What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. You are probably familiar with it as a dried spice, or powder. It is sold separately as turmeric, or blended into curry mixes, giving them their characteristic yellow hue. Many of us are less familiar with the root form of turmeric which is frequently found next to fresh ginger root in the produce section of your store. It is smaller than ginger, certainly less knobby, and has a vivid orange hue versus the pale golden color of ginger root.
What’s all the turmeric health buzz?
Search for turmeric on the web and you'll find a host of health benefits for this root. Benefits range from improving arthritis, alleviating depression, lowering your risk of heart disease and even preventing cancer. Many of these health issues are linked to a common root, namely oxidative stress.
The body produces unstable free oxygen molecules, also called free radicals. Antioxidants can quench or stabilize free radicals, preventing them from injuring or destroying cells and tissue. When the number of free radicals exceeds available antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs. This is important to understand, because when oxidative stress is left unmanaged it leads to inflammation. And we consider inflammation as the root of most disease.
Here’s the kicker. Oxidative stress causes inflammation. Too much inflammation causes more oxidative stress. It’s a cycle. And this is where turmeric plays a powerful trump card. It can literally work to stop the oxidative stress-inflammation cycle.
Turmeric is an ace in your deck of cards
If you read my blog articles, you are familiar with the term bioactives. Read more about them here. Turmeric contains the bioactive curcumin. Curcumin is a powerful bioactive which can turn on genes to produce powerful antioxidants. Far more powerful than the antioxidants you get from your diet, like Vitamin A and C. Curcumin can also turn off genes that produce inflammation. A little inflammation is okay. Uncontrolled inflammation is not.
Remember the oxidative stress - inflammation cycle I talked about before? Curcumin helps break that cycle and it does so by communicating with specific genes which we all have as humans. So now you know the key to turmeric’s dazzling list of benefits. In a nutshell it’s bioactive, curcumin helps block cycles that cause disease.
Quick tips for cooking with Turmeric
Now you know the benefits of turmeric, let’s get cooking!
Food is the information your body uses to function, so we want to maximize the "information" turmeric provides to your body. In the case of turmeric, we want to ensure that its bioactive, curcumin, is available to work with those antioxidant producing genes.
To maximize absorption of curcumin, look for recipes that include black pepper and a good source of fat such as olive or coconut oil with your turmeric.
Curry blends usually include black pepper and are incorporated into dishes using fat. A win-win for your genes!
If you use fresh turmeric root, peel it and grate it similar to ginger.
Be aware that turmeric can stain hands and surfaces, just like red beets. Wear gloves, or clean up right away. Washing your hands with a little oil before using a soap can help remove any stain.
To store fresh turmeric root, either freeze it in a freezer-safe bag or glass jar. Or wrap in a paper towel and place in a glass container or plastic bag in the fridge. If you don’t use it often, consider freezing it.
And one final nugget for you. Roasting turmeric root actually produces even more bioactive compounds capable of turning on those antioxidant-producing genes. A win-win!