Masala chai, more commonly known as chai tea has become an extremely popular hot beverage for the sheer enjoyment of its delicious sweet taste. Chai, however, dates back as far as 5000-9000 years ago created by a King in China or Siam (now Thailand) as a healing Ayurvedic recipe. Since then chai evolved as it started to spread into different regions such as China, India and Great Britain. Depending on the region, it was prepared differently, served both hot and cold and using different combinations of spices. Over the years, changes to the original chai mix continued to be made as it adapted to the region, social tastes and economic needs at that time.
Interestingly, black tea wasn’t introduced into the chai mix until the 1930’s, evolving more into the chai we know today. However, there has always been the standard spices used as the base such as cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg and clove. It’s really been in the last 30-40 years that chai has become popular amongst the western culture with chai tea, chai lattes and chai smoothies being a popular option on café menus. Like most foods, there are always not-so-healthy versions. When costs of tea were high, vendors began diluting it with spices, sugar and milk to increase its appeal and this quickly established chai as the preferred form particularly in the West. However as we become increasingly health and sugar conscious, the sugar is being replaced with different spices instead. For example, the Hari Har Chai contains liquorice root in addition to the traditional spices. Not only does this provide natural sweetness but also the added health benefit of immune support.
Spices offer a beautiful boost of flavours to food and beverages but they are also loaded with phytochemicals which provide a whole host of health-promoting benefits. Though each of the spices in chai has powerful benefits on their own, they also act in synergy to increase each other’s benefits such as the following.
A common time to drink chai was after a meal and this is due to the digestive support it offers. The combination of spices help trigger the release of digestive enzymes by the pancreas and increases the stomach acids needed to break down and digest a meal. Cinnamon and ginger also help to calm the stomach and combat nausea and diarrhea. Cinnamon is a great blood sugar regulator, making insulin more efficient at taking sugar out of the blood and into the cells to be used as fuel.
Black tea and spices are a rich source of antioxidants. Black tea specifically contains the antioxidants thearubigins, epicatechins and catechins which possess anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer fighting properties that help protect the cells from DNA damage and free radicals. Ginger increases circulation and is effective in delivering oxygen-rich blood cells to areas with aches and pains to reduce the symptoms. Clove and cinnamon are also ranked among the spices with the highest antioxidant content which reduce cell damage and slow down the ageing process.
Cinnamon may be effective in reducing blood pressure whilst also reducing the amount of total cholesterol, bad LDL cholesterol and triglycerides by up to 30 percent. This is combined with the added benefits of black tea which have also shown to reduce cholesterol making it a delicious and heart-healthy beverage.
Chai has stood the test of time and it’s not surprising with its delicious taste and the health benefits it offers. However with so many variations on the market, make sure the chai you choose is a simple blend of black tea and spices and not the sugary processed forms that are not so good for your health.