From golden milk lattes to infused teas, turmeric is an ancient spice that’s as trendy as ever thanks to its distinct yellow color and proposed health benefits.
Turmeric powder comes from the root of a plant that’s related to ginger. Native to southeast Asia, it’s a staple in Indian cuisine on it’s own and in curry powder.
In addition to providing a vibrant yellow color to foods, turmeric has been used for centuries for its potential health benefits, which we’ll get to more in a bit.
Flavor-wise, turmeric has a pungent, bitter flavor with some people saying they can detect orange or ginger notes. Personally, I’m not a huge fan of turmeric on it’s own, but as it’s not an overpowering spice, it blends well with other aromatic spices.
Turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine for numerous conditions, including pain relief and fatigue. Today, turmeric is not only a stable in the spice aisle, but also at the pharmacy. You can find capsule versions used to help treat inflammation, arthritis, and numerous other conditions.
While it can seem nice to just pop a pill, I always urge people to consult with a dietitian before using a supplement. As they aren’t regulated by the FDA, what’s on the label doesn’t always match what’s actually inside the pill. By working with an RD, you can get recommendations for safe brands to choose and dosage to start with.
So why all the hype? Turmeric contains curcuminoids, plant compounds that have been studied for their potential health benefits. Preliminary studies have shown that these compounds may reduce heart attack risk, help with knee pain, help control blood sugars in individuals with Type 2 diabetes, improve cognitive function in elderly adults and many more anti-inflammatory benefits.
While the research on disease risk is promising, another interesting and very important benefit has to do with grilling meat. When meat is grilled, it can produce heterocyclic amines (HCAs), which have been linked to increased cancer risk. However, studies have shown that marinades containing turmeric actually inhibit the formation of HCAs. Other spices that have shown to have similar protective effects include rosemary and fingerroot.
With regards to nutrients, 2 teaspoons of turmeric contains 16 calories, 15% of the daily value for manganese and 10% the daily value for iron.
How to select
Fresh turmeric root can be found in the produce section of specialty grocery stores, often near the fresh ginger roots. Check for any signs of mold before buying.
For ground ginger, which I use the most often, you can find it in almost any large grocery store or spice shop. While typically yellow, turmeric can also be more orange-colored. The color won’t affect the flavor; however, if you can, try smelling the spice before buying to make sure it still has a strong, pungent scent.
Which to use? If you’re planning on using turmeric in a “raw” dish (a.k.a not cooking with it), such as in a smoothie, I recommend going with fresh turmeric root as it’ll have a better flavor.
However, if you’re using it to make a paste or spice blend for cooking, then dried turmeric is the way to go.
How to store
While turmeric technically doesn’t expire, it’s flavor will start to decrease over time. Ground turmeric is the most popular, and when stored in an airtight container it can last for 2-3 years.
Not as common, whole turmeric will last 4 years, again as long as it remains in its whole form in an airtight container. Once it’s peeled and you start cutting off pieces of it, turmeric root is much like ginger root in that it will last for 1-2 weeks in the fridge or up to 7 months in the freezer.
How to use in cooking/baking
As I mentioned earlier, use dried turmeric when cooking and fresh when just throwing it into a raw dish, such as a smoothie.
Regardless of which type you use, turmeric is known for staining hands, cutting boards, and knives yellow. Make sure to clean off any cooking surfaces or equipment immediately after use to avoid staining, and if grating fresh turmeric, I recommend wearing gloves.
While obvious, turmeric goes well in curries, on it’s own or as part of a curry spice mix, and in rice pilafs. It’s also a great way to add extra yellow coloring to egg dishes or even with tofu to create tofu scrambles. Due to it’s earthy tones, turmeric pairs perfectly with lentils and beans.
On the trendier side, you can also enjoy turmeric in beverages: grate fresh turmeric into a smoothie or mix powdered turmeric with steamed nut-milk for a homemade golden milk latte.
Looking to sub fresh for ground (or vice versa?): 1 inch of fresh turmeric root = 1 tablespoon of freshly grated = 1 teaspoon of ground
I have an easy one-pan turmeric chicken dish coming your way Friday, but in the meantime, here are two THT recipes to get you started!
Love it or hate it? Let me know your stance on this trendy spice in the comments below!