Most of us have at least one cocktail book in our house, or we know where to turn to for trusty recipes. But where do you turn when you need energy? Or are healing a hangover? How about when you’re stressed at work? Google will yield a host of results, but instead turn to Tanita de Ruijt’s new book, Tonic (Hardie Grant Books, 2018) for recipes for nearly anything that ails you. We spoke with Tanita about her book, her inspiration and her favorite ingredients to build your own healing tonic bar.
What inspired you to focus on tonics?
Discovering the ancient system of Jamu led me into making tonics. It’s a traditional system of medicine from Indonesia that relies on herbs, roots and spices to make herbal drinks known as ‘tonics’ to treat ailments. Jamu essentially taught me how to use these ingredients medicinally. Making tonic is a great way of tapping into their medicinal potential.
If you were to select your favorite tonic ingredient what would it be?
Fresh turmeric. It’s different to dried turmeric. Curcumin is the essential oil within turmeric that carries all of the benefits we talk about when we talk about this root. When turmeric is dried, it loses these oils, and therefore also its medicinal potential. Use fresh for tonic.
If someone is getting started making healing tonics, what top 5 things do they need to make the greatest number of tonic recipes?
These 5 ingredients will let you make simple infusions, brewed teas, pH balancing switchels, and probiotic soda’s.
- Fresh turmeric
- Fresh ginger
- Apple Cider Vinegar
- Unrefined sweetener of choice
- Flip top bottle
I see you have traveled extensively. During your travels did you find that various cultures turn to tonics for health?
The idea that food has a role that goes well beyond simply providing us with a source of nutrients truly applies to traditional functional foods from various eastern cultures. Food and medicine have always been closely linked in Asia. For example, the ability to boost one’s “well-being” is still one of the most popular marketing claims for food products in South Korea today.
Home remedies for colds, hangovers, and low energy have been used for hundreds of years. Most countries across Asia have their own systems of medicine, based on very similar principles, mostly rooting from Traditional Chinese Medicine. India has Ayurveda, which relies on herbs and spiced teas, infusions and meals to balance one’s Dosha’s. Thuốc Nam is Traditional Vietnamese Medicine. Indonesia has Jamu. I’m yet to discover far more!
Recipes excerpted with permission from Tonic by Tanita de Ruijt, published by Hardie Grant Books January 2018, RRP $19.99 hardcover. Photographs by Patricia Niven.
Soothe Your Hangover with Pineapple Tepache Tonic
Tepache is made using pineapple leftovers, such as the core and rinds, which are fermented with water and spices and unrefined sugar until the brew starts to fizz and develop a funky pineapple flavor. Refreshing, spicy, and a teeny touch boozy; it’s perfect for soothing a hangover, and brimming with anti-inflammatory spices and natural probiotics to boost your gut health along the way. Tepache has been sold on the streets of Mexico since pre-Columbian times.
If you’ve decided to buy a pineapple especially for this occasion, you can use the whole fruit – just cut the skin off and eat the fruit for breakfast. The idea is that this tonic makes full use of the ‘waste’.
Makes 2 litres (70 fl oz)
Ready in approx. 5 days
3-cm (1-inch) piece of fresh ginger root, bruised
5 allspice berries (optional)
2 cinnamon sticks, cracked
1 overripe pineapple, peeled and cored (save all the waste, including the leaves)
2 litres (70 fl oz) filtered water
70 g (2½ oz/ 1/3 cup) rapadura sugar or raw cane sugar
Lime slice, sea salt, cayenne pepper, if desired
In a frying pan (skillet) set over a medium heat, dry-toast the spices, until they become aromatic.
Put the rinsed pineapple waste (leaves, core and rind) and spices into a large, 3-litre (105 fl oz) glass container or jug (pitcher) and add enough water to fill the remaining space.
Cover the container or jug partially – with a muslin (cheesecloth) or some loose-fitting clingfilm (plastic wrap), or simply leave the lid slightly ajar – and leave it in a warm place for 2–3 days. The rate of fermentation will depend on how warm it is. When it is near fermentation, the top of the liquid should be frothy. Scoop off the froth with a wooden spoon.
After 2–3 days, add the sugar, and loosely cover again. Feel free to reduce the sugar content a little, for a more tart flavour. Let it stand for 2 more days.
Once it’s ready, strain (discard the pulp), and store in sterilized bottles (see p. 19) in the fridge. It will continue to ferment and fizz, so remember to ‘burp’ it (open to release the pressure) at least once a day.
Serve it ice-cold with lime, salt and a sprinkle of cayenne pepper. If you’re really feeling worse for wear, do as the Mexicans do, and top it all off with a good glug of beer.
Wake Yourself Up with a Chai Turmeric Tonic
This Chai is a spicy and invigorating blend of medicinally active spices such as turmeric, ginger, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and black pepper. Chai can be a personal thing, so feel free to use this recipe as a guideline to find your perfect brew – adjust it to suit your sassiness.
This complex concoction not only wakes you up, it calms the mind, improves digestion, enhances the immune system, fights inflammation and is loaded with antioxidants.
Chai has been cherished in Indian households for centuries. Grandma – the household caretaker – would brew a blend of plant roots, bark and seeds if a family member became ill or as an healing tonic to stay healthy through the changing seasons. Eventually, tea, with its energy-giving medicinal properties, made its way into Grandma’s spice tonic, and made chai what it is today.
Makes 1 serving
Ready in 10 minutes
2 black peppercorns
2 green cardamom pods
1/2 a cinnamon stick
1 black tea bag or 1 tbsp black loose leaf tea
a few slices of fresh ginger root
a few slices of fresh turmeric root
120 ml (4 fl oz) water
120 ml (4 fl oz) milk of choice
sweetener of choice
In a frying pan (skillet) set over a medium heat, dry roast your peppercorns, cardamom pods, clove, and cinnamon stick until they become aromatic, then lightly crush them with a pestle and mortar.
