You wouldn’t believe the amount of turmeric-related questions Barbara and I get from people – including our family and friends – on a daily basis. The most common question I get has to be: “What is turmeric?”
Anyway, I figured, why not write a comprehensive article on the subject and cover everything here – instead of answering all these questions individually? So, are you ready to hop on board the turmeric train?
Then, let’s get to it!
What Is Turmeric, Anyway?
Everyone’s talking about it these days, and whether you know it as the golden spice, Indian saffron, or the ginger’s weird cousin, there’s no way you haven’t heard about turmeric – unless you’ve been living under a rock, anyway.
And with turmeric having its “big moment”, it seems like the most critical question to answer here indeed is the simplest one:
What is turmeric?
Coming from the plant called Curcuma longa, a perennial that belongs to the ginger family, this bright yellow root earned its name “the golden spice” – or even “Indian saffron” – and has been a staple spice in southern Asia for longer than you can imagine.
So, yes, turmeric and ginger are cousins in a way, although the former has a much more interesting, vibrant appearance – and it’s not shy about sharing it with everything it touches, either.
Another thing you should know since I’m already introducing you to turmeric is that it comes in three basic forms:
- Turmeric Root – I’m always rooting for whole foods, so it’s no wonder that you’ll find turmeric root in my fridge on any given day. What can I say, I like to add a little extra kick to my morning smoothies, and fresh turmeric is the great way to go about it.
- Ground Turmeric – I’m sure you’ve seen this one in the spice aisle in your local grocery store – but have you ever thought about throwing it into your shopping cart? If you want to use it to make some yummy turmeric-infused recipes, ground, powdered turmeric is your best bet!
- Turmeric Supplements – Taking supplements is a fool-proof way to make sure you’re getting the proper daily dose of turmeric, even if you don’t include it in your diet that often. I’ll talk a bit more about picking the right supplements for your needs later, so be sure to stick around for that!
What Does Turmeric Taste Like?
I know you’ve been sitting on this question for ages. Is it spicy? Is it as bitter as they say? Is it similar to ginger?
Well, I can tell you one thing – it’s an acquired taste.
It may not be as strong as some other spices out there, but it does have a slightly bitter, pungent taste with a touch of earthy-sweet to it – you’ll recognize the ginger-like hint in it. If you’ve ever had mustard before, you’ll know the level of bitterness I’m talking about here.
Don’t worry, though; once you learn about its many benefits, you’ll get over the taste pretty fast!
Plus, no one expects you to eat turmeric root on its own – and when you pair it with the right foods, you’ll barely be able to tell it’s there, anyway.
Origins & History Of The “Golden Spice”
Turmeric has a somewhat fascinating history, too – and yes, I’m going to tell you all about it! In case you’re not a big history fan, don’t skip this part just yet: I promise it won’t be nearly as dull as you think!
I mean, the mere fact that turmeric has been used for medicinal purposes for thousands of years should be enough to impress you!
Yes, thousands – pots discovered in New Delhi, India, showed traces of not only ginger and garlic but turmeric, as well, and were dated back to 2500 BC!
The fact that turmeric has been around that long, both as a spice and a part of Ayurvedic medicine, speaks volumes about its health-promoting properties.
Moreover, its importance extends beyond the fields of cuisine and medicine – in Indian culture, turmeric has a unique, sacred role, too.
It seems like the question “what is turmeric” has more than one correct answer:
- We mostly know it as a spice (check out any curry recipe in modern-day cookbooks, and you’ll probably find turmeric in the ingredients list), but the truth is, turmeric is much more than that – and it’s about time we recognized its potential!
Chemical Composition & Nutritional Info: What Makes Turmeric So Special?
Okay, I’ll admit it:
- As a pharmacy technician, I’m super excited about this part because we’re going to take a second to discuss what it is that makes turmeric so amazing for your health – and why it’s been used as a herb with anti-inflammatory, carminative, anti-microbial, and anti-flatulent properties for thousands of years!
Are you ready to get to know what turmeric is – up close and personal? Let’s get to it!
