Turmeric is having a moment in health and wellness, but this powerhouse spice should be a staple in your kitchen far long after the "trendiness" of it fades.
Keep reading to learn why this spice is so revered in Ayurveda and the medical community, and how it can be used for many internal and external health ailments.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family.
You may know that turmeric is in the ginger family, but did you know that it’s actually a rhizome (an underground stem)? While it has a similar appearance to ginger, its flavor is more earthy, warm and aromatic. The two are often confused for one another, but their differences are fairly subtle. Ginger is also a rhizome that grows below ground, but its flavor profile is different. Turmeric’s flavor lends itself nicely to savory recipes like curries and stir fry as well as sweeter ones like golden milk lattes or smoothies with fruit.
Turmeric has been used as a spice, cosmetic and dye for centuries.
Turmeric is one of the most widely studied herbs in the world, and it has been used as a spice, cosmetic and dye for centuries. Archaeological evidence suggests that people in India began to cultivate turmeric plants around 5,000 years ago. In fact, records from China show that turmeric was used as both a cooking ingredient and medicine around 2,500 B.C. The herb was also a symbol of wealth and prosperity in ancient India — brides even decorated their hands with henna tattoos made from turmeric powder and its used in many body care products to promote glowing skin. Today, it's still used for medicinal purposes across Asia, Africa and South America.
There are two main types of turmeric.
You might have heard that there are two main types of turmeric, Curcuma longa (the most common kind) and Curcuma aromatica. They differ in their appearance and in the taste they impart to recipes; Curcuma longa is known for its bright, earthy flavor, while Curcuma aromatica has a slightly bitter, peppery taste. But is one type better than the other? Not necessarily. There’s no need to go on a hunt for one or the other; any turmeric will do just fine.
Turmeric is typically sold as a dried root, powder or supplement.
Turmeric is a spice that comes from the turmeric plant. It is commonly used in Asian food. You probably know turmeric as the main spice in curry. It has a warm, bitter taste and is frequently used to flavor or color curry powders, mustards, butters, and cheeses. But the root of turmeric is also used widely to make medicine.
You've seen turmeric as a powder—maybe in your spice cabinet! But it's also sold as a dried root and even as dietary supplements in capsule or liquid form. The root looks very similar to ginger, another popular cooking spice; however, it has a much darker hue on the inside than ginger does. It's sometimes called curcuma or yellow ginger, or Indian saffron for its deep yellow-orange color (which can range from orange-yellow to yellow-brown). As with ginger, when fresh you'll find its skin is rough and grayish brown while its flesh is bright orange and firm (when dried it becomes more brittle).
Some people take turmeric for health purposes other than cooking with it.
Turmeric has long been used as a spice, especially in Indian culture, but it also has a history of use for medicinal purposes, with some people taking turmeric for health benefits other than cooking. Turmeric's active ingredient is curcumin, which is believed to have anti-inflammatory properties that help with pain and stiffness from conditions such as arthritis. Evidence suggests that it may benefit people with heart disease by helping reduce LDL ("bad") cholesterol levels and the risk of blood clots in the heart—and even possibly preventing cancer. Curcumin may be helpful in regulating blood sugar levels and possibly reducing liver disease in individuals with diabetes. Research also indicates that curcumin can enhance brain function, including memory and learning ability. Additionally, there are studies suggesting that curcumin can boost mood by decreasing symptoms of depression. Other reported turmeric benefits include improved skin quality and reduced risk of eye disease (such as cataracts or macular degeneration).
Turmeric has more health benefits than you would think.
- It's an anti-inflammatory: Turmeric is most commonly known for its anti-inflammatory properties. The active ingredient, curcumin, has been found to help in the treatment of inflammatory conditions like arthritis and irritable bowel disease.
- It may help with arthritis: A study conducted at the University of Arizona found that consuming curcumin was more effective at reducing pain and stiffness than diclofenac sodium (an arthritis drug) in patients with rheumatoid arthritis.
- It may improve your digestive system: Ayurveda (traditional Indian medicine) uses turmeric as a natural remedy for digestion issues. In some cases, it's used to treat heartburn, stomach ulcers and diarrhea.
- May help with skin health: When applied topically on the skin, turmeric can treat several skin conditions including acne, eczema and psoriasis. Its antibacterial properties make it effective in treating wounds as well as removing hair from the skin.
Ayurvedic medicine uses turmeric in many treatments.
In Ayurvedic medicine, turmeric has been used to treat chronic pain and many other conditions, including digestive problems, skin conditions and wound healing. Turmeric has also been used to treat liver problems, inflammation, arthritis and headaches.
According to the book "Healing Spices," author Bharat Aggarwal recommends turmeric for degenerative diseases. He explains that curcumin -- a compound found in turmeric -- activates certain pathways that help stop disease processes associated with aging.