It’s great news when health findings or medicinal traditions translate into culinary trends, and we’re currently witnessing a great gastronomic adaptation of the Hippocratic saying “let food be thy medicine,” as chefs everywhere are getting creative with turmeric.
Also known as Indian saffron, this knobby, bright orange rhizome (root) has been long used in both the traditional Chinese and Indian systems of medicine to improve circulation and digestion. With a peppery flavor, reminiscent of ginger and mustard, turmeric is a popular condiment in the cuisines of South Asia and the Middle East, and a permanent component of curry powder. The plant is cultivated in tropical areas around the world and can be added to a variety of foods with great success. It makes everything it touches—including skin or your favorite shirt—golden and that’s why it’s often used in the production of natural cosmetics, textile and food dyes.
But let’s get back to why this food might be thy medicine: turmeric is a potent, yet safe anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, mainly due to curcumin, its primary pharmacological agent. Many studies have shown that curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects are comparable to drugs such as hydrocortisone and Motrin, and with no toxicity. Turmeric can also improve liver function, mood disorders, and is effective for treating inflammatory bowel disease, it may offer relief for rheumatoid arthritis, and studies have linked the frequent use of turmeric with lower rates of breast, prostate, lung and colon cancer, while it’s also a powerful antiseptic.
Buying & Storage
Dried culinary turmeric can be easily found in the spice section of most grocery and health food stores. It’s made by peeling, boiling and drying the rhizomes, which are usually ground and sold as powder, although can also be found whole, in ethnic stores. Dried turmeric is a bit less pungent than fresh, but it still adds a nice warm, earthy flavor. When purchasing dried turmeric, make sure the store has a fast turnover to ensure freshness, keep it in a dark place and try to use it within a year.
Fresh turmeric is quickly making an appearance in the produce section of more mainstream stores. It looks a bit like its cousin, ginger, but is bright orange when cut open. It has a brighter, more vibrant flavor than the dried version, and a stronger peppery, even bitter punch. Get firm, as unblemished as possible rhizomes, and skip the soft, shriveled ones. The roots can be refrigerated in an airtight container for about two weeks, or frozen for a few months. If your turmeric is very fresh, you might be able to leave the peel on, but in most cases it’s better to scrape with a spoon or peel it off before using. It can be cut into coins, julienned, cubed, juiced (in a juicer), ground (in a spice grinder) or my favorite way: grated through a microplane.
Tip: Wear gloves when handling to prevent stains- you don't want to look like you just strangled SpongeBob with your bare hands. Baking soda can help to remove golden stains.
How to Use It
If you find fresh turmeric, use it, as it’s like adding a bit of sunshine into your food (and your body, given all its health benefits), this is a rule of thumb on how to substitute either one in recipes:
1 inch fresh turmeric (about 1 tablespoon grated) = 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
You can use turmeric in almost everything:
- It makes a wonderful, restorative, anti-inflammatory tea
- You can cook it in milk or any non dairy milk
- Add it to bread dough, salad dressings, hummus, marinades, eggs, roasted vegetables, fish, meat and poultry seasoning
- Throw some into smoothies
- When you cook it along with coconut oil and black pepper you maximize its health benefits, but don’t allow this to limit you
- Play around, I guarantee you’ll become hooked!
Health Disclaimer: It is important to note that here we’re discussing turmeric used in culinary doses, and as a whole food (fresh rhizome or dehydrated powder—ground spice), not curcumin extract, where the medicinal properties are stronger (and which should be discussed with a health expert due to possible drug interactions and side effects, or particular cases where it may cause adverse effects).
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This is a great breakfast option you can prepare the night before. It’s nutrition-packed with the wonders of turmeric, plus chia, a great source of fiber, omega 3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, super antioxidant spices (among them glucose-regulating cinnamon),and raw honey with more antioxidants and enzymes. Please make sure you use good quality raw honey, and yes, you can add a bit more if you need to!
The sauce for this noodle salad is based on the typical carrot-ginger salad dressing of Japanese restaurants, but uses raw turnips instead, a trick I discovered when I was out of carrots. You can prepare it a few days in advance; the more it marinates, the better.
This dish is extremely comforting. It’s one of those that pleases every member of my family. We all adore these Persian inspired chickpea-chicken dumplings, even though we don’t have any Persian background. It’s even gluten free!
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