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What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Though native to India and Southeast Asia, its roots (or rhizomes) are used both fresh and dried in cuisines all over the world. Its signature marigold orange-yellow color gives an eye-catching boost to curries, tonics, and baked goods, and can also be used as a clothing dye. It’s easier than ever to find fresh turmeric root and dried turmeric powder in health food stores, specialty spice shops, Asian groceries, and an increasing number of supermarkets.
Cooking With Fresh Turmeric Root Vs. Ground Turmeric
Fresh turmeric root, just like knobs of fresh ginger root, features a thin inedible skin that’s easily peeled away to reveal an electric orange flesh with the consistency of a fine, wet bark. Cooking with fresh turmeric extracts more of its lively, peppery essence—best in things like juices, smoothies, and stocks. Dried turmeric, while occasionally less potent, is a controlled way to add immediate color and enhanced earthiness to preparations like roasts, rice, or scrambled eggs.
4 Health Benefits of Turmeric
The health benefits of turmeric and curcumin (curcuma longa, the main phenolic compound and active ingredient found in the turmeric plant) are widely accepted as a cornerstone of Ayurvedic medicine. While lacking much conclusive clinical evidence, turmeric supplements—containing more than 300 nutrients like beta-carotene and vitamin C, plus potassium, zinc, and a host of others—are commonly prescribed by many Western healthcare professionals for a variety of ailments and general wellness goals, with hopes of even reducing the risk of cancer.
- Anti-inflammatory properties: Thanks to its antioxidant properties, curcumin has proved beneficial in the treatment and prevention of ulcerative colitis (an inflammatory bowel disease). Turmeric, especially combined with black pepper, is used in capsule form to ease muscle strain.
- Joint, heart, and skin health: The use of turmeric has been shown to ease the effects of rheumatoid arthritis, regulate blood pressure and blood clotting, help prevent inflammation leading to heart disease, and maintain radiant skin.
- Brain-related disease and stress: Curcumin stimulates a particular protein in the brain called brain-derived neurotrophic factor, or BDNF. BDNF has been shown to form new connections in the mind, bolstering the neuro-highways used to move serotonin and dopamine through your system. Maintaining BDNFs becomes more important with age as things like Alzheimer’s disease become a danger. Higher levels can mean better memory and better mood.
- Weight loss: While you shouldn’t expect turmeric to provide muscle tone in the same way as exercise, it has been shown to reduce the rate of growth for fat cells, and generally slow weight gain as a result of stress-induced cortisol.
3 Creative, Healthy Turmeric Recipes
While many Americans became familiar with turmeric through Instagram-worthy spiced golden milk and striking turmeric lattes, it adds depth and complexity to a number of recipes. Some studies have found the health benefits of turmeric are most effective when combined with a fat like olive oil or coconut oil/milk, so add a dash to your next coconut curry or salad dressing to make the most of it. A few thought-starters:
- Turmeric chicken: For a brilliant hue that stands out against basmati rice or an herb salad, rub ground turmeric onto skin-on chicken thighs or chicken breasts before seasoning with salt and pepper and roasting. Turmeric can also give a mellow boost to your broth for chicken noodle soup.
- Turmeric smoothie: In a blender, add ½ teaspoon ground or fresh turmeric to ½ cup almond milk, ½ cup frozen mango, and ½ cup frozen pineapple, 1 frozen banana, and 1 teaspoon hemp seeds. Blend until smooth.
- Turmeric-roasted root vegetables: For a side dish that steals the show, toss vegetables like sliced sweet potatoes or carrots with ½ teaspoon of ground turmeric, 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, and a good drizzle of olive oil, season with salt and black pepper before roasting in the oven at 400°F until cooked through and crisp around the edges. Serve with raita or a creamy tahini sauce.
Easy Homemade Turmeric Tonic Recipe
Good-for-you, delicious turmeric tonics can be as complex or easygoing as you’d like. You can add a half dropper of liquid turmeric extract to your favorite tonic water, add a splash of lemon, and call it good—make it hot with a bit of raw honey and you’ve got turmeric tea—or you can up the sophistication with a fresh turmeric-ginger concentrate.
- Fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
- Fresh turmeric, peeled and roughly chopped
- 2–3 tbsp lemon, or more to taste
- 3–4 tbsp sweetener of choice (think maple syrup, agave, or honey)
- Tonic water or soda water
- Combine the ginger, turmeric, lemon, and sweetener in a blender, food processor, or a juicer if you have one.
- Fill a glass a third of the way with ice. Strain the mixture over the ice and top with fizzy water, tasting as you go to determine your preferred ratio. Stir to combine.
Can’t get enough turmeric? Try our Aloo Gobi potato and cauliflower curry recipe here.