The science and flavor behind turmeric
I have been using turmeric in my cooking since I met a family from India about 12 years ago. I learned about the spices they used in their foods for taste and the health benefits they believed came along with them.
I have to admit that it is very easy for me to use turmeric in food because I really enjoy Indian food, especially curry dishes.
Also, I keep seeing TV commercials and magazine ads for turmeric being a good supplement to take so I did a little research to find out what the experts are saying. I liked an article I found on https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org that explained the latest research, which I also compared to studies published by the National Institutes for Health and Frontiers Nutrition.
Mary-Eve Brown, an oncology clinical dietitian/nutritionist at Johns Hopkins Medicine, provides information on health benefits of turmeric and how to use it in your cooking.
Turmeric is a deep, golden-orange spice known for adding color, flavor and nutrition to foods. A relative of ginger, turmeric comes from the rhizome (root) of a native Asian plant and has been used in cooking for hundreds of years. It has also been used in ayurvedic (holistic medicine) and other forms of traditional medicine in China and India.
Brown explains that the active ingredient in turmeric is a natural compound (polyphenol) called curcumin, which has both antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
“Curcumin has many biological activities, not all of which are understood,” Brown said. “Like other colorful plant-based foods, turmeric is rich in phytonutrients that may protect the body by neutralizing free radicals (pollution, sunlight) and shielding the cells from damage.” Diets rich in plant-based foods are associated with prevention of medical conditions such as cancer and heart disease.
Brown continued, “Anyone who’s trying to manage inflammation could benefit from adding some turmeric to their foods.” She cites inflammatory conditions such as arthritis and other joint disorders, colitis, allergies and infections.
Turmeric and its components, including curcumin, have been the subject of scientific studies.
“Some research results show that people who have osteoarthritis reported less joint pain when eating turmeric in recipes,” Brown said. “Turmeric’s effect on mood disorders, depression and dementia have also been explored, but studies are small, so more research will reveal if there is a benefit.”
In addition to these conditions, research studies have shown some possible benefits of turmeric for: inflammation, degenerative eye conditions, metabolic syndrome, arthritis, hyperlipidemia (cholesterol in the blood), anxiety, muscle soreness after exercise, kidney health.
Brown says turmeric supplements are probably not a good idea. As wonderful as turmeric’s nutritional benefits can be, more curcumin is not necessarily better, and too much can be risky.
For instance, turmeric supplements may increase your risk of kidney stones, especially if this runs in your family. Curcumin supplements contain much higher concentrations of the compound than a person would consume by eating food flavored with the spice or by drinking turmeric tea.
“One challenge of turmeric is that curcumin and other active ingredients are not bioavailable, meaning they are not easily absorbed by the body. Also, the digestive process breaks these beneficial compounds down and eliminates them quickly,” Brown said.
With that in mind, incorporating the spice regularly into your meals can safely boost your intake. Combining the spice with black pepper may help increase your body’s ability to absorb turmeric’s beneficial compounds. A substance in black pepper called piperine, when combined with curcumin, has been shown to increase bioavailability by 2000%.
“It’s better to get curcumin and most other nutrients in whole food form rather than to take turmeric pills, tinctures, capsules or gummies,” she said.
High doses of curcumin, as found in concentrated turmeric supplements, can interact with certain medications so please check with your doctor or pharmacist for possible interactions.
How to Enjoy Turmeric
Turmeric is used as a natural coloring agent for some kinds of mustard, and it is an ingredient in curry powder. Brown says she enjoys the earthy flavor of turmeric on its own, and notes that it adds a depth of flavor and a pleasing color to Thai or other Asian dishes, as well as stews and chilis. “It’s great in chicken soup,” she noted.
Brown buys whole turmeric root in the produce section, and says she puts turmeric root pieces in freezer bags and freezes them to keep them fresh for up to six months.
If you would like the recipe for tumeric tea. Please email Laura Mancuso at ivwellnessresources @gmail.com.
2 tablespoons turmeric root chopped or 2 teaspoons turmeric powder
Bring to a boil in 1–2 cups water
Lower to simmer for 5 minutes and then strain.
“You can drink turmeric tea warm or cold, and add lemon and/or honey to change the taste,” Brown advised.
I like to put turmeric in soups, chili and sauces. I use 1-2 teaspoons of powder or when I can find it, I grate the root just like ginger and use 1-2 tablespoons.
Some other ideas for using turmeric in food would be uising it in bean or rice dishes, whole grains, stews, marinades, and pickling brines. Ground turmeric can also be used to add appetizing color to a breakfast scramble, a creamy batch of mac and cheese, and even cakes and desserts.