Immunity-boosting foods international students should be eating according to our mothers

Immunity-boosting foods international students should be eating according to our mothers
Cultured foods do help keep our guts healthy by nurturing the good flora in our bodies. Source: Ed Jones/AFP

As it stands now, there is no cure yet for COVID-19. But our mothers would like to think otherwise.

When news first broke of the novel coronavirus spreading in China and slowly in other countries, there were reports of Chinese locals using traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) herbs for treatment and Indians claiming that “rasam” – a popular spicy and tangy soup – to beat the virus.

It has not been proven that traditional herbs or other foods can actually cure coronavirus – but in Asian culture, these herbs have been used for centuries in curing ailments linked to respiratory illness and boosting immunity systems.

While we don’t recommend that you ignore science and solely rely on herbs to make yourself feel better when you’re sick – especially if you’re showing COVID-19 symptoms – there’s no harm in listening to our mothers (in fact, the converse is usually true).

In good times, bad times and in a global pandemic, our mothers (thousands of miles away as they may be from their children studying abroad) still know best.

In these self-isolating days, using these ingredients can bring us closer to them as if we are in their kitchens – not to mention tasting a whole lot better than all the stale, inauthentic takeaways.

So try these immunity-boosting foods out, call your mother and send her a photo of what you made with these:


Turmeric has been used since ancient times by Indians in curries and soups. Due to its active compound curcumin, turmeric has been scientifically proven to prevent heart disease, Alzheimer’s and cancer. This has caused the spice to earn a reputation as one of the best foods for immunity boosting.

Turmeric can be used in cooking or making drinks in root form – similar to ginger but more pungent with a bright orange/yellow tint – and can be found in most Asian markets, as well as in powder form.

To use this spice, simply add a pinch of tumeric powder or grated turmeric root to curries, stews, or soups – or make a delicious drink by adding milk following this Golden Milk recipe.

immunity boosting foods

Turmeric powder is used in India as one of the most popular immunity boosting foods, as well as for prayers. Source: Indranil Mukherjee/ AFP


A spicy and tangy soup made with herbs such as garlic, pepper, cumin, mustard seeds, and coriander, rasam has been traditionally used by Indians as a treatment when you’re down with the flu.

It is not proven as a cure or prevention for COVID-19, but it’s still a healthy food choice with plenty of herbs that help strengthen your immune system. It’s delicious on cold nights, served over hot rice or consumed on its own like soup.

Want to make a pot of delicious rasam? Call up your friends from India, Sri Lanka or other countries with Indian diaspora immigrants for their family’s secret recipe!

Chinese herbs

Traditional Chinese medicine was heavily used in the treatment for COVID-19 patients, even promoted by the local government.

The various herbs which include ginseng, echinacea, lily bulb, liquorice, and more, are often cooked in a thick broth or soup with chicken, fungus, or vegetables –  popular among the Chinese community for curing a number of ailments.

immunity boosting foods

Chinese herbs have been used by Asian mothers for centuries to make immunity-boosting foods. Source: Roslan Rahman/AFP

Combinations of these herbs often come in powder or granular form and can be found in Asian markets of traditional Chinese medicinal shops.

If you’re an international student from China, Hong Kong or South Korea you probably have a packet of traditional herbs stashed somewhere in your 20kg luggage. Boil them with some chicken bones or pork bones – they go really well with white rice (but you already know that).


Ask any Muslim mother and nine times out of ten, they’ll tell you to have dates before, during and after Ramadan.

And rightfully so – dates are a rich source of nutrients that help with digestive and boosting immunity.

While they’re popular during Ramadhan’s sahur and iftar – the morning and evening meals between fasting periods – they can also be consumed year-round as most local supermarkets stock them all year round.

They make a convenient snack too as they can be enjoyed straight from the box – no recipe necessary.


Never mind the fact that South Korea’s success to #FlattenTheCurve has nothing to do with fermented vegetables. Korean mums will still get their kids at home and abroad to eat as much kimchi as possible.

They’re not completely off their marks. Cultured foods do help keep our guts healthy by nurturing the good flora in our bodies.

In a lockdown, these foods, which are preserved to extend their shelf life, are even more useful so students don’t have to leave their dorms. Instead, make fried rice, tofu stew or just eat it plain with a fried egg and white rice – easy-peasy and nutritious.

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