What is the key natural ingredient in Tamiflu? A friend who works for a large pharmaceutical company recently gave me the answer.

I was astounded.

Surely it couldn’t be so natural, so simple an ingredient, especially such a readily available one.

And yet the answer, once you thought about it, is not all that surprising …

After all, asprin, which is used to relieve headaches and minor aches and pains, was first obtained from the bark of willow trees and shrubs. Many of us also know that many foods have specific health benefits. Your traditional Chinese medicine shop too will have an array of foods, each to cure a specific malady.

Many believe that the spices used in curries have beneficial health effects. After all, 500 years ago, such spices were worth their weight in gold. And history tells us that wars were fought (the 1511 invasion of Melaka is but one example) to control the spice trade.

The plethora of spices is just amazing and includes cumin seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, fennel seeds, cloves and asafetida. When we combine them with other natural ingredients like garlic, ginger, chilies and tumeric, then not only to we achieve an awesome flavour but it must, we hopefully think, abound with wonderful health benefits too.

So what is the main natural ingredient in Tamiflu?

It is star anise!

Not a hundred percent convinced, I looked up Wikipedia:

“Shikimic acid, a primary feedstock used to create the anti-flu drug Tamiflu, is produced by most autotrophic organisms, but star anise is the industrial source. In 2005, there was a temporary shortage of star anise due to its use in making Tamiflu. Late in that year, a way was found of making shikimic acid artificially.”

So you might guess that I’ve been cooking more curries lately. Invariably, I slip star anise into the hot oil, not only to give it a wonderful flavour, but also to provide the family with the benefits of Tamiflu. Of course, you need not cook a curry as long as you use this key ingredient … soups, stews, even hot drinks come to mind.

For me, conjuring up a curry is no more than a preventative measure, no different from washing my hands after being out in public spaces, which I hope will work. It’s certainly no substitute for visiting a doctor if you’ve got flu symptoms.

Will you be cooking curry tonight?

-> By the way, MPH Online, in its support for local authors, and are currently offering “History of Malaysia: A Children’s Encyclopedia” at a promotional price of RM61.20 instead of RM68. It also includes a FREE poster.


-> By the way, I am in the current issue of Going Places (the Malaysian Airlines inflight magazine). Lydia Teh, Robert Raymer and I wrote a story jointly for the Merdeka issue. It also mentions my novella “Juriah’s Song”. It was a real pleasure to work with both Lydia and Robert.