3 Mucuna Recipes to Tap into Your Inner Happiness
Ayurveda teaches us that happiness is something we can generate internally—from health, from good company, from connection to the macrocosm. And yet, ask the average person on the street what makes them happy and you might hear a very different sort of response.
Success, wealth, an abundance of material possessions, or certain markers of beauty or attractiveness are among the many things that our contemporary society looks to for happiness.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with striving for these sources of satisfaction and recognition; Ayurveda even recognizes the principles of wealth (artha), desire (kama), purpose (dharma), and liberation (moksha) as part of what makes us “healthy.” But they inherently send the locus of happiness outside of us.
For longevity’s sake, being able to self-generate happiness will ensure not only that we have a consistent supply of it, but that it’s actually nourishing our system rather than depleting it. This allows our prana, or life-force energy, to circulate internally along the path of attention, rather than letting it leak out into the ether (or internet—which might be one in the same).
Cultivating internal happiness might sound like an impossible chicken or egg dilemma. “If I don’t feel happy now,” you might be wondering, “how am I meant to have a seed of that energy to nurture and grow if I don’t take it from the outside?” And in the current state of our world, where so much of our environment is saturated with grief, tragedy, and unhappiness, it’s even harder to imagine attaining happiness from anywhere.
As the fundamental act of transformation that allows us to build the tissues that create our body, which thereby gives a home to our spirit, digestion is where happiness is born for us on a daily basis.
It’s true that you need to eat food—which is inherently outside of us—in order to be able to digest it, but when we consider that the Ayurvedic diet recommends seasonal, whole foods that are comprised of the same elements and energy as our own bodies, we’re really just encountering other versions of ourselves when we digest.
In fact, the closer to nature—our nature—our food is, the easier it is for our bodies to digest that food. Western science calls this “bioavailability,” which in Ayurvedic terms we might think of as tejas, the deep source of inner radiance that helps us recognize our true Self.
Bioavailability is a popular way to talk about the efficacy of certain supplements. High bioavailability through the combination of turmeric and black pepper is a popular way of marketing curcumin supplements, for example.
While it’s quantitatively true that more access to curcumin, the active compound in turmeric, would enhance its effects on the body, what’s missing from this approach is the naturally-occurring, holistic vehicle of curcumin in the plant turmeric.
Without the unique synergy of all of turmeric’s compounds, its flavors, and its form, even the most bioavailable supplement comes up short on nutrition. Hence Ayurveda’s preference for whole foods and herbs over individual constituents—the body is more readily able to recognize these as part of itself.
The other way to eat happy is through attention to the microbiome. 90 percent of our biological mass is nothing more than bacteria, which helps to keep our systems balanced through a complex system of digestion and communication at the cellular level.
We can nourish our microbiome through a balanced diet of diverse plant foods, which are all sources of prebiotics. On the other hand, if our microbiome is depleted or too high in unhealthy bacteria, we might turn to probiotic foods to help recalibrate.
Since the gut microbiome is a main center for the production of serotonin, a key mood regulator, along with other chemicals that impact our nervous system, we want those bacteria to be happy—so we feel happy, too!
Meet Nature’s “Happy Pill”
When I was growing up, if I ever became too sullen or moody my parents would tell me to “take a happy pill.” They didn’t mean literally, but nowadays our world is flooded with happy pills in the form of prescription medications, chemical stimuli, and a variety of activities and substances that, in varying degrees, take us away from ourselves and our sources of unhappiness.
While there are many reasons people may turn to these solutions, and as essential and life-saving as they can be, what if we could also restore our bodies’ natural happiness-generator through our digestion?
Enter Mucuna pruriens (kapikacchu in Sanskrit).
This climbing vine, known as “velvet bean,” grows all over the world—from Asia to Africa to South America—and has been harvested for centuries because of its high nutritional and medicinal value. That’s because it’s a natural source of L-dopa, the precursor to the neurotransmitter known as dopamine.
