Ingredients: Learning to Love Turmeric
Turmeric is a spice many Americans are relatively unfamiliar with. If they’ve ever heard of it, it may have been from reading the ingredient list on a bottle of prepared mustard. Many common mustard brands enhance their products’ visual appeal by adding turmeric, which imparts an earthy flavor and vivid yellow coloring. Experienced cooks may recognize turmeric as one of the foundational ingredients in most curry spice mixtures. It’s the ingredient that gives curry its characteristic bright yellow hue.
Turmeric is a culinary spice made by grinding the dried tubers of the Curcuma longa plant. Related to ginger, turmeric has been used extensively for both cooking and healing by a number of cultures, for thousands of years. It’s certainly central to East Asian cuisine, for example, and it was highly prized by the Ancient Romans. In the spice jar, it’s a muted shade of yellow/orange. But add it to food and you’ll see that it’s packed with canary-yellow pigment. Be careful not to get it on your clothes. It stains.
In nature, pigment compounds tend to be especially healthful. Whether it’s anthocyanins in blueberries and blackberries, or carotenoids in carrots, or astaxanthin in wild salmon (they get it from algae), plant-made pigments tend to be exceptionally potent antioxidant compounds. In the case of turmeric, those compounds are called curcumin.
Curcumin is believed to be one of the most beneficial pigment compounds we’ve ever discovered. In addition to its excellent antioxidant activity, curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antibiotic properties. It’s also very likely that it helps prevent cancer. Extensive laboratory studies have shown that curcumin inhibits cancer, at least in the test tube, through an array of diverse mechanisms.
Try experimenting with a favorite curry recipe, or add turmeric to your diet by adding a teaspoon to your next organic fruit/vegetable smoothie. It will add a subtle bass note to the flavor profile, while also providing a dose of preventive medicine for you from your spice cabinet.
I’d love to hear your comments about turmeric. Have you found new ways to incorporate this inexpensive health food into your diet? How about smoothie recipes? Do you have a favorite one? Pass it along and I’ll share it with my readers.
Jurenka JS. Anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin, a major constituent of Curcuma longa: a review of preclinical and clinical research. Altern Med Rev. 2009 Jun;14(2):141-53.
Lee WH1, Loo CY1, et al. Curcumin and its derivatives: their application in neuropharmacology and neuroscience in the 21st century. Curr Neuropharmacol. 2013 Jul;11(4):338-78. doi: 10.2174/1570159X11311040002.