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:

Alzheimer’s/Dementia

Cancer

Miscellany

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 have a heaped tsp of this on my breakfast cereal and love it!
    1 stick cinnamon
    1/8 tsp cardamom seeds
    pinch saffron
    small piece of dried ginger
    10 g whole black pepper
    Grind to a fine powder and mix well with 100g of Turmeric

    Bill wrote on May 5th, 2011
  2. Everyone,

    Here’s a recipe for a turmeric tonic, which supposedly helps to detoxify the liver.

    I. Nonprimal Version

    INGREDIENTS:
    250 mL raw milk
    1 T raw local honey
    1/2 t to 1 t turmeric powder

    Heat the raw milk in a small pot with the turmeric powder well-mixed in until the milk steams and bubbles appear on the sides where the milk meets the pot.

    Add the honey to the bottom of your mug, then the beverage. Stir well and enjoy! I also add a little cinnamon at times, but the tonic tastes great without it.

    II. Primal version

    250 – 500 mL coconut milk
    5 dates, pitted and cut in halves
    1/2 to 1 t turmeric powder
    1 T raw honey

    Do the same as above! Note: the honey may not be necessary due to the sweetness of the dates.

    Colin wrote on June 5th, 2011
  3. Thank you for this informative article! We have collected 1511 studies from the National Library of Medicine and have posted them to view without restriction, as part of our open source project GreenMedInfo.com. We hope this will contribute to spreading the word about its great medicinal potential http://www.greenmedinfo.com/substance/turmeric

    Sayer Ji wrote on September 10th, 2011
  4. Here’s how you can make some awesome scrambled eggs: Chop 1 onion, 1green chilly, 1 ripe red tomato. Heat oil in a frying pan and add green chilly. It will let off some vapors guaranteed to make you cough, so be careful :)Then add onions, till pink and add chopped tomatoes. Next, add salt, turmeric and cayenne powder accd to taste and some fresh black pepper. Let the tomatoes become nice and squishy. If you want, you can add cheese, mushrooms, chopped garic leaves (forget what they’re called) and enjoy with toast/rotis/parathas :)

    Kimmy wrote on October 21st, 2011
    • OOh! forgot to add the eggs 😀 Add eggs after the tomatoes are done. You can make the scrambled eggs super dry or a little moist.

      Kimmy wrote on October 21st, 2011
  5. An interesting side note is that President Obama’s chili recipe calls for turmeric, perhaps because of the years he spent in Indonesia. The recipe itself is meh, but the turmeric does add to chili. I’m sure Texans would not agree. I made the dish for a potluck the day the president was inaugurated. The fact that it was very non-Texan was a bonus. Hehe. (Don’t get all riled up. Just having a little fun.)

    Harry Mossman wrote on November 8th, 2011
  6. A precautionary note: CHEMOTHERAPY + TURMERIC Turmeric was brought to our attention in a search for cancer therapy – it is not recommended for patients under chemotherapy (immuno-suppression).

    One reference comes from

    http://www.cancer.org/TreatmentTreatmentsandSideEffectsComplementaryandAlternativeMedicine/HerbsVitaminsandMinerals/turmeric

    The blog is on such a positive note, so I must apologize if this appears as a bit of a downer, but it seemed worth mentioning.

    Deborah B wrote on December 5th, 2011
    • You’re saying that immune suppression is a good thing? Because studies are showing that tumeric actually helps rebuild and strengthen weakened immune systems.

      I can’t quite see how wrecking a healthy immune system is a positive side-effect.

      Lycan wrote on March 27th, 2016
      • Especially since the major problem with cancer is the fact that the immune system isn’t functioning properly in the first place, and as a result, isn’t killing the tumor cells like it should be.

        Boosting the immune system seems like a better idea than destroying it.

        But, y’know, that’s just logic.

        Lycan wrote on March 27th, 2016
  7. just wondered if anyone had some knowledge of a spice or mineral or herb that would aid in taking away hot=flashes. I would greatly appreciate it..besides black cohosh. Thank you much appreciated. Love all the comments. copied most of the recipes with turmeric. My voice teacher recommended 2 tsp of turmeric and honey for my sinus and throat.

    cynthia clark-bulger wrote on January 12th, 2012
  8. I just want to mention that turmeric is apparently a laxative also. I made the coconut/almond milk tea with turmeric and cardamom last night and visited the bathroom several times! I looked it up and several sources give it as a natural laxative. I will definitely start slow with turmeric…

    Catharine wrote on January 29th, 2012
  9. There’s also a study on the combined effects of curcumin and PEITC (found in some cruciferous vegetables) against prostate cancer:

    “Combined inhibitory effects of curcumin and phenethyl isothiocyanate on the growth of human PC-3 prostate xenografts in immunodeficient mice.”

    http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16423986

    MK wrote on March 19th, 2012
  10. Is curcumin extract available commercially?
    If so do health-food store carry it?
    THKS!

    Woody wrote on August 17th, 2012
  11. Turmeric and a good hungarian paprika pair well for a nice color in spanish rice…Paella..boullabaise etc.
    Almost tastes like there is saffron present!..:)
    Also use Turmeric for color in typical bread dressing for turkey meals..as most poultry broths dont have the nice color and the amount needed for color wont interfere with taste.

    Sterling wrote on October 24th, 2012
  12. I have been taking tumeric and ginger for the past 6 months. I used to have knee pains every day and I started taking tumeric and ginger everyday and it has helped me a great deal.As soon as I had less pain in my knees I only take the tumeric and ginger every other day.

    Stefany wrote on January 13th, 2013
  13. HI- I am just getting started on the foods, but I have been taking turmeric in a supplement form (more concentrated)for about three months- and my fibromyalgia and rheumatoid arthritis do not bother me much at all any more. I can only believe that it will get better with the addition of the better foods! Thank you.

    Joan wrote on January 15th, 2013
  14. Mark – what about fresh turmeric?? I accidently bought 1/2 lb – there was no label & I thought it was maybe jeruselum artichoke – Anyway – should I just grate it like ginger? And how does the curcumin count compare to the powdered kind?
    Thanks!

    Lisa wrote on February 5th, 2013
  15. We make our own capsules with Turmeric, Black Pepper,and Cayenne Pepper, I have been taking it for a long time, mix 30 teaspoons of Turmeric,with 1/2 Teaspoon each of the peppers, I take 5 capsules twice a day, the Piperine in the Peppers boosts the Curcumin in the Turmeric into the bloodstream by a whopping 2000%, its great for Inflammation, I desperately need 4 joint replacements, and without the Turmeric I would not be walking around, as I have proved this by stopping taking it for a few days, big mistake I won’t do that again

    Nugget wrote on March 1st, 2013

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