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Let me introduce myself. My name is Mark Sisson. I’m 63 years young. I live and work in Malibu, California. In a past life I was a professional marathoner and triathlete. Now my life goal is to help 100 million people get healthy. I started this blog in 2006 to empower people to take full responsibility for their own health and enjoyment of life by investigating, discussing, and critically rethinking everything we’ve assumed to be true about health and wellness...

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May 25 2010

Smart Spice: Turmeric

By Mark Sisson
71 Comments

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!

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71 thoughts on “Smart Spice: Turmeric”

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  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”)?

  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.

  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.

  4. When I’m making a batch of chicken broth I always add some, it gives it a nice golden color.

    1. 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.

  5. 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!

  6. 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!

  7. 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 🙂

  8. Never had tumeric lol. Will add to list. Great ideas here too. Thanks Mark for the post.

  9. I love me some butternut squash soup during the autumn. I make it with coconut milk, turmeric, and cayenne pepper.

  10. 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!

  11. 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 (http://www.nutritiondata.com) 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!

  12. 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.

  13. I love chilli and I’ll be adding some tumeric to my next batch. Thanks for the idea.

    1. 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

  14. Already had Tumeric today via the Chicken Curry recipe my wife made out of the new Primal Blueprint Recipe Book!
    It is awesome!!!!

  15. 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.
    Enjoy!

  16. In Ref to my previous post:

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

  17. 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

  18. 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).

  19. 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.

    1. 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!

      1. 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 🙂

  20. mark,

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

    (Super book, by the way.)

    SuperMike

  21. 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:

    Saffron
    Turmeric
    Garlic powder
    salt
    pepper

    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.

  22. 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.

  23. 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!! 🙂

  24. 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.

  25. 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.

    1. 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.

    2. 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!

  26. 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.

  27. 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.

  28. 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?

  29. 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

  30. 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.

  31. 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

  32. 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 🙂

    1. 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.

  33. 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.)

  34. 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.

    1. 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.

      1. 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.

  35. 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.

  36. 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…

  37. 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

  38. Is curcumin extract available commercially?
    If so do health-food store carry it?
    THKS!

  39. 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.

  40. 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.

  41. 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.

  42. 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!

  43. 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

  44. My trick to making turmeric taste delicious is I add 4 parts coconut oil to 1 part turmeric powder and 1 part ginger powder than 1-2 parts bee pollen mixed with honey and you’ve got yourself a tasty little treat with maximum absorption or you could even slap it on some chicken for a little sauce dipping.

  45. I am a miltiple time cancer survivor, a stroke survivor, and disabled with increasing arthritis. I am 41 years old. I put turmeric powder in my nutribullet with other veggies. Make an elixir that has many healthy benefits. I use Kale, onions, blueberries, mushrooms and seeds (or almonds). Just started adding fresh turmeric to see if helps with joint pain. Can somebody please give me an idea of how much powder I can/should consume. As for taste, I love curries, but turmeric by itself is awful.

  46. You have loads of good information on Turmeric. I heard one time the drug companies wanted reclassify the main component in turmeric known as curcumin. So even indirectly the drug companies see the huge benefit of Turmeric has on our health.

    Great post.

  47. Question: I just got several tumeric roots to plant. What would be a good amount to eat daily for mild arthritis pain

  48. I use termeric and honey and a little bit of milk as a facial mask a couple times a week and it has made a huge impact on my acne it helped with my hyperpigmentation and my inflammation on my face. This is most def my holy grail for at home facials.since using termeric powder my face has gotton somuch better and my face has cleared up so much.

  49. I have never used the spice in cooking (but I’m going to start). Recently came across the benefits of this spice and have added it to my lemon water each morning. I have noticed an increase in energy.anyone else?

  50. Great in hot milk with sugar or honey. (Sugar for cooling affect on the body, honey for heating, etc)

    Great to whiten teeth (does not dye them yellow!): mix with yogurt to form paste. Two or three minutes. Didn’t stain my white fillings.

    Better to use the powder spice than pills. Can probably get medicinal benefit from this delicious thing by just consuming it every day in a way we enjoy just like large sections of the world have for thousands of years.. Pill culture likes to tell us we can’t get what we need from nature without scientists as intermediatories.. probably not the case!

  51. I add a liberal dash of turmeric & Cajun seasoning to the sauteed veggies I eat at lunch everyday. It is really good, they blend quite well.

  52. Hi,

    A bit late to this party, but fresh Tumeric root is now available in some supermarkets where I live, so today I added about 10g of it to my juicer, along with the other stuff I usually juice. Estimate that this is approx equivalent to 1g dried Tumeric (but probably much less). The fresh stuff tastes amazing. My juice tasted like sunshine 🙂 Very addictive.

    The whole ingredients were (these are all fresh and raw:

    1 lime
    2 cloves garlic
    10g ginger root
    10g Tumeric root
    Courgette
    Cucumber
    Celery
    Sugar snap peas
    Squash
    Carrot
    Purple kale
    Asparagus
    Kiwi
    Apple
    Lettuce
    Red pepper
    Broccoli
    Clementine

    Made approx 1 pint using a raw enzyme juicer. The fresh Tumeric root really improved the taste.

  53. I am a little confused. If curcumin is the ‘thing’ we want in tumeric, why not just supplement with curcumin directly? I know I am missing something.