Nutritional Info -(According To The USDA National Nutrient Database)
- Serving Size: 1 Tbsp
- Calories per Serving: 29 calories
- Total Fat: 0.31 grams
- Total Carbohydrates: 6.31 grams
- Dietary Fiber: 2.1 grams
- Sugars: 0.3 grams
- Protein: 0.91 grams
Those are just the basic nutritional values, though – turmeric contains more than 100 health-beneficial chemical compounds!
For instance, you should know that it’s packed with some essential vitamins and minerals, including vitamin B-6 (138 %/100 g), niacin (32 %/100 g), vitamin C (43 %/100 g), iron (517 %/100 g), potassium (54 %/100 g), magnesium (48 %/100 g), and manganese (340 %/100 g), to name a few.
All that, and with zero cholesterol!
Moreover, turmeric contains essential oils, such as turmerone, cineole, zingiberene, and p-cymene, as well. I know it sounds like a bunch of big words thrown together, but trust me, each of these plays a vital role in making turmeric so beneficial for our health.
Now, you’re probably waiting to hear about the star of the show – curcumin:
- As a part of a larger group of chemical compounds known as curcuminoids, curcumin is a polyphenol that not only lends turmeric its vibrant yellow-orange color but its powerful biological properties, as well.
Simply put, if you’re wondering where turmeric gets its numerous health benefits from, it all comes down to curcumin!
10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits Of Adding Turmeric To Your Diet
I could tell you that turmeric does wonders for your health and leave it at that – or I could show you how remarkable this spice is by breaking down research and studies behind the health benefits of turmeric for you.
And if you know me, you know that I’m all about backing up my claims with evidence! Anyway, let’s not waste any more time – here are ten proven reasons to include turmeric in your diet as soon as possible:
- Turmeric Has Anti-Inflammatory Properties – Okay, this has to be the most talk-about benefit of including turmeric in your diet: The primary active ingredient here is curcumin, a powerful weapon against inflammation. Combined with vitamins and minerals, it turns into a potent anti-inflammatory component – and you know that treating chronic inflammation is the first step to combating various serious illnesses.
- It Helps Keep Your Heart (And Cholesterol Levels) In Check – Have you seen the latest statistics about heart disease? Cardiovascular disease still seems to be the number one cause of death in both the US and the world! Even if you’re healthy, you can still benefit from curcumin’s ability to regulate cholesterol levels and improve the endothelial function, two significant factors in reducing your risk for heart disease.
- It Keeps Your Brain Healthy (In More Ways Than One) – Research has shown that curcumin has the ability to boost the brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels, the hormone responsible for maintaining healthy cognitive functions, delaying the age-related decrease in brain functioning, and even staving off neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer’s.
- Turmeric Supports Healthy Joints & Helps Ease Arthritis-Related Pain – Several studies have shown that the anti-inflammatory properties of turmeric have been successful in managing pain and inflammation related to arthritis. So, keep in mind that turmeric might help with keeping your joints pain-free, healthy, and mobile!
- It Encourages Proper Digestion – You might associate turmeric with spicy foods, but it’s been used for ages in Ayurvedic medicine to help treat gut inflammation and improve digestion, and one study even found that it helps reduce bloating. If you’re looking for a 100-percent natural way to soothe your digestive tract, turmeric might be worth giving a shot.
- Turmeric Fights Free-Radicals (And Wins Every Time) – If you want to amp up your body’s natural antioxidant capacity, one of your main goals should be fighting free-radical damage – and once again, curcumin is there to help: Not only is it a potent antioxidant in itself but it boosts your body’s antioxidant enzymes, as well!
- Turmeric Affects Your Mood & Stress Tolerance – When the stress of daily life starts getting the best of you, adaptogens, which regulate the release of stress hormones, should become your new friends – and curcumin found in turmeric is a well-known adaptogen!
- Turmeric Will Boost Your Immune System – At this point, you probably understand that turmeric is a health-promoting powerhouse that contains antimicrobial compounds, anti-inflammatory properties, and antioxidants. As such, it’s more than capable of supporting your body’s immune system, too!
