What is turmeric, and where does it come from?
The turmeric you see in the grocery store comes from the root-stalk of a flowering plant (also called turmeric) that is in the same family as ginger. Turmeric is native to Indian and Southeast Asia, but—thanks to its warm, peppery, earthy flavour—it has become a popular food staple around the world. Turmeric helps to add flavour, colour, and a superfood punch to whatever you happen to be cooking up.
Health benefits of turmeric.
The active compound in turmeric is called curcumin, which is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory. The curcumin content in turmeric is not actually very high, so many people take a concentrated version as a supplement. Make sure to include black pepper when you’re cooking with turmeric —you’ll significantly increase your body’s absorption of the curcumin and be more likely to benefit from its healing properties. Although concrete scientific evidence is lacking, turmeric has been used as a medicinal herb for thousands of years, most notably by the Ayurvedic tradition and Chinese medicine. Here are some of the health benefits that turmeric may have:
- Reduce skin inflammation.
- Reduce stomach inflammation.
- Antioxidant (protects the body from free radicals).
- Improve brain function and decrease the risk of brain diseases.
- Lower risk of heart disease.
- Lower risk of developing some cancers.
- Treat joint inflammation and arthritis.
- Improve mood.
- Delay ageing.
- Improve memory.
- Treat heartburn.
- Reduce stress.
- Fight and prevent yeast infections (including candida balanitis).
- Treat skin conditions.
Buying and storing turmeric.
Turmeric is most commonly found in either its fresh (root) or powdered form. You can also find many teas that contain turmeric.
When buying fresh turmeric, look for rhizomes (another name for the rootstalk) that are firm—skip any that appear to be dry, soft, or shrivelled. You can peel fresh turmeric using the edge of a spoon—just scrape the spoon along the side, and the skin comes off easily. Keep in mind the fact that turmeric stains. It’s fat-soluble, so you can use a bit of olive oil or coconut oil on a cloth to wipe your hands, counters, or appliances clean if necessary. You can store fresh turmeric in an airtight container in the fridge for two weeks or in the freezer for up to six months.
When you’re stocked up turmeric, either fresh or powdered, you’re ready to amp up the colour and flavour profile of almost anything you happen to be cooking.
Ways to incorporate turmeric into your foods and drinks.
Possible health benefits aside, you can’t go wrong adding turmeric into many different foods and beverages. Its most well-known use is in curry, but you can add incredible flavour and bright golden colour to a wide range of dishes. When you’re cooking, keep in mind that one tablespoon of fresh turmeric is equivalent to about one teaspoon of powdered. A little turmeric goes a long way, so start with smaller amounts and go from there.
Golden milk can be a calming, comforting drink at any time of day and can help you to get a better night’s sleep if you have some before bed. Heat your favourite dairy-free milk on the stove, adding turmeric, pepper, cayenne, and your choice of sweetener—agave or maple syrup are good options. Remember that turmeric is fat-soluble, so add a bit of coconut oil if your dairy-free milk doesn’t have any fat in it. You can experiment with adding things like ginger, vanilla, cinnamon, nutmeg, or any other warming or sweet flavour you see fit. What you end up with is a beautifully coloured, creamy, warming treat with a nutritional punch.
If you are looking for a warming drink that is a bit less substantial, turmeric tea is a lovely alternative. Instead of a milk base, use water; then, you can simply add turmeric, a pinch of pepper, lemon, and honey, or you can experiment with different spices and sweeteners. Like golden milk, turmeric tea is a perfect bedtime beverage but feel free to enjoy it at any time of day.
Season roasted vegetables.
Using different spice combinations is an easy way to make simple dishes, like roasted vegetables, exciting. Turmeric is not an overpowering flavour, so you can experiment with pairing it with other spices—think warm, like ginger, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cayenne—and, of course, black pepper. It’s fun to use turmeric to season vegetables that are lighter in colour, like cauliflower, potatoes, and cabbage, to show off its gorgeous marigold colour.
One teaspoon of powdered turmeric (one tablespoon fresh) can be all you need to boost the flavour profile of an entire pot of soup and give it turmeric’s signature hue. Try it in pureed soups with your favourite yellow and orange vegetables and coconut milk, or in brothy faux chicken soups with ginger and different kinds of noodles. How about chickpea, lentil, or pea soup?
Lemony golden turmeric cakes. Bright yellow sugar cookies. Golden milk popsicles. Turmeric chai chia pudding. Rich golden pancakes for an extra sunny morning? Need we go on? Turmeric has not yet worked its way into standard baking repertoires as its cousin ginger has, but people are catching on. The golden colour is perfect for enhancing bright, citrusy desserts, and the subtle, earthy flavour of a pinch of turmeric works to balance sweetness and other flavours. Give it a try.
Salad dressings, sauces, and marinades.
The next time you’re whipping up a salad dressing, sauce, or marinade, add a bit of turmeric. An extra flavour dimension is rarely a bad thing, but you can also add a pinch purely for the colour. Because of the opaque, white backdrop, turmeric is especially fun to use in creamy dressings, marinades, and sauces, where its colour can truly shine. You can try it as part of a dry rub on tofu as well or in the dry mix of anything you’re breading.
When you’re making vegan versions of things that usually have a golden yellow colour, like tofu scramble and cheese sauces, turmeric can be your best friend. When you’ve successfully matched colour, as well as finding the perfect flavour and texture, you might find these dishes to be even better than the original.
Rice is a perfect vehicle to display the vibrant colouring of turmeric, and it will lend its earthy, deep flavour to the whole dish. Adding a bit of turmeric to your rice dishes is an easy way to impress anyone sitting at your table instantly.
If turmeric isn’t already one of your kitchen staples, you’ve been missing out. And if you usually have some on-hand but only use it in a few specific dishes, it’s time to branch out and explore its wide range of uses. Whether you’re adding turmeric for its deep, warm flavour or just for the punch of colour, you’ll want to make sure you always have some in your kitchen.