Botanical name: Curcuma longa
Belonging to the ginger family, turmeric has been used in East India and the Middle East for thousands of years, and is now one of the most highly-prized spices in the world. It's actually unclear whether it was first used for its peppery flavor and the unique kick it lends to foods. Ancient medicinal uses for turmeric began when it was noted as an anti-inflammatory agent, and then to treat a wide variety of conditions, such as jaundice, menstrual problems, blood in the urine, hemorrhaging, toothaches, bruises, chest pain, flatulence, and colic.
The name “turmeric” is derived from the Persian word for "saffron," the neon yellow-orange hue used to make curry and yellow mustard. A domesticated plant rather than wild, India remains one of the most prominent producers of turmeric, along with Indonesia, the Philippines, China, Taiwan, Jamaica, and Haiti.
Basic nutritional aspects of turmeric include a 26% daily value in manganese and 16% in iron. It's also an excellent source of fiber, vitamin B6, potassium, and healthy amounts of vitamin C and magnesium.
While it's improbable that someone would ingest an entire ounce of turmeric in one sitting (although it would be completely safe), the nutritional aspects listed above can be seen more easily in this amount than in a teaspoon, which accounts for zero amount of anything. But one tablespoon, being a more reasonable serving, does communicate excellent phytonutrients. In fact, turmeric is effective even in very small quantities, such as one serving of a turmeric-spiced dish.
The health benefits of turmeric include an improved ability to digest fats, reducing gas and bloating, decreased congestion, and improved skin conditions such as eczema, psoriasis, and acne.
Curcumin, the primary pharmacological agent in this spice, contains proven effects in this area that are comparable to over-the-counter anti-inflammatory agents as well as some prescription medications. But curcumin doesn't produce the toxic effect that synthetic drugs sometimes do, such as ulcer formation, internal bleeding, and even a lowered white blood cell count.
More reported health benefits of turmeric include relief from joint pain, such as rheumatoid arthritis, reduced joint swelling, and greater range of motion when used regularly. It's another case of the spice alone having similar effects to that of a prescription medication, but with fewer symptomatic downsides.
Research also suggests that turmeric may be helpful in treating inflammatory bowel diseases, lowering cholesterol counts, protecting the heart, relieving indigestion, improving liver function, and even preventing Alzheimer's disease.
Cancer prevention and inhibited cancer cell growth –specifically cancer of the breast, colon, prostate, and lung, and childhood leukemia – are also on the list of possible benefits.
One study noted that curcumin, the major component of the spice turmeric, has several therapeutic effects, one being the inhibition of cancer cell proliferation. Curcumin was studied against triple-negative breast cancer, which scientists noted has a poor prognosis, after which researchers concluded that curcumin may be able to inhibit the proliferation of TNBC cells, possibly due to a change in the signaling pathway of the cancer's underlying molecular mechanism.1
Turmeric extracts were also tested and found to have skin-improving properties. In one study, extracts of turmeric were used on ultraviolet radiation-damaged skin for six weeks. Scientists reported improvements in skin hydration and sebum content, along with possibilities that similar creams could be used in future photoprotective formulations.2
In another study, an ethanol extract of turmeric and curcumin ointment were found to produce significant pain relief in patients with external cancerous lesions.3
Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Add rice and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to low and cover tightly, stirring once to ensure prevent sticking. Cook until rice is tender – about 20 minutes.
Traditionally called "Indian saffron" because of its deep yellow color, turmeric has been used throughout history as a condiment, textile dye, and health remedy with a revered place in the Ayurvedic pharmacopeia, a comprehensive holistic health care list that dates back to 500 B.C.
Many of the health benefits of turmeric can be experienced by thinking of your food as a medicine, which was the advice of Hippocrates in the 4th century B.C. This bright yellow spice, traditionally used as food and medicine, contains potent antioxidants and benefits that studies have shown can fight diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.
To get the most of what turmeric has to offer, use it to enhance many of the current ho-hum dishes on your table, such as fish dishes or any meat for that matter; turmeric can add delicious complexity to mashed dishes like potatoes or cauliflower, sautés with onions, broccoli, carrots, or bell peppers. It can be used as a base for creamy vegetable dips, sauces, and egg salad.
Be sure to choose the full, organic turmeric spice rather than a curry blend, which has a negligible amount of anything healthful.
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