating herb, it would be nice to bring out a winter special kombucha brew with Ashwagandha,” says the founder of a Delhi-based kombucha brewery, who is yet to begin taste trials to figure out the exact dosage of the herb without compromising on its benefits or the drink’s taste. But when it comes to gauging how effective these fusion products are, the answer is not so straightforward. “A food or drink that includes Ashwagandha in it might not make any major difference to your life,” says Rabiya Kapoor, the founder of a homegrown farm brand that grows and sells fermented Ashwagandha.

“It would be more beneficial in its pure form when combined with a brew or milk. Combining it with a food product can reduce its efficacy.” So should you rule it out completely? “You don’t have to. It still is a great way to incorporate Ashwagandha in your diet when combined in the right manner and in small quantities, it will end up doing more good than harm,” she says, adding, “if someone wants to take it medically, they should only do so under supervision.”

This is why Vimki hasn’t completely ruled out raw Ashwagandha in her diet plan either. “The pasta isn’t a direct substitute for it. It just helps switch things up to make it more interesting sometimes,” she says.

Soumita Biswas, a nutritionist, points out that not many studies are there that show the benefits of Ashwagandha. “The few that do exist either conducted their tests on mice and not humans or in some others the population control group is small,” she says. This is why Soumita suggests consuming Ashwagandha in limited doses. “If herbal supplements are taken over long periods, it could damage the kidneys,” she says, recommending 250 mg to 3 gm per day. “But you should never have it for prolonged periods of time. If you have it for a month, give it a rest for another 30 days before continuing again.”

Interestingly, this is why food and drinks that contain Ashwagandha in them might be a good way to incorporate this herb. For example, the pasta made by Simran and Kamna contains about 3-4 gm of Ashwagandha per serving. “Moreover, pasta wouldn’t be had on a daily basis so having it once in a while is alright. The bitter taste of the herb also gets masked this way,” says Soumita.