Marks Daily Apple
Serving up health and fitness insights (daily, of course) with a side of irreverence.
25 May

Smart Spice: Turmeric

It may not share cinnamon’s universal applicability to consumables, but turmeric is another spice with some powerful culinary and medicinal qualities that deserves our attention. Turmeric, known officially as Curcuma longa and historically as Indian saffron, is a rhizome of the ginger family. Its horizontal root system is dug up, baked, and ground into a fine orange powder, which then goes into any number of Middle Eastern, South Asian, and Southeast Asian dishes. Pretty much every curry you come across anywhere, for example, includes a generous portion of turmeric. Common yellow mustard also includes turmeric, mostly as a food colorant.

Turmeric imparts a unique flavor: slightly bitter and a bit spicy, with a mustard-like scent. Upon tasting a dab of turmeric powder by itself for the first time, one is reminded of curries and other Asian stews. It’s a bit of an “Aha!” moment, in fact; you’re finally direct witness to the identity of that secretive flavor lurking within the explosiveness of the common Asian curry after all those years of take out and home cooking with anonymous curry powder mixes. Turmeric itself is actually fairly mild and unassuming, so using it as a solitary spice won’t turn every dish into a curry bonanza – in case you were worried.

Here are a few ways to experiment with the stuff in the kitchen:

  • Turmeric pairs well with fish, often accompanied by little else than salt, pepper, and some lemon juice.
  • For roasted chicken, I’ll sometimes rub the dry, raw bird with a turmeric-butter mixture before it enters the oven.
  • You can turn that same turmeric butter into turmeric ghee – in Ayurvedic tradition, turmeric and ghee have a potent synergistic effect. Just mix softened butter with turmeric a couple hours before clarifying it.
  • Add a few teaspoons to your chili for a curious subtlety that’ll make tasters scratch their chins and wonder aloud.
  • The next time you roast a winter squash, sprinkle the finished flesh with turmeric, cinnamon, and butter.
  • Simmer a teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of cardamom in a cup of coconut milk for ten minutes. Remove, strain, and add a dash of cinnamon for a hearty, healthy drink.
  • Roast fresh cauliflower dusted with turmeric, cumin, salt, and pepper and tossed in your cooking fat of choice.
  • Try this Moroccan Chicken Casserole.

Years ago, I did a short piece of the anti-diabetic, anti-inflammatory effect of turmeric. Turmeric was shown to improve insulin sensitivity and blood glucose levels in rodent models. Mice given the supplement were less likely to develop type 2 diabetes, and they enjoyed greater body fat losses. Good, promising stuff all around. Plus, there’s plenty more:




Most of the research on turmeric has revolved around curcumin, an active, antioxidant component of the spice. By weight, curcumin content of turmeric powder goes no higher than 3.14% – not a terribly large amount, considering the therapeutic curcumin dosages being studied. Doses of between 2-6g are typically used in curcumin research, and it’s basically impossible to eat enough turmeric to ingest that amount of curcumin. Say you wanted a daily intake of 3g of curcumin, obtained through turmeric powder. Assuming you go the strongest stuff, you’d have to take about 3 ounces (conversion reminder: 16 ounces is 1 pound is 454 grams) of turmeric powder on a daily basis. That’s a lot of spice powder. I don’t care how much you love Indian food – it’s not going to be easy. Luckily, curcumin is non-toxic, and doses of up to 12g daily have been safely used. Note, though, that curcumin is a potential anticoagulant, so anyone taking prescription anticoagulants should check with their physician before supplementing.

Despite the focus on extracted curcumin, the epidemiology of cancer in India and other turmeric-using countries suggest that low, regular doses are beneficial, especially in cancer prevention. I love the taste, myself, so I’ll continue to use it regardless. I think you should, too.

Got any great turmeric recipes? Any success stories after using it as a health supplement? Let us know in the comments!

You want comments? We got comments:

Imagine you’re George Clooney. Take a moment to admire your grooming and wit. Okay, now imagine someone walks up to you and asks, “What’s your name?” You say, “I’m George Clooney.” Or maybe you say, “I’m the Clooninator!” You don’t say “I’m George of George Clooney Sells Movies Blog” and you certainly don’t say, “I’m Clooney Weight Loss Plan”. So while spam is technically meat, it ain’t anywhere near Primal. Please nickname yourself something your friends would call you.

