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Nature’s Golden Child: All About Turmeric

Nature’s Golden Child: All About Turmeric

As a root, turmeric may technically spend its days underground, but when it comes to the potential benefits of turmeric, the sky’s truly the limit.

From the kitchen to the café – and even to the medicine cabinet – there’s hardly a place this wonder root can’t make a difference. 

As a root, turmeric may technically spend its days underground, but when it comes to the potential benefits of turmeric, the sky’s truly the limit.

From the kitchen to the café – and even to the medicine cabinet – there’s hardly a place this wonder root can’t make a difference.

What Is Turmeric?

When Spanish explorers went looking for the fabled City of Gold, they ventured across the Atlantic, taking up their search across South and Central America.

If they had known better, they would’ve headed East instead.

Turmeric – also known as Curcuma longa – first popped up in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, where it’s been cultivated and harvested for centuries, adored not just for its wonderful taste and aroma, but its undeniable amber-gold hue.

Like its close cousin, ginger, the plant is technically a rhizome, or a plant that shoots off from roots, blossoming entirely under the earth.

Most typically today, it’s used as a spice, which requires boiling the rhizomes, drying them out, and grinding them into turmeric powder—though some cultures call for eating the rootstalk raw and, occasionally, its leaves are used for steaming sweet Southeast Asian treats, like the coconut-filled patoleo.

And while we’ll never be sure who first dug up this miracle plant, we sure are digging it now – because much like the sun it somehow never sees while it grows, turmeric can make nearly anything brighter.

The Midas Touch

Indeed, turmeric is a bit like the fabled Greek king: It seems nearly everything the spice touches turns to gold—literally.

Its color-changing prowess first put turmeric powder on the map as the active ingredient in many ancient dyes – and all across Asia, many a monk could thank the plant for the heavenly golden color of their robes.

In its native India, turmeric powder first gained notoriety for its particular way of turning food yellow. It’s where many curry dishes get their distinctive hue – and why turmeric is sometimes referred to as “Indian saffron.”

But its taste is equally unique, marrying a black pepper bite with a mellow earthy tone, and bringing up notes of mustard in both its flavor and aroma profiles.

Yet while turmeric can offer a fun taste, smell and color to a dish—or a dress!—it’s not the only reason people have become so interested in the plant.

Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin

It’s the special compounds inside the spice that really make it worth its weight in gold.

Turmeric has long been associated with health benefits ranging from anti-bacterial to anti-fungal to anti-inflammatory properties and has been linked to some relief with ailments ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease.

The super spice also has antioxidant properties, removing free radicals from the body which contribute to the aging process, and it’s thought to help maintain a balance in blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Whew!

Turmeric powder derives most of its natural powers from the compound curcumin (which you may recognize from such scientific designations as Curcuma longa) – and the potential health benefits associated with the chemical have been touted for centuries.

The ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda was basically formed around the spice.

Based on the concept that balance in diet is the gateway to a balance in spiritual energies, Ayurvedic practices prescribe a number of fruits, vegetables and spices to help maintain the flow between our mental, physical and spiritual selves, and turmeric is an essential ingredient in a large number of Ayurvedic dishes. (And that was way before they even knew about curcumin!)

Turmeric has also made star turns in ancient Chinese medicine, traditional Unani medicinal practices in the Middle East and many rituals of the Austronesian people of Oceania.

For its part, Western medicine is just beginning to catch up, conducting a battery of clinical trials to tease out just how much of a difference turmeric powder – and curcumin – can make, and though there have been a few bright spots along the way, many initial results have been mixed at best, leaving the true source of turmeric power a mystery.

Still, no matter what your beliefs about turmeric, the universe and everything, it’s safe to say the golden wonder is a pretty magical thing.

How to Take Turmeric

Its long history as a medicinal herb and long list of potential health benefits have made turmeric a popular alternative medicine, and all forms of the spice, and even isolated curcumin, have found their way into any number of dietary supplements.

Along with regular turmeric powder, many health food stores offer turmeric pills, turmeric tea, turmeric extract, curcumin pills and curcumin supplements.

Still, it is important to note that turmeric is not a cure-all. The list of potential turmeric side effects can include everything from an upset stomach to an iron deficiency to the risk of developing kidney stones – and it is paramount to talk with your healthcare provider before making any decisions about taking turmeric supplements.

But regardless of its efficacy as an alternative medicine, there’s no doubt turmeric is a more-than-reliable ingredient to make a dish pop.

Traditionally, it’s a key active ingredient in many Indian and Asian curries, soups and stir-frys, adding that earthy, umami sensation to these well-seasoned dishes.

But as the spice’s popularity has been on the rise, it’s popped up in any number of less common places.

Turmeric tea is one of the most popular modern recipes, made from mixing regular tea with turmeric or – if you’re feeling fancy – from scratch, combining turmeric powder with hot water and complimentary spices like black pepper and ginger. (Pour in a little milk and honey for good measure and the whole concoction is *chef’s kiss.*)

And the golden lattes fast becoming the go-to drink at cafes across the country can thank the active ingredient turmeric for their namesake color – and warming qualities. Turmeric lattes are a heavenly combination of turmeric and foamed milk, plus a few other spices to keep things even more interesting.