- It Can Help You Shed Some Unwanted Pounds – If you’re trying to shed some unwanted pounds, turmeric is something you want to include in your diet, for sure. Turmeric promotes the successful functioning of each system involved in fat burning by regulating your blood sugar levels, hormone production, and increasing your metabolism, among other things. While it’s not a magic solution, it does support and optimizes your body’s natural fat-burning processes – and that’s a start, right?
- Turmeric May Reduce Your Risk Of Cancer – I know that’s a bold statement, but hear me out: There are numerous studies on the subject, and they’re all pointing in one direction – the curcumin in turmeric might be able to inhibit cancer growth and even kill cancerous cells!
And while I strongly recommend opting for fresh turmeric as an addition to your diet, if you’re looking for a serious health boost, and you know your daily menu won’t provide enough nutrients to achieve that, you might want to consider taking a supplement.
If that’s the case, you have to be picky about your turmeric supplements:
- When you first start looking at supplements, you’ll find that they either contain turmeric extract, the concentrated version of the whole turmeric, or turmeric root in powdered form. However, you should aim to find one that includes both, so that you get all the components of turmeric and not just curcumin.
- Although the organic vs. non-organic debate comes down to personal preference, I advise you to go with supplements that include ingredients grown without the use of pesticides and other harmful chemicals. After all, you’re going to be taking it daily, so the less toxic solvents, the better, right?
- On that note, make sure the supplements you’re using were tested for heavy metals, such as lead and mercury. Also, avoid supplements that have a Prop 65 warning label.
- If you’re okay with taking pills daily, fine by me, but if you want to get a bit more versatility out of your supplements, opt for uncoated tablets – this will allow you to add turmeric supplements to your drinks and other recipes, too.
- Since you’re already taking turmeric for its health benefits, you need your body to absorb curcumin properly – and that’s where black pepper comes in. When turmeric supplements contain black pepper, it increases its bioavailability by an outstanding 2000 percent!
8 Yummy Ways To Include Turmeric In Your Diet
Now that you’ve seen what is turmeric and how big of an impact adding a dash of it to your daily life could have, you’re probably more than ready to start your turmeric journey as soon as possible – which brings us to the next question:
What’s the best way to include turmeric in your diet?
To get you started, I’ve put together a list of eight easy – and might I add, yummy – ways to add more turmeric to your diet!
Before we begin, here’s a quick guide on how to pair turmeric with other spices and foods:
- Other strong, warm herbs and spices, such as black pepper, cinnamon, cayenne, and ginger, complement its flavor profile. It works well with chives, garlic, cilantro, and coriander, too.
- You can saute fresh turmeric root with carrots, onions, and celery for recipes that call for cooked vegetables. Moreover, beans and root vegetables taste fantastic with a touch of turmeric.
- Yes, you can even add it to your favorite meat-based dishes – turmeric goes with everything from poultry to mouth-watering steaks!
- Turmeric pairs well with oranges, and citrus fruits in general, raspberries, goji berries, and even dates, to name a few.
- If you want to mask its distinctive taste in drinks, raw honey and coconut milk are your best bet. Also, you have to try adding it to hot chocolate – the taste is out of this world!
I gave you a few suggestions to inspire you – but the possibilities are endless!
Oh, and one more thing: The taste could take some getting used to – much like broccoli or green tea – but you’ll learn to appreciate it, I promise!
Bonus Tip: Be careful when cooking with turmeric – it will dye everything, especially white fabric, in its path in a bright yellow-orange color! Unfortunately, I learned that the hard way.
1. Brew Yourself A Cup Of Tea
Who doesn’t enjoy a cup of tea in the afternoon?
- All you need to do is bring one cup of water to a boil, stir in some ground or freshly grated turmeric (1/4 teaspoon should be enough), let it simmer for about ten minutes, and strain it before it drinking.
How simple is that? If you want to make it super yummy, you can always add a dash of lemon juice, milk, or stir in some honey, too!
2. Blend It Into A Flavor-Packed Smoothie
If you’re a bit worried about not liking the flavor right off the bat – as I mentioned before, it takes some getting used to – smoothies are an excellent way to mask it!