You may have heard of dopamine as the thing we’re “hit” with when we eat a delicious cookie, nab something great on sale, or meet the love of our life. A partner to serotonin in the gut, dopamine (largely stored in the brain) is what stimulates our central nervous system’s reward centers—the feedback loop that tells us something is good for us and makes us want more of it all the time.
In our world, the things that feed that reward center are largely external—such as the fame, fortune, and beauty mentioned earlier. But in consuming an adaptogenic herb like mucuna, which supports the two-way communication between brain and gut, we create a new feedback loop of serotonin, dopamine, and happiness.
When we eat in a mindful way, that concentrated attention also promotes the creation of oxytocin, another natural source of the feeling of love and connection.
In Ayurvedic terms, the sweet, heavy, and rejuvenating properties of mucuna make it excellent for balancing vata dosha, as well as supporting the health of the nervous system (majja dhatu) and the reproductive system (sukra dhatu).1 It is known both as a fertility enhancer and aphrodisiac.2 Talk about a happy food!
Cooking with Mucuna for Inner Happiness
These three recipes incorporate mucuna into pantry staples you’ll be able to use in a variety of ways, morning, noon, and night. Think of them as a happy pill you take with your meals—one with no weird side effects, chalky taste, or difficulty swallowing.
Before you begin, please first consult with your doctor before adding any herbs to your diet, especially if you are taking prescription medications. Herbs are not a replacement for other therapies, including prescriptions for mental health or other conditions, so do not stop taking your medication without consulting with an expert. Just like achieving happiness, balancing our bodies can take many forms, and choosing the most effective route for you right now will result in the happiest ending!
Happy Chai Concentrate Recipe
We all have our happy beverages—the ones that wake us up in the morning or send us off to a restful night’s sleep. All too often though, these drinks (namely, coffee and alcohol) actually stimulate the nervous system rather than keeping going it a steady, clear way, which is important whether we want to carpe diem or dream sweetly.
Making your own chai concentrate is a fantastic way to have a digestion-promoting drink around all the time. Not only does the warming, smokey, sophisticated blend of spices promote healthy agni, or digestive fire, but dandelion, chicory root, and cacao are all sources of prebiotics, which feed the gut with healthy bacteria.3
The how of this digestive aid is equally important. There may be a lot of ingredients here, but that’s half the fun—getting to smell, feel, and play with your food like you did as a kid connects you to the essential medicine of these herbs and spices.
As you deepen your relationship with them through your senses and attention, you’ll find yourself falling in love with just the right blend of ingredients to meet your exact tastes. Try asking for that at Starbucks!
Prep time: 5 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 cups
- 2 tablespoons tulsi powder
- 1 ½ tablespoons dandelion root
- 2 cinnamon sticks
- 1 tablespoon cacao nibs
- 1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon mucuna powder
- ½ tablespoon ground ginger
- ½ tablespoon roasted chicory root
- 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
- 1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
- 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon licorice powder
- 3 star anise
- Raw honey (optional)
- Milk or plant milk, to serve
Combine all ingredients (except the honey and milk) in a bowl, taking your time to smell and handle each one, and adjusting according to your taste.
Bring 6 cups of water to a boil in a large pot. Add all of the ingredients, reduce the heat to low to maintain a simmer, and loosely cover the pot. Let the tea decoct for about 20 minutes, or until the liquid is reduced to 4 cups. Remove from heat and let cool, then strain the tea into a large jar. Taste the tea to see if you would like to add some honey or other sweetener, then stir it in while the tea is warm.
To serve as a latte, warm equal amounts of tea and milk in a small pot. Blitz with an electric frother or whisk vigorously to create a bit of foam, then pour into your favorite mug.
Store the concentrate in a jar in the refrigerator for up to three days. Shake well before drinking.
Happy Apple-Cranberry Chutney Recipe
Happiness is the main ingredient in any wholesome gathering. Beckon your loved ones around the table with this multi-purpose chutney, which combines seasonal stewed fruits with nostalgic autumnal spices.
