Pharmacist and curry expert Mina Khan volunteers her knowledge and skill about the healing power of spices - published in Wonder Women magazine
From the age of ten, Mina Khan was adept at cooking curries with her cousins for their extended family. Growing up as an only child in Bradford to parents who worked seven days a week running a post office and corner shop, everyone had to pull their weight if they were to eat well. “It probably sounds like child labour by today’s standards, but it was just the way it was!” laughs the 47-year-old pharmacist and charity volunteer. The experience of catering regularly for up to a dozen relatives was to prove an invaluable one. Not only did Mina turn into a proficient cook herself, but she learned about the various health benefits of using freshly ground spices, which she’s now passing on.
Mina, who now lives in Bolton, Greater Manchester with her businessman husband Tahir (48) and children Ayesha (21) and Dan (19), says: “As long as I can remember, my mum always had a daily dose of turmeric and honey and I always gave it to my children if they had a cold or a sore throat. They always say I never let them become ill. They never had nappy rash and didn’t need antibiotics.” Interestingly today, much research is currently being carried out into the potential role of turmeric – and its active ingredient curcumin – as a treatment for Alzheimer’s disease, according to the Alzheimer’s Society. And Cancer Research UK says that although no research evidence is available to show it can prevent or treat cancer, early trials have had promising results. The news doesn’t come as too much of a surprise to Mina. “I’ve always been used to thinking of spices as medicines,” she says.
After studying pharmacy at Sunderland University, where her curries were popular with her fellow students, Mina often passed on her spicy knowledge over the counter to complement her mainstream medicinal advice and remedies. “They complement each other. A lot of medicines are based on herbs and spices derived from plants,” she adds. But it was when her friend Debbie Dowie, who she’d met on the school run, was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 2009, her skill and knowledge really came into their own. As one of the “lucky ones,” Debbie felt fortunate that her cancer was discovered early and she received good care and attention. Equally aware that other women weren’t so lucky, she decided to set up a charity. Keen to help her friend fundraise, Mina decided to hold curry cookery demonstrations in her kitchen and educate people about the importance of spices. Groups of 20 people paid £20 each and the profits went to Boot Out Breast Cancer, which provides much-needed diagnostic equipment for the NHS in the North West. “Every year we raise between £100,000 and £150,000 and every penny goes towards buying equipment,” says Mina, who is one of the charity’s core team of organisers. As well as raising funds though, her curry demonstrations were instantly popular with
Mina’s guests. Not only were they impressed by her skills at making chapatis as taught by her mum (it’s all in the wrist action), they also wanted to know more about the medicinal properties. Information about carom seeds being good for indigestion and flatulence, to cinnamon for lowering cholesterol was pounced upon. “I’ve always freshly ground my own spices, which I passed around, but this was the first time I was teaching about the health benefits and people were fascinated,” she adds. So much so that two years ago, Mina launched her own small business from home – just One Spice – after people came back asking her where they could buy it from.
With her mum’s help she buys whole spices in Bradford – ‘the curry capital of the world’ – and grinds them in a machine imported from India to package and sell online from her website, and at artisan markets and delis. She also infuses them in jars of extra-virgin rapeseed oil to encourage people to use healthier cooking oils, to avoid diabetes and heart disease. “I wanted to take the guesswork out of spices and prove that there’s really no need for ready meals and jars of ready made sauces loaded with sugar and salt when you can cook a good curry from scratch in just 45 minutes.” Although she hopes to expand her business this year, she admits that she often ends up giving away the products to friends and her real passion is educating people about healthy spices. She also organises cooking demonstrations for a local youth project foundation and high school to educate the younger generations. Still working as a part-time locum pharmacist, Mina adds: “It’s always been the perfect job for me. I love science and I love treating and talking to people. If somebody comes to me with an issue, I like giving advice that will help make them better.