So even if it had zero health benefits on offer, turmeric would still be improving the menus at coffee shops everywhere – and to us, that makes it as good as gold.

What Is Turmeric? 

When Spanish explorers went looking for the fabled City of Gold, they ventured across the Atlantic, taking up their search across South and Central America.

If they had known better, they would’ve headed East instead.

Turmeric – also known as Curcuma longa – first popped up in Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent, where it’s been cultivated and harvested for centuries, adored not just for its wonderful taste and aroma, but its undeniable amber-gold hue. 

Like its close cousin, ginger, the plant is technically a rhizome, or a plant that shoots off from roots, blossoming entirely under the earth.

Most typically today, it’s used as a spice, which requires boiling the rhizomes, drying them out, and grinding them into turmeric powder—though some cultures call for eating the rootstalk raw and, occasionally, its leaves are used for steaming sweet Southeast Asian treats, like the coconut-filled patoleo. 

And while we’ll never be sure who first dug up this miracle plant, we sure are digging it now – because much like the sun it somehow never sees while it grows, turmeric can make nearly anything brighter. 

The Midas Touch 

Indeed, turmeric is a bit like the fabled Greek king: It seems nearly everything the spice touches turns to gold—literally. 

Its color-changing prowess first put turmeric powder on the map as the active ingredient in many ancient dyes – and all across Asia, many a monk could thank the plant for the heavenly golden color of their robes.

In its native India, turmeric powder first gained notoriety for its particular way of turning food yellow. It’s where many curry dishes get their distinctive hue – and why turmeric is sometimes referred to as “Indian saffron.” 

But its taste is equally unique, marrying a black pepper bite with a mellow earthy tone, and bringing up notes of mustard in both its flavor and aroma profiles.

Yet while turmeric can offer a fun taste, smell and color to a dish—or a dress!—it’s not the only reason people have become so interested in the plant. 

Benefits of Turmeric Curcumin 

It’s the special compounds inside the spice that really make it worth its weight in gold. 

Turmeric has long been associated with health benefits ranging from anti-bacterial to anti-fungal to anti-inflammatory properties and has been linked to some relief with ailments ranging from rheumatoid arthritis to Alzheimer’s disease.

The super spice also has antioxidant properties, removing free radicals from the body which contribute to the aging process, and it’s thought to help maintain a balance in blood pressure and blood sugar levels. Whew!

Turmeric powder derives most of its natural powers from the compound curcumin (which you may recognize from such scientific designations as Curcuma longa) – and the potential health benefits associated with the chemical have been touted for centuries.

The ancient Indian practice of Ayurveda was basically formed around the spice.

Based on the concept that balance in diet is the gateway to a balance in spiritual energies, Ayurvedic practices prescribe a number of fruits, vegetables and spices to help maintain the flow between our mental, physical and spiritual selves, and turmeric is an essential ingredient in a large number of Ayurvedic dishes. (And that was way before they even knew about curcumin!)

Turmeric has also made star turns in ancient Chinese medicine, traditional Unani medicinal practices in the Middle East and many rituals of the Austronesian people of Oceania.

For its part, Western medicine is just beginning to catch up, conducting a battery of clinical trials to tease out just how much of a difference turmeric powder – and curcumin – can make, and though there have been a few bright spots along the way, many initial results have been mixed at best, leaving the true source of turmeric power a mystery.

Still, no matter what your beliefs about turmeric, the universe and everything, it’s safe to say the golden wonder is a pretty magical thing. 

How to Take Turmeric 

Its long history as a medicinal herb and long list of potential health benefits have made turmeric a popular alternative medicine, and all forms of the spice, and even isolated curcumin, have found their way into any number of dietary supplements.

Along with regular turmeric powder, many health food stores offer turmeric pills, turmeric tea, turmeric extract, curcumin pills and curcumin supplements. 

Still, it is important to note that turmeric is not a cure-all. The list of potential turmeric side effects can include everything from an upset stomach to an iron deficiency to the risk of developing kidney stones – and it is paramount to talk with your healthcare provider before making any decisions about taking turmeric supplements.

But regardless of its efficacy as an alternative medicine, there’s no doubt turmeric is a more-than-reliable ingredient to make a dish pop.

Traditionally, it’s a key active ingredient in many Indian and Asian curries, soups and stir-frys, adding that earthy, umami sensation to these well-seasoned dishes.

But as the spice’s popularity has been on the rise, it’s popped up in any number of less common places.

Turmeric tea is one of the most popular modern recipes, made from mixing regular tea with turmeric or – if you’re feeling fancy – from scratch, combining turmeric powder with hot water and complimentary spices like black pepper and ginger. (Pour in a little milk and honey for good measure and the whole concoction is *chef’s kiss.*)

And the golden lattes fast becoming the go-to drink at cafes across the country can thank the active ingredient turmeric for their namesake color – and warming qualities. Turmeric lattes are a heavenly combination of turmeric and foamed milk, plus a few other spices to keep things even more interesting. 

So even if it had zero health benefits on offer, turmeric would still be improving the menus at coffee shops everywhere – and to us, that makes it as good as gold.

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