While its taste is mainly sweet, a kick of pungent and a healthy dose of sour from the cranberries and lemon make this the perfect dish to serve on chilly days, as these two flavors bring immediate warmth and softening to the whole body.
It’s great as a topping for hearty toast (layered with ghee and honey for an indulgent but healthful breakfast), baked goods like muffins and tea cakes, oatmeal, and even savory foods like curries, dal, and grain bowls.
Although it’s technically a condiment, this chutney could easily become the inspiration for an entire meal, including your holiday table.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
Makes: 4 cups
- 2 teaspoons coconut oil or ghee
- 1 teaspoon ground ginger
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- ½ teaspoon ground nutmeg
- ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- ¼ teaspoon brown mustard seeds
- 6 whole black peppercorns
- 4 whole cloves
- A dash of cayenne pepper (optional)
- 3 apples, cored and chopped (preferably tart and crisp, such as Fuji, Mutsu, or Gala)
- 2 cups fresh or frozen cranberries
- ⅓ cup raisins
- ⅓ cup pitted and chopped Medjool dates
- 1 tablespoon mucuna powder
- Zest and juice of 1 lemon
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 1 cup water
- ½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes
In a large saucepan, warm the coconut oil or ghee. Add the ginger, cardamom, cumin, nutmeg, turmeric, mustard, peppercorns, cloves, and cayenne (if using). Stir to combine, and let the spices cook on low heat for about 3 minutes or until fragrant.
Add the apples, cranberries, raisins, dates, mucuna, lemon zest and juice, and cinnamon stick. Stir to coat the fruit in the spices, then raise the heat to medium and add the water. Bring to a low boil, then reduce the heat to simmer. Cover the pot loosely and let cook for 20 minutes, until the fruit is soft.
Remove from heat and let cool slightly. Remove the cinnamon stick and stir in the coconut. You may choose to leave the chutney as-is, with the fruit more whole, or break it up more with a potato masher or immersion blender. Taste and feel free to add any additional spices you desire.
Store in airtight jars in the refrigerator for up to one week.
Happy Tahini Sauce Recipe
When you’re short on time and need to throw together some food quickly from the odds and ends in your fridge, meals can feel more draining than nourishing. A reliable, versatile sauce can come to the rescue when your ingredients are lacking inspiration.
It literally binds things together, but metaphorically has the quality of snigdha, which means oily or cohesive in Sanskrit. Things that are snigdha make you feel embraced and loved—whether it’s a hug, abhyanga with warm oil, or a nourishing food like this.
Tahini is one of the most sattvic foods and can easily shape-shift between sweet and savory, which makes it an excellent base to experiment with other flavors. Here, there’s a little bit of all six tastes—an ideal Ayurvedic combination for healthy digestion—so the sauce will complement the dominant notes of whatever meal it accompanies.
With adaptogenic cacao and reishi, it can help to combat any stress you bring to the table at a cellular level, and natural ferments from the apple cider vinegar and miso support the microbiome.
Dollop some on grain bowls or roasted veggies, serve it alongside crudité (bonus points if your veggies aren’t raw!), spread it on bread or sandwiches, or dilute it even more to use as a marinade for grilling or roasting.
Prep time: 10 minutes
Makes: 2 cups
- ½ cup tahini
- ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
- 1 garlic clove, grated
- 1 tablespoon maple syrup
- 1 tablespoon white miso
- 1 tablespoon grated fresh ginger
- 1 tablespoon mucuna powder
- 1 teaspoon cacao powder
- 1 teaspoon reishi powder (or any other mushroom powder/blend)
- ½ teaspoon paprika
- 3 tablespoons water
Combine all the ingredients except the water in a medium bowl. Whisk until smooth or blitz with an immersion blender until well combined. Add the water one tablespoon at a time to achieve the desired consistency. Store in a sealed jar in the refrigerator for up to two weeks.