One of India’s most important spices, turmeric can do as much for your health as it can for your taste buds.
Here are some ideas for ways in which this bright yellow spice can pep up all kinds of humdrum dishes while bringing you some very significant health benefits at the same time.
An underrated additive
You probably think turmeric, a pivotal spice in Indian cooking, is not something you have in your spice cupboard. Think again! You’ve probably got a venerable package of curry powder there somewhere, that bright yellow spice that Westerners use to give their food an Indian flavor.
If you have, the yellow color comes from turmeric, a major ingredient in commercial curry powders. In fact, there’s probably more of this bright yellow spice in your curry powder than there should be because it’s a relatively inexpensive ingredient, which makes it very attractive to commercial companies which package spices.
But you should rethink your relationship with turmeric. Used properly, it’s a spice that can really liven up your cooking and bring new zing to recipes which may have got a bit tired.
Some of the classic uses for turmeric, apart from curries and other Indian spiced dishes, are in vegetarian favorites such as lentil burgers. But you can also use it to give a new flavor dimension to scrambled eggs or omelets.
It’s warm and peppery flavor will also give a lift to roast vegetables. Try roasting cauliflower with it or tossing starchy root vegetables in it before roasting.
While turmeric is usually thought of as a savory spice, it can also bring a real flavor boost to fruit smoothies. Stir a little in and enjoy the lift it gives these summer favorites. You can even pair it with orange zest to make a delicious and spicy orange tea cake.
Turmeric is a close relative of ginger and, like ginger, it’s the rhizome, the thickened stem, which grows below the ground which is used to add flavor to our meals. But unlike ginger, with its bright, crisp hotness, turmeric has a warmer, earthier flavor.
It’s excellent for tying the flavors of other spices together and providing a solid base on which to build the flavor architecture of a dish.
In its fresh form, turmeric is a gnarled rhizome, something like a miniature ginger. When the skin is stripped away it reveals a bright orange flesh inside. Finely chopped or grated, this can be used along with onions and other aromatics to provide the basic flavoring of a stew, a curry, a soup or a hearty vegetable dish.
The flavor of the fresh rhizome is much stronger than the dried spice, so use it cautiously until you are used to cooking with it.
Grow your own for a fresh advantage
It’s easy to grow turmeric, just by planting a piece of rhizome under about five centimeters of loose potting soil in a spacious pot.
The plant comes from the tropics and thrives on warmth and moisture, so keep it in a warm place and keep it moist, although not sodden, or it may rot.
Within a month, your turmeric plant will begin to sprout. Keep it in a sunny spot with lots of afternoon sun if possible. If you live in a warm or hot climate, you can even move it outdoors, but be careful to bring it in at the slightest hint of cool weather.
The rhizomes are slow to develop but after about ten months you will be able to dig the plant up and harvest the rhizomes from the stems. Don’t forget to set a few pieces aside to start your next crop.
Turmeric and its active ingredient, curcumin, are among the stars of the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia. There are legends that claim the plant was first used medicinally in India more than 10,000 years ago, in the time of Lord Rama.
So what does turmeric do for you health wise?
First of all, it’s thermogenic. This means that it provides natural support for your metabolism, speeding up the rate at which you burn calories and making you feel more satisfied. So you can add a little more and eat a little less.
Curcumin, the main active ingredient of turmeric, is a strong antioxidant, which works to protect your immune system.
A number of scientific studies have shown that regular use of turmeric will also help maintain cholesterol levels within a normal range, thus protecting you against the arterial thickening which can lead to heart attacks and strokes.
The curcuminoids in turmeric also support important liver functions, promoting an overall feeling of well-being.
Ayurveda has always regarded turmeric as “skin food” which provides nourishment to the skin and helps keep it elastic. It also has a beneficial effect on skin flora, maintaining the right balance to keep your skin healthy and glowing.
To get the full health benefits of turmeric, there’s one important thing to know. The bioavailability of curcumin is boosted by as much as 2000% by combining it with black pepper.
It is thought that piperine, the active ingredient in pepper, inhibits certain digestive enzymes which break down curcuminoids. So to enjoy all the benefits that turmeric can bring, always ensure that you add a little black pepper when you cook with it.