Chances are you’ve seen and heard a lot about turmeric; it’s becoming increasingly popular to use in drinking and cooking. But do you actually know why it’s so great, or even what to do with it?
When we think of turmeric, many of us can summon to mind a bright yellow root that looks similar to ginger and has a warm, bitter taste. What is often not known is that turmeric is, in its entirety, a herbaceous tropical plant with flowers. It reaches up to 1-metre in height, is native to southern Asia and belongs to the ginger family (aka. Zingiberaceae). The part you eat is the root stalk, which grows underground and this is why the plant gets harvested.
Turmeric has been used for thousands of years within Chinese and Indian Ayurvedic medicine thanks to one of its main components – curcumin – a bright yellow substance that is believed by many to have healing properties. Sold in many supermarkets and shops across the world, turmeric can either be bought in powdered form or as a whole root.
“Curcumin – a bright yellow substance – is believed by many to have healing properties.”
It is thought that turmeric can help conditions including heartburn, depression, arthritis, jaundice, irritable bowel syndrome, high cholesterol, colds, diarrhoea, fatigue, stomach bloating and fibromyalgia. There are also people who apply turmeric to the skin to heal infected wounds, aid bruising and treat ringworm, amongst other things, due to the anti-bacterial properties it is believed to carry.
Due to the lack of clinical trials carried out, verifying these health claims with reliable evidence is tricky – even with hundreds of years of anecdotal support on its side. Any studies that have been carried out often take place in a laboratory, rather than on humans, and therefore much more research is needed to thoroughly support why turmeric is so great.
“An Irish study into curcumin found that it started destroying oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory within 24 hours.”
That all being said… there’s a reason why everyone is absolutely crazy over this distinctive yellow spice. Of the studies that have taken place, some potentially exciting findings have been uncovered. For example, in 2009 an Irish study into curcumin found that it started destroying oesophageal cancer cells in the laboratory within 24 hours. Researchers found that the cells also started to digest themselves.
Likewise, in 2010, researchers in Austria and America claimed that curcumin could help fight liver damage, based on the anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties that it contains. Studies have also been conducted into how curcumin can help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes, cognitive functioning, kidney functioning, Alzheimer’s disease and dementia – and it is for these reasons that people want to know more about this plant. It is worth noting that whole turmeric will likely provide you with a different set of benefits as curcumin, largely because it contains other components that can all contribute with their own health benefits.
“One-fiftieth of a teaspoon could be all you need…”
Affordable healthcare? It’s looking possible. The amount of turmeric you actually need in order to profit from these health benefits isn’t considered to be a lot. Some studies have suggested as little as 50 milligrams over several months could be enough to reap the rewards. This equates to around one-fiftieth of a teaspoon. The potential this plant holds is exciting and, while we may be some way off knowing its full benefits, the more popular it is becoming, the more it will continue to surprise researchers.
5 ways to use turmeric…
Add a pinch to your scrambled eggs and frittatas. If you have children, tell them these ones came from a golden egg! They’ll be a lovely shade of yellow.
Turmeric has become increasingly trendy to drink – simply add a teaspoon to hot water for a delicious tisane (an aromatic infusion used as a beverage for its medicinal properties). You may also want to add some fresh ginger root, squeezed lemon juice, cinnamon sticks and a tablespoon of honey for the ultimate tonic.
You can also add a pinch or two into your smoothies for added goodness.
Alternatively, make a turmeric latte by adding a tablespoon of ground turmeric or grated root to a cup of heated up unsweetened nut milk (almond and coconut work well). You can also add spices such as cinnamon and ginger, and sweeten with raw honey or another sweetener of choice.
Prior to popping them in the oven for roasting, season your vegetables with salt, pepper and a sprinkling of turmeric. It’ll add a rich depth to their flavour.
Another one that children will love – and you’ll be hooked on them for the flavour alone. Add half a teaspoon of ground turmeric to your pancake mix and get tossing. Adding some chopped greens can also help turn these into hearty savoury treats.
Soups and curries:
One of the most popular – and traditional – ways to use turmeric is in soups (just add one to two teaspoons) or in curries (one teaspoon is often enough, but check the recipe in case it requires more). It helps to add deep, warm flavours.