By Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor Published Dec 14, 2017 at 11:02 AM

Put away your turmeric supplements. Thanks to the ingenuity of business partners Qasim and Asim Khan and OnMilwaukee co-founder Jeff Sherman, the Cream City is home to a groundbreaking new beverage which could hold the key to a healthier, more pain-free lifestyle.

ZYN, a beverage whose name is derived from the word "zindagi" which means "life," made its public debut in November, appearing on grocery store shelves in four flavors: lemon-ginger, mixed berry, mango lychee and pomegranate cranberry.

At first glance, ZYN might seem familiar. It's packaging is bright and attractive, and its flavor is light and fruity and far lower in sugar than similar products (each serving contains just 2 mg. of sugar). But the real magic of ZYN is in its formulation, which provides high levels of curcumin (200+ mg.) – the bioactive compound found in super foods like turmeric and ginger -- in a form that's easy for the body to absorb.

Why curcumin?

Turmeric has been used in India and throughout the East for thousands of years as both spice and medicinal herb. Maybe best known for its color, which adds a rich golden hue to curries and stews, the earthy flavored herb has also been the topic of nearly 30,000 academic and scientific research papers and 160 clinical studies in recent years, many of which posit that turmeric might hold the key to a variety of health conditions including inflammation, mental health and digestive and cardiovascular health.

Most of the buzz surrounding turmeric actually centers on curcumin, the bio-active compound in turmeric which gives it its bright yellow color. A variety of studies have found that curcumin is key to fighting inflammation at the molecular level, making it a key focus for treating a variety of forms of arthritis and generalized pain.

Correlations have also been made that point to curcumin as a potential treatment for mental health conditions including depression, anxiety and even Alzheimer’s disease . It’s also a powerful antioxidant, and both lab and animal studies have indicated it can inhibit cancer at multiple stages of development.

In the course of just a few short years, turmeric has become fourth fastest-growing functional ingredient in supplements across a variety of retail channels. It’s also become a popular ingredient in teas, juices and a variety of other health-food products.

The issue? Turmeric itself is actually relatively low in curcumin.

"Curcumin is the main bio-active ingredient in turmeric," notes Qasim. "But it only comprises two to six percent of turmeric’s make-up, meaning that you’d have to eat a really large amount of turmeric to reap any benefits. On top of that, the curcumin in turmeric isn’t readily absorbable by the body when it’s consumed by itself or in supplement form."

In order for curcumin to be bio-available, it needs to be combined with something called an adaptogen. In cooking, fats like coconut oil or ghee which are easily absorbed by the body, attach themselves to the curcumin and carry it throughout the body.

In creating ZYN, the Khan brothers looked to piperine, a derivative of black pepper, as the adaptogen. When combined with curcumin, piperine can increase the absorption of the curcumin by up to 2,000 percent. Each bottle of ZYN contains a proprietary blend of at least 200 mg of bio-available curcumin, more than four times that found in other similar beverages.

The ZYN story

Qasim and Asim were born and raised in Pakistan, but moved to Chicago with their family at a young age. Both spent a good portion of their careers in investment banking and private equity before leaving their financial careers to pursue a higher calling.

"Natural healing has been part of Eastern culture for over 5,000 years," notes Qasim. "Our family has used natural products for everything from colds to inflammation and stomach issues. So launching a natural beverage business was just natural."

But the "aha" moment happened during a visit to Pakistan a few years ago.

"Our father is diabetic, and he was suffering from diabetic nerve pain in his foot, to the point where he couldn’t walk at all," he says. "And while we were there, our aunt made a paste with turmeric and applied it to his foot. Within an hour, the pain was completely gone."

Qasim nods. He says he suffered from intense back pain for more than 20 years before he and Asim began experimenting with the effects of curcumin.

"Essentially, we tested the recipe on ourselves," he says. "I started consuming a significant amount of curcumin and black pepper daily and experienced really good results."

"In the end, health is not just about an outward appearance," says Asim. "it’s the wholistic package. And this is really about promoting internal well-being. This isn’t a supplement or a pharmaceutical; it’s about creating a lifestyle that promotes health and wellness with natural products."

In kind Asim says that ZYN also aspires to being an ethically, socially and environmentally responsible company. Currently, they are MBE certified and have pending status as a B-Corp, a status reserved for for-profit businesses who maintain rigorous levels of social and environmental performance, accountability, and transparency.

"We’ve had the good fortune to have traveled the world and experienced a lot of cultures firsthand," notes Qasim. "And we’ve observed how they use natural ingredients to preserve health and live happier lives. Certain countries have lower rates of cancer, and it has a lot to do with natural ingredients that are consumed as well as the lifestyles they live. "

"Our mission is really to bring time tested ancient wisdom from around the world directly to the consumer," he adds, noting that the company is already researching other products made with all natural ingredients.

ZYN is sold in 16-ounce bottles for $4.99 each and can be found at local grocers including Outpost Natural Foods Cooperative, Sendik’s Fine Foods and Good Harvest Market. Cases are also available for $65 with free shipping at drinkZYN.com. For more information, follow ZYN on Facebook and Instagram.

Lori Fredrich Senior Writer & Dining Editor

Lori is an avid cook whose accrual of condiments and spices is rivaled only by her cookbook collection. Her passion for the culinary industry was birthed while balancing A&W root beer mugs as a teenage carhop, fed by insatiable curiosity and fueled by the people whose stories entwine with each and every dish. She’s had the privilege of chronicling these tales via numerous media, including OnMilwaukee and in her book “Milwaukee Food.” Her work has garnered journalism awards from entities including the Milwaukee Press Club. 

When she’s not eating, photographing food, writing or recording the FoodCrush podcast, you’ll find Lori seeking out adventures with her husband Paul, traveling, cooking, reading, learning, snuggling with her cats and looking for ways to make a difference.