- Just pile up your favorite fruits and veggies, sneak some fresh turmeric root (a pinch of ground turmeric works fine, too), and you won’t even know it’s there – well, besides the apparent change in color, that is.
And feel free to experiment with your smoothies – I’ve had turmeric with everything from oranges to beets, and it tasted amazing every single time!
If you’re not entirely sure where to start, though, let me introduce you to the tropical deliciousness that is the Sunshine Smoothie:
- One banana, sliced (fresh or frozen)
- One mango, peeled and sliced
- One orange, peeled and sliced
- One cup yogurt (less if you want a thicker smoothie)
- 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 3/4 teaspoon ground ginger
- One teaspoon honey (optional)
3. Try It With Roasted Veggies And Greens
Turmeric pairs beautifully with sweet potatoes, cauliflower, Brussel sprouts, squash, and root vegetables in general.
- So, the next time you’re in the mood for roasted veggies, sprinkle some turmeric on them, along with other warming spices, such as cinnamon and cayenne, for example, add a dash of olive oil, and give it a try!
- Also, you can always sprinkle turmeric directly on your leafy greens, blend it into your favorite salad dressing, or make your own – it’s quite simple, yet insanely delicious!
Here’s what you’ll need to make this five-minute homemade dressing that will forever change your whole salad-eating experience:
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- Two teaspoons miso paste
- One tablespoon olive oil
- Two teaspoons apple cider vinegar
- One tablespoon honey
- 1/2 lemon juice
4. Make Boring Dishes Fun Again
- I mean, let’s face it – there’s nothing more boring-looking than plain, white rice, served on a plain, white plate. Yawn!
- That’s why I like to stir a dash of turmeric into dishes such as mashed potatoes, rice, quinoa, and even eggs! It doesn’t do much flavor-wise, but that’s not the point, anyway – the pop of color is fantastic!
5. Scramble It
- Speaking of eggs, did you know you can add your daily dose of turmeric to things like frittatas and scrambles, and start your day off on the right foot?
- It will add some warmth to the dish, which is great if you’re not big on mixing hot sauce and breakfast. Plus, if you’re looking to trick your family into hopping on board the turmeric train (I know I am), this is an excellent place to start!
6. Fortify Your Favorite Soup
- A bowl of soup is great when you’re fighting off a cold – but a bowl of soup with a bit of turmeric in it is even better!
- Granted, it won’t change the flavor much, but you’ll notice the color and warmth it brings to the table!
7. Bring Out The Butter
Can we all take a moment here to appreciate the mouth-watering combination that is butter and freshly baked scones? Now, there’s a way to make it even better – and all you need are four simple ingredients:
- One stick of butter softened
- One tablespoon ground turmeric
- 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon black peppercorns
Throw these in your food processor, and combine them well. You can use turmeric butter to spice things like chicken or lamb chops up a bit – or as a spread, instead of regular butter!
8. DIY Mustard
Yes, you can DIY your mustard – and quickly, might I add. I mean, it’s not like it’s made by magical mustard fairies in a faraway land – although that would be pretty cool!
Anyway, if you want to see turmeric in all its glory, you have to try this homemade yellow mustard recipe! Here’s what you’ll need:
- 3/4 cup yellow mustard powder
- 3/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
- 1/8 teaspoon garlic powder
- 1/8 teaspoon paprika
- One cup of water
- 1/2 cup white distilled vinegar (or apple cider vinegar)
- 1-3 teaspoons horseradish, to taste (optional)
- 1-2 tablespoons honey, to taste (optional)
Whisk all the ingredients except vinegar together in a stainless steel bowl, and cook it on low, until it turns into a thick paste. Oh, and please, be sure to keep your kitchen well-ventilated for this part!
Now, add the vinegar (and other optional ingredients), cook it some more, until it reaches that familiar mustard consistency, and let it cool at room temperature. Store your homemade mustard in the fridge, in an airtight, glass container – but wait a couple of days for the bitterness to dissipate before you give it a try.
