Ancient spice has modern benefits
By Angela Shelf Medearis
Turmeric has spiced up the news over the past few years. It’s a unique ingredient with an ancient history. Turmeric is thought to have originated in India over 5,000 years ago. It’s also a common ingredient in Chinese medicine and the centerpiece of Ayurveda, a traditional Indian medicine.
The spice is present in nearly every Indian curry dish, and its flavor is best described as earthy. Indians also use turmeric in pre-wedding rituals and apply it to their faces as a mask. Marco Polo was introduced to turmeric on his journey to China in 1280. Since then, it’s been hailed as the poor man’s saffron. However, the only thing the spices have in common is their bright color.
Turmeric is the rhizome, or underground stem of a ginger-like plant. The root’s flesh has an intense orange color that becomes yellow when dried. Turmeric gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow shade and also is used as a textile dye.
Curcumin, the compound responsible for turmeric’s vibrant yellow pigment, is believed to have anti-inflammatory, anticancer and antioxidant properties, according to early findings from animal and lab studies. It’s often used as a natural remedy for joint pain. It’s also well known for its antiseptic properties and is commonly applied to wounds.
Research shows turmeric may be effective for relieving an upset stomach and for reducing osteoarthritis pain. In some studies, the effectiveness of the spice compared favorably with that reported for pharmaceuticals, according to a National Institutes of Health report.
“Turmeric’s benefits are attributed to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant action,” says Dr. Pam Duitsman, nutrition and health education specialist with University of Missouri Extension. “The best news is that turmeric is a spice that can accomplish its health-promoting work with virtually no adverse side effects. It is easy to reap the health benefits of turmeric by cooking with it, rather than taking it as a supplement.”
I’ve enjoyed finding ways to use this beautiful golden spice in my daily recipes. I love the intense color and flavors that result when I add a half teaspoon of turmeric and some lemon pepper to my scrambled eggs. No matter what the weather looks like outside, it’s always sunny in my kitchen! I’ve also added turmeric to the variety of spices I mix together to season meats and vegetables.
Use turmeric sparingly, as it can impart a medicinal flavor to food when used in large quantities. That’s why some chefs warn that you should “see it but not taste it.”
Typically, most recipes recommend combining turmeric with black pepper. Black pepper contains a compound called piperine, which inhibits the metabolic breakdown of turmeric in the gut and the liver. This allows higher levels of turmeric compounds to remain in the body (i.e., it increases its bioavailability), which may increase the effects of turmeric. However, it also can affect the breakdown of other compounds, including certain drugs. If you’re unsure about how combining turmeric and black pepper will affect your prescription medicines, consult your doctor.
Turmeric is the star of this spice blend and adds a burst of flavor to my recipe for spiced golden milk. You also may want to add a half teaspoon of turmeric spice blend to recipes for vinaigrettes, pizza dough, rice dishes, eggs and egg salad, sauteed vegetables, lentils, soups and smoothies.
– Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her new cookbook is The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cookbook. www.divapro.com.
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