Haldiram 2.0

My friend Amit Patil introduced me to the Mumbai based Vijay Kanuru. Vijay has done his PhD at Cambridge, in battery related nano technology. He followed it up with a postDoc at Cornell. Vijay is a rare breed – in the sense after this over exposure to academics, he jumped into the rough and tough world of business. And that too in turmeric extracts, totally unconnected to his PhD!

He started by asking me a simple question: why do you use spice in your food? Taste and aesthetics aside, is there anything that a spice does for our body? Let’s start with the most basic of spices – salt. Sodium ions play a major role in the chemical reactions that go on inside our body. Sodium deficiency in a person usually indicates a time for life shutdown. Turmeric has been part of the Indian diet for thousands of years. Going back in time, food and medicine were interchangeable. So if your grandmother gave you turmeric laced milk – it was because it had interesting anti-viral properties. And you would genuinely recover faster from a cough/cold attack. But as with any spice, there is only so much that is good. An overdose can have harmful effects.

The active ingredient in turmeric is curcummin. Most of the turmeric powder available in the market has had the curcummin extracted from it. So we end up getting the aesthetic and taste benefits, but losing the medicinal ones. With raw turmeric, you don’t have that issue. And letting in a word from our sponsor, even with Haras, the turmeric tonic that Vijay makes, you are assured of the full curcummin content. Haras is derived from the Sanskrit – Haridra Ras – literally, turmeric juice. 

We know of the antiseptic use of turmeric; traditional medicine uses turmeric for wound management. I had also heard of turmeric being useful for cancer treatment. Vijay feels that the prevalence of cancer in earlier times was much lesser. The three root causes of cancer are: genetics, environment and lifestyle. Of the three, the first we don’t have any control over. The biggest worry for Vijay in our environment is air pollution. PM 2.5 particles are responsible not just for lung cancer, but also ovarian and breast cancer. And they are all over. Have a look at your shirt collar – and you will see a dark coating of these particles where the neck touches the collar. We are breathing in PM 2.5 all the time!  

Coming to lifestyle, most modern professions, with their heavy reliance on automation, have made all of us chairpersons. Yet, our food habits still continue to be a legacy of our agricultural times. This mismatch in input and output results in calorie accumulation inside our bodies. And soon enough, diabetes follows its friend obesity. As sugar levels fluctuate, so do hormone levels – and the body loses its immunity – and its ability to fight inflammations. When we think of inflammation, we think only of what is visible. The skin is the body’s biggest organ – and the inflammation on skin is visible. But much more worrying is the inflammation that exists inside our body. Chronic inflammation is a precursor of cancer. For any disease, prevention is better than cure. Turmeric with its anti inflammatory properties can help in cancer prevention. 

One of my pet peeves nowadays about FMCG companies is their packaging. As with a lot of other potions, Haras too is packed in plastic. So we discussed alternatives. The ras inside is biologically alive – and so water is required. Powders are usually made of dried material – or maybe dormant ones – like yeast. The current composition of ras is 95% water. Vijay conceded that concentrates can be made – which will reduce volume – thereby not only reducing the use of plastic, but also reducing transport costs. The flip side would be that customers see a smaller bottle as less VFM than a larger one. 

Continuing on the logistics thread, a big change to world logistics happened during the Vietnam war that the US fought, quite unsuccessfully. The guerilla tactics of the VietCong did prove to be more than a match to the US army, which was mentally attuned to more conventional warfare. But what the US army did end up gifting the world through this war was – the container. Standardized containers revolutionised shipping – and made material movement much faster at ports. What containers did at a macro level, glass bottles have a promise to do at a micro level. Glass is the preferred material for food – but breakage in transportation is a big issue. So my idea is that we use standardised glass containers – and local packing units which can be run by small entrepreneurs. The one downside that I can see is the threat of contamination during the refilling. If we can lick that, then we can have reuse happening at local scales – which is environmentally a more sustainable solution. Amit tells me that one pharma chain – Green Pharmacy – has taken some baby steps in this direction. In this pharmacy, generics are packed in plastic bottles, which when returned entitle the customer to discounts. Also most customers come in for repeat purchases, so the system is not too challenging to implement. Another extension of this would be to have a pouch inside the bottle, so that the bottle can be easily put in for reuse. But is it scalable? Hmmm.. I think I need to approach Kleiner Perkins and Company to see if they are ready to invest a few billions in this idea!

I asked Vijay if it is Ok to add turmeric to my usual microwaved hot water morning cuppa. He was aghast on realising that I was using a microwave. Vijay feels that water molecules have memories due to structural configurations (there definitely are metal molecules with memories – so there is a chance that liquid ones have memories too.) He feels that these structurally modified agitated molecules in microwaved water could disturb the beneficial microbes inside of us. He recommends that in normal circumstances, prefer room temperature water, ideally stored in copper containers. If at all you do need to heat, use a stove. So what is the difference between microwaving and heating? The same as between fast food and slow food. Another interesting insight that he shared was about tea bags. Have you wondered why a tea bag does not become soggy even when you put it in hot water. Because there is a plastic membrane inside. Every cup of tea that you drink, with a tea bag inside it, has more than 9 billion pieces of microplastics that you sip in along with the chai.      

We moved the discussion to a comparison of raw turmeric with Haras. Vijay conceded that raw turmeric has its own advantages. And so does turmeric powder, if it’s unadulterated. And for folks who do want to try some Haras-ment, it is best taken early morning. 10 ml of Haras in 300 ml of water or milk is best. One care that needs to be taken is that you should not eat anything for 45 minutes after drinking. Let’s end by citing an interesting side benefit of turmeric. My friend Amit has been putting a tablespoon of Haras into his system for the last one month. As with a lot of us, around 1500 hrs, he would start feeling an energy sap. After the Haras-ment, the energy sap gets postponed to 2000 hrs. I wonder if there are any steroids added to the syrup 🙂 Vijay shared that some night owls who are forced to become early birds can benefit from some Haras-ment at night. Kind of helps get a more restful sleep.

Vijay can be reached at http://haras.in/