  1. I’m fine with a curry bonanza because I use curry on anything I can, including ham sandwiches.

    Looks to me like some of this evidence is from prospective hypothesis generating studies as opposed to controlled clinical studies. Good Calories, Bad Calories has taught me to be very careful about those studies. They lead to clinical proof, but are not truly proof themselves.

    I know Mark has said that most of his income is from supplements, and curcumin is an extracted supplement at the study doses, so is the Grok idea more that nature is a starting place (i.e. “people eat curry as is, maybe higher levels of some of the elements may provide extra benefits”, as opposed to “people have never eaten twinkies, so more twinkies must be the way to go”)?

    John Solter wrote on May 25th, 2010
  2. line chopped celery, onion,and lots of fresh garlic on the bottom of slowcooker. Get 6- 8 free range chicken breasts and rub very generous amounts of tumeric and curry and then add some sea salt. Cook all day on low and come home to an aroma that will please you and all your neighbors. Simple – very good over cauliflower rice.

    james wrote on May 25th, 2010
  3. If you can find fresh turmeric root, you can make a tea out of it (once you’ve grated it). Add a touch of dried reishi mushrooms and you’ve got a potent tonic.

    jennifer wrote on May 25th, 2010
  4. Great post, Mark!

    Organic Gabe wrote on May 25th, 2010
  5. turmeric is an awesome anti inflammatory! i swear i am not trying to “sell” this but if you like nut butter this is delicious…it’s turmeric almond butter!

    misathemeb wrote on May 25th, 2010
  6. When I’m making a batch of chicken broth I always add some, it gives it a nice golden color.

    Tracee wrote on May 25th, 2010
  7. Turmeric is great with eggs also.

    Rob wrote on May 25th, 2010
    • I put 1/8 tsp. of turmeric in my scrambled eggs every morning. If I don’t have eggs, I make sure to add it to my salad dressing that day.

      RSL wrote on May 25th, 2010
  8. I love this

    “Turmeric pairs well with fish, often accompanied by little else than salt, pepper, and some lemon juice.”

    and this:

    “Simmer a teaspoon of turmeric and a teaspoon of cardamom in a cup of coconut milk for ten minutes. Remove, strain, and add a dash of cinnamon for a hearty, healthy drink.”

    Ill be enjoying salmon on Thursday and just picked up 5 cans of coconut milk today and I also love salmon.

    Thanks for the ideas Mark!

    Primal Toad wrote on May 25th, 2010
  9. I like to make an inflamation-fighting (not to mention Primal) curried chicken salad with mayo, sour cream, cilantro, walnuts, ginger, curry powder, and turmeric. My physiatrist (who admittedly has a more enlightened view of things than most western-trained MDs) has me taking turmeric along with fish oil to treat my sports-related overuse injuries (tendonitis in both shoulders, a pulled Achilles, tennis elbow, etc). Don’t know if it was the supplementation, yoga stretching, or going Primal, but my joints are pain free for the first time in years!

    Joe G wrote on May 25th, 2010
  10. Love the stuff. Use lots of it, but I’m out. Started using it to combat training based inflammation.

    I’m going to have to try the Turmeric ghee. That was a new one for me :)

    Grok wrote on May 25th, 2010
  11. Never had tumeric lol. Will add to list. Great ideas here too. Thanks Mark for the post.

    madeline wrote on May 25th, 2010
  12. I love me some butternut squash soup during the autumn. I make it with coconut milk, turmeric, and cayenne pepper.

    Darrin wrote on May 25th, 2010
  13. I’m been making a turmeric formula for my joints. What I do is take a very large root, juice it, add some lemon, honey and water. I take two tbs per day.

    Try it!

    Jack wrote on May 25th, 2010
  14. Great post as usual!

    I did a study a while ago about anti-inflammatory spices and here’s what I found on Nutrition Facts and Analysis ( for each spice and their respected inflammatory factors.
    Ground Turmeric: 1 tsp – 451 (strongly anti-inflammatory)
    Ground Ginger: 1 tsp – 482 (strongly anti-inflammatory)
    Ground Cayenne Pepper: 1 tsp – 494 (strongly anti-inflammatory)
    All great scores and I use all three of the above spices when I can. Hope this helps!

