Eat To Live

Spices in curry have health benefits

Turmeric is packed with nutrients, while cumin has strong anti-bacterial properties

Pork and brinjal vindaloo
Pork and brinjal vindalooST PHOTO: TAMARA CRAIU

I have a nephew, who is as Chinese as they come, except that he loves curries and spice.

Raised by a Sri Lankan nanny when he was young, my family thinks he learnt to eat curry then.

Of course, we too love our curries, especially the chicken curry that seems to be a fixture at every Singaporean buffet.

Creamy with coconut milk and fragrant with spices and lemongrass, it is, however, different from the category of sub-continent curries.

But equally flavourful and complex in spice, could it, or any other curry, actually be healthy?

  • Pork and brinjal vindaloo


    • 2-3 brinjals, cut into pieces

    • 500g pork collar, cut into similar-sized pieces

    • 2 onions, chopped

    • 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

    • 1 thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely chopped

    • 2 tsp chilli powder

    • 1 tsp turmeric powder

    • 1 tsp cumin powder

    • 2 cinnamon sticks

    • 1 tsp whole black mustard seeds

    • 2-3 tbs vinegar, depending on individual taste

    • 1 tsp sugar

    • 1 tsp salt, or to taste


    • Heat oil in a pan and saute onion till it is softened and translucent.

    • Add the finely chopped ginger and garlic and fry till browned.

    • Add the pork and brown it, turning the pieces to sear all sides. Remove.

    • Add the chilli, cumin and turmeric powders and fry until the oil rises.

    • Add one cinnamon stick and the mustard seeds.

    • Return pork to the pan. Add vinegar and a little water to cover and bring to the boil.

    • Turn down heat and simmer till the meat is tender, then add the brinjal pieces. Add sugar and adjust to individual liking.

    • Serve with brown rice.

    SERVES 4-6

Some research has shown that ginger and turmeric used in curries could ease arthritis and may prevent Alzheimer's.

Most curries also contain cumin, cardamom, chilli, onions and garlic, all of which have strong anti- bacterial properties.

Ginger, specifically, contains chemicals that work similarly to some anti-inflammatory medications, which is why it is recommended for those with arthritic pain.

As for turmeric, according to the Journal Of The American Chemical Society, it has a wide range of antioxidant, anti-viral, anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, anti-carcinogenic and anti-inflammatory properties.

Curcumin, the primary active compound in turmeric, has many nutrients, which is why turmeric is often used to treat a wide variety of health problems.

That decided my menu when my nephew last came for dinner.

I would cook pork and brinjal vindaloo, a recipe that has its roots in Goa, India, and is cooked not only by Indians, but also by Eurasians.

The recipe I like is by Mrs Ellice Handy, a former principal of Methodist Girls' School. It can be found in her cookbook, My Favourite Recipes, a true classic and also my mother's favourite.

Using just a few spices, cumin, and turmeric, instead of a laundry list of spices, it is also pungent with vinegar, a Portuguese predilection that gives the dish its characteristic piquancy.

No wonder I like it, for I prefer sour tastes to creamy ones.

Although not specified in her recipe, I add a cinnamon stick and some cardamom, if I have them, for fragrance.


And whatever curry you cook, you need to brown the ginger, onions and garlic, before you add the whole or powdered spices.

It gives a richness and sweetness to the pot.

You could make the dish vegetarian, of course, by using only brinjal. But I like pork and this is one of the few curries that uses pork, marrying my love for pork and spices beautifully.

You could also reduce the proportion of pork to brinjal in the recipe, another of my tricks to combine health and flavour concerns when cooking: more vegetables and just a little meat for flavour.

The cut of meat matters. The leanest is the fillet, which is also the most tender, but, for curry, I choose the pork collar, which, admittedly, has more fat, but also a more interesting texture.

I just skim the fat when it rises or, better still, leave the curry in the fridge overnight for the fat to solidify and merely scrape it off the next day.

Besides, vindaloo tastes better when left overnight.

  • Sylvia Tan is a freelance writer and cookbook author. Her previous Eat To Live recipes can be found in two cookbooks, Eat To Live and Taste.
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 12, 2016, with the headline 'Spice up curry for flavour and health'. Subscribe