What’s Up With Turmeric?!

Turmeric has been raging in lattes, scrambles and food blogs of late — not just for its gorgeous color in Instagram pics, but also for its wide range of health benefits.

Turmeric has been thought to be effective for everything from improved brain function, to cancer prevention; from combatting depression and heart disease to preventing alzheimer’s and arthritis. Others have suggested links to a possible cure for high cholesterol as well as for eczema and psoriasis. But is it really the cure-all everyone’s claiming it to be? First, let’s get to know this golden root.

Looks like ginger – But its not

Sprouting from Southeast Asia, this nubby root has been used in cooking and medicine for thousands of years. Turmeric root looks similar to ginger or tamarind on the outside, with a thin, tan skin. Break it open, though, and you’ll see the telltale color that’s the hallmark of turmeric.

In North America, turmeric is most commonly found boiled, dried and ground into a powder. However, many health food stores and organic markets have started carrying fresh turmeric, which is a wonderful ingredient for curry and beyond.

But how do I use it?

Surging in popularity is the Golden Milk; a chai-like beverage, usually served hot, with turmeric, black pepper and other spices, coconut milk and a little honey. Turmeric is often stirred into pale foods, such as eggs, rice or cauliflower, to bring some sunshine to the plate. You’ll find turmeric often paired with cumin and ginger, such as in these chicken masala skewers, because the big, bold flavors balance one another out. Of course, it’s classically used in a coconut curry.

Is it really a cure-all? Tell me more…

While it may be delicious and versatile, is turmeric the panacea food bloggers pronounce? Well, yes and no. Turmeric contains curcumin, a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant compound, but curcumin is only about 3% of turmeric’s weight. And while curcumin extracts have shown some promise in scientific studies for a number of ailments, the amount of curcumin in a food dose of turmeric is not significant enough to evoke any real change.

If it’s delicious turmeric cuisine you’re after, start with adding it to your recipes. But if it’s health benefits you seek, consider a more concentrated dietary supplement or extract instead.

Pro tip: One thing to keep in mind when adding turmeric into your diet is that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, needs a bit of help to be able to be absorbed into our bodies. If consumed all by itself, turmeric is quickly metabolized out of the body without being absorbed. Studies have shown that the active ingredient in black pepper, called piperine, will increase the bioavailability of curcumin by over 2,000%. Curcumin is also fat-soluble, meaning that it needs a bit of healthy fat to be able to be absorbed into the body. Which makes our turmeric paste the perfect concoction!

For most of us a daily dose of the bright flavor and vibrant color of turmeric — fresh or ground — is a welcome addition to your body and a delicious addition to any meal. Turmeric is widely considered safe when consumed in food, however medicinal doses are not always recommended, especially for anyone with ulcers, gallbladder problems or GERD. Turmeric in large doses is also thought to slow blood clotting and lower blood sugar, so don’t take it before surgery, and use caution if you’re diabetic. As with any supplement, consult with your doctor before adding it to your diet.

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