FAQs About Turmeric
It seems like everyone’s impatient to include turmeric into their diets after learning about its many benefits! And while I’m beyond proud of people around me for taking steps towards a healthier lifestyle, I have to say that answering the same questions over and over again can be a bit time-consuming – and not to mention tiresome.
So, I figured, why not put together a list of frequently asked questions about turmeric you can consult whenever the need arises?
So, here it is!
- Are turmeric and curcumin the same thing? – If you paid attention so far, you should know the answer to this question – but let’s do a quick recap, anyway: No, they’re not the same – Curcuma longa is the plant turmeric comes from, which may be a bit misleading, but curcumin itself is merely an active ingredient in it.
- Does heat destroy nutrients in turmeric? – Well, this one’s a bit tricky to answer, because the answer is both yes, and no – it all depends on the temperature and length of the healing process. Turmeric has been a staple in India’s cuisine for thousands of years now, but research has shown that heat exposure longer than 30 minutes does “destroy” a significant amount of curcumin in it. So, if you plan on using turmeric in your dishes, it’s that you include it as a “final touch”, rather than adding it at the beginning of the recipe.
- How to properly store turmeric? – It depends on the “type” of turmeric you’re storing: Fresh turmeric should be stored in the fridge, but you have to clean it, dry it, wrap it in paper towels, and put it in an airtight container first. That way, it will last for up to two weeks – or more. Ground turmeric, on the other hand, should be stashed away in the pantry, away from heat, moisture, and direct light.
- How much turmeric should I consume and are there any guidelines on dosage? – As with anything else in life, it’s best to start small, and see how your body reacts to it – one to one-and-a-half teaspoons a day is considered to be the safe upper limit here. However, the exact dosage is hard to pinpoint, so, as always, it’s good to talk to a healthcare professional!
- Does consuming too much turmeric cause any side effects? – While turmeric is generally safe to consume, consuming large quantities can lead to gastrointestinal problems, such as nausea, stomach ache, heartburn, and indigestion. If any of these symptoms arise, it’s a sign that it’s time to cut your dosage. It can lower your blood sugar, as well as lead to the formation of kidney stones – if you’re prone to developing them, please talk to your doctor first! Keep in mind that supplements contain a higher dosage of curcumin, which means they tend to have a more severe impact.
- Is turmeric safe to consume during pregnancy and while I’m breastfeeding? – If we’re talking about adding it as an ingredient to your dishes, then yes, turmeric is considered safe to consume throughout your pregnancy and even breastfeeding – as long as you don’t go overboard, that is. However, I highly recommend talking to a qualified healthcare professional if you’re thinking of taking supplements during pregnancy. Moreover, if you’ve never had turmeric before, pregnancy is not the time to start, as it could cause an upset stomach.
- Is it better to consume turmeric root or to take supplements? – Of course, I’d like you to go down the natural route, and eat your turmeric, rather than take it in the form of supplements – but I know that’s not the possible solution for everyone. So, if you don’t consume turmeric regularly, but you need the health benefits, it might be better to take a supplement to obtain that higher dosage of curcuminoids you wouldn’t otherwise get from your diet.
- Are turmeric supplements safe? – Both turmeric and curcumin have been thoroughly researched and investigated for toxicity, and there haven’t been any side effects or reasons to believe that it’s somehow unsafe for healthy humans to consume it.
- Where can I buy turmeric? – The short answer would be – almost anywhere. However, there are several factors to consider here, including the amount you plan on buying and whether or not you need it to be from an organic source. As you can imagine, turmeric is readily available in most grocery stores, but we’re talking about non-organic, small spice bottles that are often quite pricey, as well. That’s why I highly recommend that you track down a reputable organic source, and buy turmeric in bulk.
I’d say you’ve had enough turmeric for today, huh?
I hope I managed to answer all your questions today, from the most basic one – what is turmeric – to how and why you should include it in your diet. Remember to start small, and listen to what your body’s telling you:
Even if you don’t end up taking it daily, you can still have some fun with it in the kitchen – and that’s the best part if you ask me!
If you have any additional questions, or you want to share your experiences with the golden spice, you’re more than welcome to drop a comment below, and let us know!
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