Turmeric has recently became a hot topic in health and nutrition books & journals. There is talk of it being a new superfood.  Or more precisely a super spice, which may reduce cancer risk and ward off a wide variety of other illnesses, including Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, allergies and arthritis . Let’s see why turmeric is considered to be so beneficial to health and how it can help us protect us.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is a plant, with its root being used both in fresh and preserved forms. The preserved form, turmeric powder, is widespread. It is made by boiling the fresh root of the plant for 30 to 45 minutes.  It is then dried in a hot oven and ground into a powder. Fresh turmeric leaves may also be used to wrap food. While turmeric spice can be consumed both in a fresh and in a preserved form, the leaves tend to be used in fresh form only.

BBC Food

Turmeric grows in tropical climates where rain is plentiful. It is indigenous in South and South-East Asia, in particular in India and Indonesia. Nonetheless, turmeric can be found in the cuisines of Nepal, Pakistan and Vietnam too. In addition to these regions, it can be found in the gastronomy of the Middle East, notably so in Iran. It is a distinctive spice, but it is neither super hot, nor does it have a flavour. It adds a bit of an earthy quality to food, as long as only moderate amounts are used. Where it is used in a plentiful manner, it has a slightly bitter flavour and a smell which reminiscent of mustard. It is primarily used in curry sauces, including commercially available ones, in which it tends to be mixed with coriander, cumin, cardamom, fenugreek and pepper. If you ever wondered why curry has a distinct colour, turmeric may be responsible as it can constituent one fifth to one third of some curry sauces.

Turmeric is not only used for its flavour. Its strong yellow colour makes it a good colouring agent too. Packaged food products including canned and bottled beverages and juices, packaged sauces, bakery products, dairy products, cakes and biscuits, cereals, sweets, mustards and condiments may contain turmeric. The food industry often uses turmeric as a food additive under the name “E100” to derive natural colouring.

Turmeric as a medicinal plant 

Turmeric has been in use in South Asia, South-East Asia and the Middle East, both as a spice and as a medicinal plant for thousands of years. It has been used as a cooking ingredient not only for its taste, but for maintaining health. Plus it was used to cure various diseases.

The Ayurvedic tradition in India recognised the health benefits of turmeric consumption thousands of years ago. Ever since, it has been thought to have cleansing and purifying qualities; and has been used to treat a wide range of conditions including digestive disorders, fever, infection, arthritis, dysentery, jaundice and other diseases of the liver. Similarly to Ayurveda, Chinese medicine has also used turmeric to treat diseases of the liver, bleeding and congestion. The Assyrians noted turmeric as one of two hundred and fifty medicinal plants. It was also widely used both as a medicinal plant and as a spice in the Ryukyuan Kingdom, in the Okinawa region of present-day Japan to maintain health and cure diseases.

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Due to the presence of turmeric in these ancient medicinal traditions, scientists of the modern era have also gravitated toward researching turmeric in recent years.

Recent research assumes that turmeric may be capable of inhibiting cancer growth. Although epidemiological research on turmeric has not yet been completed – which would have found a definitive link between turmeric intake and the prevalence of cancer – laboratory research shows impressive results. On this basis, scientists believe that frequent and relative large-scale consumption of turmeric may make a significant contribution to the low cancer rates found in India. This health property may be arise from turmeric’s active ingredient called “curcumin”, which possesses complex pharmacological activity; and has a very strong potential as an anticancer agent. This substance seems to be responsible for the health benefits of eating turmeric and might be able to prevent and treat stomach, intestinal, colon, skin and liver tumours. Furthermore, it may assist in fighting infections, reducing inflammation, and treating digestive problems. All this sound good enough to give it a go and include turmeric into your diet, doesn’t it?

According to leading researchers in nutritional science,  the health benefits of turmeric are enhanced by the consumption of pepper at the same time, thanks to it increasing the extent of the absorption of curcumin into the bloodstream. Simply put, this means that we need to add some pepper to our turmeric consumption for maximum health benefit. As pepper has always been used in curries in India, the culinary synergy between these two ingredients may be behind the proven low cancer rates in India.

How to use turmeric?

Try to add a dash of turmeric & pepper to soups, curries, stews, pasta sauces and green smoothies. I always do that and as long as it is only a dash, it won’t change flavours in any way, let alone dramatically. Nonetheless, even these small dashes can have a huge impact on your health.

If you are interested in the topic, check out my book recommendation on “Foods to Fight Cancer” by Richard Béliveau, PhD. and Denis Gingras, PhD. http://bit.ly/1iZEEt9

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