Turmeric is the spice that gives mustard its rich yellow color and is used to flavor a wide variety of dishes, particularly in Indian cuisine. In the U.S., it’s commonly used to add a vibrant golden color to rice, meat, and soy dishes. In fact, turmeric is often used as replacement for saffron, which also gives foods a nice golden hue, due to the fact that saffron is far more expensive than turmeric. The golden spice has much more to offer than just its alluring color. While it’s a staple ingredient in curry, turmeric also has a unique flavor all of its own. Turmeric is slightly bitter in taste with hints of smoky pepper and ginger. It also has a pungent, orange-like aroma that can seemingly transport your mind to the streets of India.
Turmeric comes from the root of a plant called Curcuma longa, which is a member of the ginger family. The roots of the plant are cleaned, dried, and then ground into the dried powder we know as turmeric. The powdered spice makes a great addition to beans. Try simply sprinkling some into a saute of beans, onions, tomatoes, and green peppers. Pair it with a side dish of rice, flavored with slivered almonds, raisins, and turmeric. It’s also great addition to vegetable or tofu sautes, and can always be added as an enhancement to any dish already containing curry powder.
Aside from its taste and color-boosting properties, turmeric has a wide variety of health benefits. It holds a significant amount of manganese, iron, and B6, and has been used for many years in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. A comprehensive summary put together by ethnobotanist James A. Duke, Phd. and summarized in American Botanical Council that uses numerous studies, has shown that a multitude of benefits can be obtained as a result of consuming turmeric.
A compilation of 50 studies put together by Duke have all shown that turmeric appears to slow the process of Alzheimer’s disease. The spice contains several components that block the formation of plaques formulated within those prone to the disease of which slowly obstruct cerebral function. Studies have also shown that elderly populations in India, where turmeric is frequently used, generally have very low levels of neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s.
Turmeric is also known to contain numerous anti-inflammatory components. This makes the spice conducive for those with arthritis. A component in turmeric known as curcumin is believed to be the primary anti-inflammatory agent in the spice. Studies have shown that curcumin’s natural effects are comparable to other anti-inflammatory drugs such as hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone as well as the over-the-counter anti-inflammatory drug Motrin. Unlike the drugs, curcumin doesn’t have any toxic side effects.
Duke’s summary also provided numerous studies that have proved turmeric to be an effective agent in preventing and treating cancer. Studies ranging from colon to prostate to esophageal to oral cancer conducted on animal populations have shown turmeric has numerous benefits in terms of cancer. Experiments have also shown curcumin can prevent cancerous tumors from forming, and can help slow the spread of breast cancer cells to the lungs.
It has been shown that turmeric is beneficial to individual’s health in more ways than one. Numerous studies that have taken a look at cancer, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and a list of other ailments, including high cholesterol, poor liver function, and cystic fibrosis, have shown that turmeric is beneficial in more ways than one.
Turmeric is a simple way to add flavor and health enhancements to your diet. Pep up your popcorn and ditch the ordinary, fatty flavor of butter, by instead generously sprinkling turmeric on your freshly popped kernels. Or, try replacing some of the salt on steamed califlower with a few dashes of the colorful spice. Also, check out Dr. Andrew Weil’s turmeric tea recipe for a unique twist on your morning cup of tea. Just make sure to be careful how you handle it because this golden gem has a tendency to stain.