What do mustard and curry powder have in common? Their yellow hue comes courtesy of turmeric. You've probably seen this superfood spice crop up in turmeric protein shakes and stir-fries, but there are actually more uses for turmeric that go beyond cooking.
What is turmeric?
This golden spice comes from the Curcuma longa or Curcuma domestica plant, which is native to South Asia. The bold-tasting spice comes from the rootlike section that grows under the soil, called a rhizome. The rhizomes are boiled and dried to make turmeric powder, which is sold on its own and also incorporated into many curry powder blends. You can also find the fresh version at some specialty grocery stores.
Turmeric has powerful anti-inflammatory properties.
One teaspoon of turmeric powder contains just 9 calories, but the golden spice is truly a star because of its anti-inflammatory compounds, including one called curcumin. Turmeric powder is about 3% curcumin, suggests one study published in Nutrition and Cancer.
"Turmeric and curcumin, the most active constituent of the spice, have been the subject of thousands of studies," says Maribeth Evezich, M.S., R.D., M.B.A., a dietitian based in New York City. "This research shows that curcumin has potent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties as well as antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and immune-modulating activities." You could benefit from eating up to a teaspoon a day.
It may also be good for your heart and gut.
Curcumin may also have artery-clearing effects. In one study from Taiwan, people who consumed curcumin extracts daily significantly reduced their levels of bad cholesterol (LDL) in just 12 weeks. Other research published in Investigative Ophthalmology & Visual Science links curry with eye health, saying people who frequently consumed curry were less likely to have high myopia, an eye condition that can cause vision loss.
Got gut problems? Turmeric might help. In a study published in the British Journal of Nutrition, curcumin reduced inflammation in the guts of people with inflammatory bowel disease. What's more, turmeric can act as a natural pain reliever: one study from Thailand found that curcumin extract worked about as well as ibuprofen to relieve pain among people with osteoarthritis.
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How to use turmeric:
The first and easiest way to use turmeric is to cook with it: Sprinkle turmeric powder on vegetables like cauliflower before roasting, recommends Evezich. Simmer the spice into soup or add it to the water you use to cook rice or lentils. Add turmeric to smoothies and juices or sauté with scrambled eggs or tofu. If you prefer (and can find) the fresh root, use 1 tablespoon grated fresh turmeric as a substitute for 1 teaspoon dried, says Evezich. To maximize the benefits of turmeric, combine it with fat, such as coconut oil, she adds. This helps distribute the spice evenly into your dish. Add black pepper for more flavor and power. The seasoning can boost your body's absorption of curcumin.
Want more turmeric uses? You can try a turmeric smoothie or a turmeric latte, or try this turmeric tea recipe.
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/2 teaspoon honey
1. Mix turmeric and honey in a mug to make a paste.
2. Fill the mug with hot (not boiling) water. Mix well and add a squeeze or slice of lemon.
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