Blend your slices of ginger and turmeric with a little bit of water in a blender to make a paste. You could also grate them. Or mash them in a pestle and mortar.
In a saucepan set over a medium heat, add the water, ginger and turmeric paste, tea and crushed spices. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
Add the milk and sweetener to taste. Turn the heat up to medium, and bring the mixture back to a boil. Remove from the heat and strain into a mug, to serve.
Feeling Bloated? Try Turmeric Cream Soda
You deserve a treat, and this lightly sparkling, naturally fermented tonic is just that. The vanilla and lime give it an irresistible flavor and it’s loaded with homemade probiotics too.
Our bodies struggle to absorb the benefits of raw turmeric. Fermenting the root to make soda is just another way to make it more bioavailable, and harvest valuable bacteria while you’re at it. I make it the traditional way – no carbonators – just yeast, bacteria and sugar.
Makes 2 litres (70 fl oz)
Ready in approx. 5 days
750 ml (26 fl oz) filtered water, plus about 800–900 ml (28–32 fl oz) to top up
1/2 a vanilla pod
2.5-cm (1-inch) piece of fresh turmeric root, sliced
1 tsp crushed black peppercorns
170 ml (5 1/2 fl oz) Turmeric Bug (see below)
170 ml (5 1/2 fl oz) fresh lime juice
50 g (1 3/4 oz / 1/4 cup) rapadura or raw cane sugar
Turmeric Beer: Make a slightly alcoholic version by doubling the sugar.
Once you have at least 170 ml (5 1/2 fl oz) or more of bubbling Turmeric Bug starter, then you can start to make your soda tonic.
First, make turmeric tea. Fill a small saucepan with the 750 ml (26 fl oz) filtered water; add the vanilla, turmeric and pepper. Bring to the boil and then reduce the heat to simmer for 10 minutes. This process extracts as much flavor from the ingredients as possible.
Allow the tea to cool completely, and pour it (without straining) into your sterilized mason (preserving) jar. The boiled ingredients will continue to infuse. Stir in the turmeric bug, lime juice and sugar. Then top up the rest of the mason jar with filtered water, leaving about 5 cm (2 inches) of head room at the top.
Cover with a cloth and rubber band and leave in a shady spot away from direct sunlight. Allow it to ferment for around 3 days. It should taste sweet and sour when ready.
Now strain and pour into sterilised swing-top bottles. Leave the filled bottles in a shady spot, and let the natural yeasts get to work. Yeast releases CO2 gasses that will make your soda fizzy. An overly hot room will accelerate the fermentation process, so it’s worth putting your bottles into a cardboard box to contain potential explosions.
Check bottles daily for build up of fizz. Once they are fizzy (this should take 2 days), place them in the fridge, as they’re ready to drink.
A homemade soda ‘starter’
A ‘bug’ is a culture of beneficial bacteria, made from fresh ginger root and sugar. It is similar to a sourdough starter for bread or a SCOBY for making kombucha. Though not overly tasty by itself, the bug acts as the base for homemade tonics such as root beer, ginger beer and fruit ‘sodas’. To make an authentic fermented soda, you need a bug.
The turmeric imparts its flavour and, as it naturally ferments, creates a mixture of beneficial bacteria. Rinse but don’t peel the turmeric – the peel is rich in bacteria and yeast – and organic is best.
Makes 200 ml (7 fl oz)
Ready in approx. 3–5 days
200 g (7 oz) piece of fresh turmeric root, unpeeled
3–5 tbsp rapadura sugar or raw cane sugar
Chop the unpeeled turmeric root up finely or mash in a pestle and mortar. Transfer to a container with the lid left slightly ajar and keep on your kitchen counter.
Take 1 tablespoon of the turmeric paste and add to a glass jar with 1 tablespoon of the sugar and 3 tablespoons of filtered water. Mix well, cover, and place in a warm spot, around 22°C (72°F) is ideal.
Every day, add 1 tablespoon of turmeric paste, 1 tablespoon of sugar and 3 tablespoons of filtered water to the mixture, mix well, and leave to stand again.
Repeat until the turmeric bug is nice and bubbly. It can take between 3–5 days.
Brighten Your Mood with this Happy Tonic
If chocolate makes you happy, imagine what a mint and chocolate combo can do. This tonic is well suited for after eight, or any time of day for that matter.
Mint has been used as a medicinal herb for hundreds of years. Its benefits include aiding digestion, promoting weight loss, and relieving headaches and nausea. Mint is also a natural stimulant – the smell alone can be enough to recharge your batteries. If you are feeling sluggish, anxious, depressed, or simply exhausted, mint will help to invigorate and relax you.
Makes 2 servings
Ready in 30 minutes
230 ml (7 ¾ fl oz) coconut milk
2–3 sprigs of fresh mint
230 ml (7 ¾ fl oz) just-boiled water
4 tbsp raw cacao powder,or 4 squares of your favourite dark chocolate
2 tbsp raw cacao nibs
1 tsp ground cinnamon
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
¼ tsp chilli powder
¼ tsp pink Himalayan salt
¼ tsp ground turmeric
Coconut sugar or honey, to taste
In a small saucepan, bring the coconut milk to a simmer over a medium heat. Add your freshly spanked mint leaves, then turn the heat to low. Leave to gently infuse for 15 minutes, then remove from the heat and leave to cool.
Once cooled, add all the remaining ingredients (except your chosen sweetener) to the saucepan, and bring back to a simmer over a low heat, whisking thoroughly. Simmer for 2–3 minutes, then remove from the heat, add your chosen sweetener, to taste, and pour into 2 mugs to serve.
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