    James wrote on May 25th, 2010
  15. Indian Saffron? I’m confused. Then, what do you call that super expensive saffron painstakingly collected near the Himalayas?.

    I would think calling turmeric by its common moniker is good enough.. There is so much confusion regarding spices and we don’t need to spread it more :)

    Thanks for the post though! As always, interesting and packed with new information.

    PhilM wrote on May 25th, 2010
  16. I love chilli and I’ll be adding some tumeric to my next batch. Thanks for the idea.

    Bushrat wrote on May 25th, 2010
  17. I’ve been generously sprinkling cumin on my egg dishes…!

    rik wrote on May 25th, 2010
    • one day a meatlessa0day and make leeumgs the main meata0for that meal. I have a delish recipe for a spinach lentil soup ( pictured above ) that is a favorite in my home. Be creative and come up with lentil dishes that your family will

      Wayne wrote on June 7th, 2012
  18. Already had Tumeric today via the Chicken Curry recipe my wife made out of the new Primal Blueprint Recipe Book!
    It is awesome!!!!

    Clint White wrote on May 25th, 2010
  19. Here’s a nice way to enjoy both Turmeric and Ginger.

    Take a piece each of fresh Ginger root and turmeric root. Scrape the skin lightly and then with a sharp knife cut both the roots into fine juliennes (little sticks just the size of regular matchsticks)
    Put both together, or separately, in small glass jars. add a generous pinch of salt and cover them completely with sour lemon juice.
    The ginger will turn pink on contact with the lemon, the turmeric bright orange.
    Have a few of these as a condiment with almost any food that you may be having.

    Resurgent wrote on May 25th, 2010
  20. In Ref to my previous post:

    the ginger root and turmeric root in sour lemon juice, with store several weeks without spoiling a refrigerator.

    Resurgent wrote on May 25th, 2010
  21. It’s great that yougive Turmeric another mention Mark because it deserves it!

    I have written about the health benefits of the super spice myself on my blog

    Thanks for the cooking suggestions in your post – very useful ideas!


    Luke M-Davies wrote on May 25th, 2010
  22. Turmeric has some real great health benefits and i love to incorparate it into my cooking.

    Also used in traditional chinese medicine too.

    Thanks great post!


    Richard Huntley wrote on May 26th, 2010
  23. For those of you who want a non toxic kitchen, there is a great way to keep pests away without chemicals. In India I discovered that a line of turmeric around the entry point of bugs (especially ants), deterred them from coming inside. (Note, turmeric can stain, so be careful on light, porous surfaces).

    hannah wrote on May 26th, 2010
  24. Hi Mark –
    I received my autographed copy of the Primal Cookbook yesterday, but there was no poster in the package. The packing slip listed one as having been included. I don’t need the poster, but just wanted to let you know they may not be making it into the packaging. Hopefully it was just mine.

    Melissa wrote on May 26th, 2010
    • We haven’t had any other reports of missing posters that I’m aware of. Please let me get one in the mail to you. Call 888-774-6259 and we’ll get one right out to you. My apologies for the trouble!

      Mark Sisson wrote on May 26th, 2010
      • No trouble at all; I just wanted to let you know! I was so pleased to receive the autographed copy!
        I’ve already started marking the pages for new recipes to try this wkend! Thanks :)

        Melissa wrote on May 26th, 2010
  25. mark,

    I received my Cookbook yesterday and much to my dismay, it wasn’t autographed.

    (Super book, by the way.)


    SuperMike wrote on May 26th, 2010
  26. Just last night we made an awesome wild salmon dish using turmeric. Came from a local cookbook:

    1. Sprinkle the following over the salmon before cooking:

    Garlic powder

    2. Pour some orange soda over each fillet.

    3. Bake at 400 degrees for 14 minutes

    I know the orange soda kind of kills the primal aspect, but the amount used is relatively little–no more than an ounce or two and most runs off the fish.

