Turmeric is a plant similar to ginger that has been used in Asia for centuries as a spice as well as a medicine. It is mostly known for its bright yellow color, which gives curry powder its distinctive coloring. Which is why it is also being used for dye.
It is often compared to saffron, a similarly colored spice, but saffron comes from a crocus flower while turmeric is a root. Turmeric is a common alternative to saffron because saffron is very expensive: it takes tens of thousands of flowers to produce one pound of saffron. The taste difference is subtle but saffron contains more of a sweet flavor than turmeric.
It is found primarily in Indian cuisine, as India is the number one producer of turmeric. It lends its color as well as a pungent warm flavor to dishes such as curries, a seasoning for roasted vegetables, or as flavoring for grilled meats. It is also often found in prepared mustards.
Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for numerous ailments, including pain relief, improving rheumatism, diabetes, digestion, etc. Modern medicine is now catching on to the benefits of turmeric and the compounds it contains.
Properties & effects
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which is responsible for most of its medicinal benefits. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
Curcumin as an anti-inflammatory.
Inflammation is not generally a problem, as it is a sign that your immune system is working. This is the response your body gives when it has trouble: for example, when you cut yourself, the area around the wound gets red, painful and swollen. This is a signal to your body that the immune system should come fix the problem.
However, chronic inflammation is a problem that could be behind a ton of long term illnesses such as Alzheimer’s, arthritis, diabetes and cancer. Curcumin in the proper doses can help reduce chronic inflammation, and in fact can compare to anti-inflammatory drugs but without any nasty side effects.
Curcumin as an anti-oxydant.
Curcumin’s antioxidant powers can also help your body immensely. When there is damage in the body, inflammation being a source, free radical cells are created. They cause a chain reaction of damage to healthy cells, resulting in disease and a faster aging process. For example, sun damage can cause free radicals, leading to your skin aging faster and promoting sun spots and wrinkles. Antioxidants stop this damage before it can get worse. Learn more about antioxydants here.
Because of these two main abilities, curcumin is said to help prevent cancer and possibly treat it. But it could also prevent age-related diseases like dementia or heart diseases. Western science has begun to embrace the role of plants as an alternative to harsher medications, and they continue to study turmeric and its effects.
While adding turmeric to your diet can only help, to get these kinds of results, it is more prudent to take turmeric or curcumin supplements for the full effect. As the curcumin content is much higher in supplements than in ground turmeric, you should speak to your doctor about the supplement that is best for you.
Turmeric and Ayurveda
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has traditionally been used to help problems with the liver, heart, lungs and skin. It can be taken internally for things such as asthma, general pain, diarrhea and other stomach issues. But it also has analgesic powers as well as antibacterial and antiseptic effects. A paste can be made of turmeric and applied to skin conditions like burns, acne and small wounds. The exact ingredients of the paste depend on what you are trying to cure. For instance, you can mix it with aloe vera for burns. A paste of turmeric and water can calm the complexion. Find more ayurvedic remedies on this page.
There are many ways to get started using turmeric, especially if cooking Indian food might seem intimidating to you at first. You can start by adding a dash of it to meals you already cook, such as on your vegetable side dishes or in your morning scrambled eggs. You can also add a bit to smoothies or soups.
If you would like to try something a bit more exotic, try a simple curry made with chicken or chickpeas.
Curry powder can be found premade or you can mix your own with some turmeric, ground coriander seeds, cumin, paprika and cayenne pepper.
Hot, healing drink:
Stirring ¼ teaspoon of turmeric into hot water with some honey makes a revitalizing healthy turmeric tea.
Another traditional way to enjoy turmeric from Asia: heat up 2 cups of milk of choice before adding 1 tablespoon grated turmeric and ½ tablespoon ginger as well as some black pepper, which studies have shown makes curcumin more easily absorbed by the body. Simmer everything together for ten minutes before straining and sweetening to taste with something like honey or agave.
Find other easy ways to include turmeric in your diet on this site.
How do I choose Turmeric?
Like most foods, organic is usually the best option when purchasing. You always want to limit your exposure to pesticides, toxins and radiation. It is a good idea to buy quality turmeric root from the produce section and use it that way, but there are many options for good turmeric powder for an easier way to use it. Look for turmeric powder that is certified organic and doesn’t contain any other ingredients. A health food or natural food store will probably be your best bet to find quality turmeric products, and you can buy online as well from trusted retailers.
If you choose to take a turmeric supplement, be on the lookout for how much curcumin it actually contains as well as any fillers or mixers they try to sneak in. There is not currently much recommendation for how much or how little curcumin to consume though the general guideline is about 200 mg daily. Very minimal and rare adverse effects have been shown with much higher doses, and generally depends on the person.
Turmeric is a healthy addition to any diet that can make you feel better overall as you’ll experience less inflammation, which can cause a lot of problems. Before you reach for stronger medications, see what turmeric in its many forms can do for your body.
U.S. National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health
U.S. National Center for Biotechnology Information