Ever since I’ve known Melanie Koh back in junior college, back when we were wide-eyed students who had no real idea of what we wanted to be when we grew up, I knew that Mel loved to cook. In particular, she loved to bake.
From cake recipes scribbled on crumpled pieces of paper that she pulled out of her pocket to peruse before school assembly, to hand-carrying pandan leaves from her mum to London when I went to visit her last year, ‘food’ and ‘Mel’ have always been a collective in my mind. My first memory of Mel’s flair for flour was when she baked 18 nutella cupcakes for my 18th birthday. It was — and still is — the best nutella/chocolate cupcakes I’ve had to date bar none.
But somewhere along the way, her love for the culinary arts in dry heat took a turn for something a lot older — and a little more magical. Soon after Mel moved to London a few years ago, she began to feel homesick. So she started cooking food that she grew up eating. Dishes like chicken rice, stews, curries, kuehs and tonic soups — rich, flavoursome fare, thanks to Mel’s Hokkien-Hainanese-Peranakan background.
The tonic soups were a gift from her mum, in a sense, taught to Mel via FaceTime chats for her to learn how to boil when malaises bubbled up during that time of the month or from restless sleep. She intuitively realised that there was something about the herbs and warm brews that reenergised her, and decided to take things one step further.
Coupled with positive outcomes from seeing a Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) physician in her early 20s to remedy health problems, Mel took her newfound discovery of drinking wellness to heart by founding rui, a company that specialises in TCM products. Launched this past March after years of trekking through farms in Asia and countless London-Singapore flights for factory visits, the brand’s signature offering (to date) is a Skin Loving Plant Medicine powder blend of eight roots, flowers, seeds, leafs and berries; as well as algae beta carotene.
Perfectionism pays off. And consuming a pod a day of rui’s concoction has proven to lend glow to one’s skin; and dare we say, a little sparkle in one’s eyes.
It’s a very special thing to bear witness to one of my dearest friend’s dreams come true. To see her ideas come to fruition and her tireless efforts turn into a thing of beauty. And she’s only getting started.
“This is rui’s mission — to demystify and distil this age-old practice of Traditional Chinese Medicine so that everyone can enjoy and partake in its benefits.”
Tell us about rui, and how the draw to TCM came about.
It was one of those things that quietly snuck up on me in that aha moment. Kind of like when you fall in love, you know?
My first foray into TCM was in my early twenties, when my body started to rebel like it was tired of 1999. I had digestive issues, an injured back and tragically, adult acne. Sick of seeing specialists, I saw a TCM physician and got myself fixed up.
If you think about it, most of us Chinese have an intuitive relationship with our bodies and an innate understanding of Yin and Yang. For example, we know that a sore throat is a sign of excessive heat and we know then to seek out healing foods like coconut water or pear.
I suppose our mothers impart this knowledge to us through their homemade recipes. I didn’t notice it at first, but awhile after moving to London, I started to miss my mum’s tonics. Forced to make them on my own, I became obsessed with reading up on TCM and was amazed by the benefits associated with Chinese herbs — all of which are backed up by scientific research.
I wanted to create a modern and accessible approach to TCM so that more people could learn about herbal medicine and develop that intuitive relationship with their bodies. So I spoke to my friend (now partner) in Singapore who owns a TCM manufacturing company, quit my job in consulting and rui was born.
Mel wanted to offer a modern approach and appreciation of TCM, and spent years developing rui’s Skin Loving formulation
How were ingredients chosen?
This was the toughest process for me and I am pretty sure my team wanted to throw me off a cliff at some point. I spent over a year working with TCM physicians and nutritionists on the rui Skin Loving formulation. We had a comprehensive list of criteria that we wanted to fulfil.
The formula had to honour TCM principles and be effective based on Western research. I also wanted to keep the ingredients list as short as possible and 100 per cent plant-based, with no fillers and no sweeteners. Oh, and it had to taste nothing like what your Chinese tutor would give you. I don’t know about you but mine made me eat chewy fish blubber. Having been traumatised by the bitter taste of past encounters with TCM, this was essential.
I want people to want to take rui powders every day and be able to see or feel their effects. I am so happy that we persevered because we managed to strike off the entire wish list we started out with.
The next step was sourcing, which proved to be another challenge. Organic certification in Asia works differently from the West. Simply put, less importance has been placed on it and household farmers using century-old techniques have not yet embraced this formal certification. We only wanted to work with small ethical farms that harvest the purest, medicinal grade ingredients so we had to relax on getting organically certified. Still, everything is done by hand and nothing has been chemically treated. Our supplier, who is an amazing lady, travelled to crazy places to help us find the right producers.
rui’s Skin Loving Plant Medicine is a blend of eight Chinese herbs and algae beta carotene
rui powders are pre-activated. What does this mean, and what does the process of activation entail?