    Steve-O wrote on May 26th, 2010
  27. When I have a sore throat or see a cold coming, I drink a cup of warm milk with turmeric and ground black pepper steeped in it. It provides relief.

    maba wrote on May 26th, 2010
  28. Stir a .5 tsp of turmeric and a .5 tsp of cayenne pepper into some cold cold tomato juice, squeeze in some fresh lemon! Yum!! That’ll wake you up!! :-) If you are feeling a cold/illness coming on, mash a clove of fresh garlic through a garlic press, and then stir it into the above mixture and enjoy! (You won’t get many kisses that day, unless you can talk your partner into some fresh garlic, too, but you’ll feel great!! :-)

    MommaBear wrote on May 26th, 2010
  29. Tumeric is also an excellent spice in a taco seasoning for some ground beef or carnitas. That and cumin is what makes up the most spice in my taco seasoning.

    KD wrote on May 26th, 2010
  30. I have been taking Turmeric capsules (6) every day for the last 3 yrs. I fill my own gel caps with turmeric, so its very cost effective.

    I was diagnosed with 2ndary Br Cancer 3 yrs ago (bone mets) and have not had a recurrence since I began taking turmeric regularly by capsule. My cancer is classed as ‘stable’. My bloods are in the normal range.

    Cherie wrote on May 27th, 2010
    • I have a friend who is doing exactly what you are doing with Turmeric except she is doing it to get rid of psoriasis.

      It works for her.

      Sharon wrote on December 20th, 2011
    • I am interested in doing this with turmeric, ginger and black pepper. Can you give more info on where to order empty capsules and how you know how many capsules to take daily? Do you take 6 due to your cancer or is that the amount for everyone. I have some mild inflammation so wondering if I should start taking more than normal and then cut back. Thanks!

      Debbie wrote on May 4th, 2016
  31. I’ve had this recipe for over 20 years. I love the heavy vinegar flavor (the initial attraction). Also it’s easy/simple and relatively quick. These are my notes from my original making, but I know I shift the ratios now quite a bit, so feel free to play with it.

    Pungent Chicken:

    4-8 lg onions chopped large and/or into fat rings
    3-6 lg garlic cloves, halved
    2T olive oil onions (I use olive)

    2.5 lb whole chicken pieces,

    1-1.5 c chicken broth
    1c distilled white vinegar
    2 T sugar
    1 T shredded fresh ginger
    1/2 tsp ea tumeric, grnd coriander, hot red pepper flakes

    Heat oil in pan, add onion and saute until light golden brown
    Add garlic and saute for another minute

    Add remaining ingredients, mix well, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to cook gently for about 30 min or until chicken is tender
    Serve hot with rice.

    Maria S Boyd wrote on May 30th, 2010
    • Sounds very tasty. I’d probably try and sub in sweet potato or extra veggies for the rice though.

      Luke M-Davies wrote on May 31st, 2010
  32. I tried to add turmeric to my diet because of all the wonderful health benefits I have been reading about lately, so I went down to the local Mothers Market and bought a small jar of grounded Turmeric. I got home and tried to add it to my protein and veggies like you would pepper to season your food. Big mistake! Turmeric does not taste very good. It was hard to get down. Since then, I have heard from a lot of people that you have to cook with it and then it has a much better flavor, but I think I like Cherie’s idea. Just buying gel caps and just filling them myself is the easiest way to get turmeric in my diet without having to cook with it.

    StayFitNutrition wrote on August 3rd, 2010
    • I have to admint that I wouldn’t go the raw route with it either as it has a very unique taste but sprinkled into any soup or on top of my veggies and I don’t really notice it.

      As I explain in my article – I think turemeric should be in all of our diets, the health benefits are just too strong not to include it

      Luke M-Davies wrote on August 4th, 2010
  33. Thank you for a really informative and useful article.

    I’ve researched nearly 100 sites and only one, yours, is specific about how much turmeric is being used in research.

    Having said that, I would like to point out that the latest research discovered that mixing turmeric and black pepper increases its efficacy 2000%.

    I wonder is this changes the amount being used in the latest research?

    Harold wrote on November 27th, 2010

Leave a Reply

If you'd like to add an avatar to all of your comments click here!

© 2016 Mark's Daily Apple

Subscribe to the Newsletter and Get a Free Copy
of Mark Sisson's Fitness eBook and more!