Long used in Indian and Caribbean cooking, turmeric is starting to show up in everything from bottled smoothies to beauty products. Turmeric is getting lots of attention because the active ingredient in it, curcumin, has potent anti-inflammatory properties and has been associated with having positive effects on diseases like Crohn’s disease and irritable bowel syndrome.
There is also research (in both animals and humans) that shows that curcumin may help prevent and slow the spread of cancer, make chemotherapy more effective and protect healthy cells from radiation damage.
A cousin of ginger, turmeric is also a root (actually, a rhizome) with a deep golden color and a sharp, slightly bitter flavor. You can find ground turmeric in the spice section of any grocery store. More recently, fresh turmeric root is available in the produce section of many grocery and specialty stores. Turmeric provides the intense color of classic yellow mustard and curry powder. It’s also found in chutneys, as well as the spice mixture garam masala.
Some studies have shown that combining turmeric with both black pepper and a fat source, such as olive or coconut oil can improve the absorption of curcumin by the body. The culinary uses for turmeric are endless! The flavor is fairly intense, so start with a small amount and increase it once you get used to it. Have fun experimenting with this golden root! Just make sure not to spill it on your good linens — it definitely stains.
How to use turmeric
- Blend it into smoothies: use 1 teaspoon for a subtle turmeric hit. Add up to 2 teaspoons for a more intense flavor. Include coconut oil in your smoothie to boost the turmeric absorption.
- Add 1-2 teaspoons to any soup recipe. It will add a deep golden hue to it.
- A natural in curries, turmeric brings warm flavors to any curry or stew. When you sauté the vegetables in oil, add in 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric.
- Add a color pop to rice dishes by adding ½ teaspoon turmeric to the water when cooking the rice.
- Boost the healthiness of mac and cheese by stirring in ½ teaspoon of turmeric to your cheese sauce. This works for both homemade and boxed varieties.
- When brewing regular tea, add in ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric to your mug before pouring in the hot water. You can also simply combine ground turmeric with hot water for a tisane.
- Make golden pancakes: Add ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric to your dry pancake mix. The color is amazing!
- Make a hummus topper: Combine ¼ teaspoon ground turmeric with 1 tablespoon of toasted sesame seeds and sprinkle over hummus.
- Cook lentils or other legumes with onions, olive oil and 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can either serve them as is, or combine the cooked lentils with cooked quinoa and make patties out of them.
To use the fresh root, you first need to peel it. Just like with ginger root, I find it’s easiest to peel the skin using the edge of a spoon. Then simply grate with a microplane grater or cut off whole pieces. You can wrap the unused portion tightly in plastic wrap and store in the refrigerator for a week to 10 days.