I am not sure how much I can reveal! The basic principle of Chinese herbal medicine is that raw herbs have to be properly prepared for consumption. In other words, pre-activated. This typically involves the application of heat to increase effectiveness or to remove any potential toxicity of the herbs.
Our proprietary process includes cleaning to remove non-beneficial parts of the herbs, grinding to improve extraction and absorption, as well as a long, gentle brew. Everything we do is aimed at preserving the integrity and maximising the efficacy of the botanicals we use.
A lot of work is put into that tiny pod in front of you! We do this so you don’t have to spend hours in front of your stove prepping and decocting the brew yourself.
How has daily consumption of the rui powders benefited you?
The change in diet and stress associated with the move to London caused my breakouts to return and when we were formulating rui, I thought I would develop a blend for myself. Partly opportunistic, partly because I wanted to make sure we were putting something out there that works.
Over time, Skin Loving has really helped to clear up my skin. That is the thing though — you have to be consistent with taking it and give the superfoods time to work their magic. Now what it does is add glow to my skin. There is no other way to put it. The science behind it is that the ingredients we use have anti-bacterial properties and support the body’s detoxification process. They also work together to increase hyaluronic acid and collagen production — that is healing from within with nature.
I have also been testing a digestion formula, which I am excited to share very soon.
“Our proprietary process includes cleaning to remove non-beneficial parts of the herbs, grinding to improve extraction and absorption, as well as a long, gentle brew.”
What would you say to sceptics of TCM who argue that the practices have no scientifically proven health benefits?
I agree that we can benefit from more research and clinical testing on TCM. When I started working on rui, I was hesitant because there are so many unknowns and quite simply, there is just so much. TCM has been around for at least 2,500 years and has naturally gathered vast amounts of information with it.
What appears to be an esoteric practice, which uses a completely different framework from Western medicine, actually has a very clear, logical system behind it. We must respect that TCM has been evolving and refining itself based on extensive clinical observations and testing over thousands of years.
I think it would be such a shame if we don’t start benefiting from this ancient practice now. Only in the past 10 years has acupuncture been gaining traction in the modern world, while the Chinese have been benefitting from it for over two millennia. There are safe and conscious ways of including herbal medicine and other branches of TCM in the mix. I suppose this is rui’s mission — to demystify and distil this age-old practice so that everyone can enjoy and partake in its benefits now.
Can you give us a unique rui Skin Loving recipe?
I made this especially for you!
black beauty latte
1 cup of plant milk*
1 Skin Loving pod
1-2 tablespoons of black sesame paste
1 date or sweetener of choice
2 tsp matcha (optional)
Blend it all up!
A little goes a long way: make your own rui smoothie with just one powder pod
*Coconut or hemp milk (or a combination) is great because it doesn’t involve straining or pre-soaking. It also tastes delicious with the earthiness of rui Skin Loving! Just chuck some coconut meat and/or hemp into your blender with water.
Our Instagram @ruilovesyou is a good resource of interesting recipes. It’s basically a log of what I eat or drink everyday.
What are your top three favourite natural skincare products, and why do you love them?
May Lindstrom’s Problem Solver and Blue Cocoon are definite favourites. Whenever I get spotty, Problem Solver does as its name suggests. Blue Cocoon was so helpful for my skin in the winter. It is the only nourishing oil I have found that does not clog my pores. Also, all of her products smell like the best chocolate spa in the world.
I make a blend of rose water, Aloe vera, manuka honey and witch hazel with a few drops of tea tree oil that I use as a toner day and night. I drench my face with it and wipe it off with cotton wool. Somehow I feel like it helps to counteract the hard water in London.
“Skin Loving has really helped to clear up my skin. That is the thing — you have to be consistent with taking it and give the superfoods time to work their magic.”
How do you practice self-care and self-love — daily, weekly or whenever?
I have to admit that I had to Google this to check what activities count. Being naturally critical, I am not great at self-love. I recently started dedicating time to work out three times a week and I always look forward to my skincare routine. Someone recently told me that the key to a successful marriage is having two sinks and I completely agree! Does that count? Washing my face?
What does conscious living mean to you?
Being present. Putting away the phone, not letting your mind wander and truly appreciating who or what is in front of you.
Mel’s take on Asian porridge features sweet potato with tamari and a pod of Skin Loving Plant Medicine
Mel’s colourful culinary works of art are unbelievably healthy, like this beetroot and soursop smoothie with rui powder added to the mix
Images courtesy of rui