What is all this hype about turmeric? Sure, it’s pretty, but what do people actually use the root for? It turns out turmeric has a wide variety of uses, from food to medicine, to cosmetics. This tropical root has gained tremendous popularity in the US over the last decade. Sales of turmeric doubled in the last five years. In 2021, the turmeric industry will be worth nearly half a billion dollars in the US. That’s a big business!
The turmeric plant is native to India, where it has been a culinary and cultural staple for over 4,000 years. In fact, there are more than50 distinct words for turmeric in Sanskrit. India grows and consumes about 80% of the world’s turmeric. They are definitely the experts on this exciting root. Let’s explore some of the most popular uses of turmeric in India and around the world.
Have you been to a hip coffee shop recently? You may have noticed a new option on the menu called ‘Golden Milk.’ The core ingredients of this tasty beverage are turmeric, milk (many people prefer non-dairy milks), black pepper, ginger, and honey. Golden Milk is a great, healthy alternative to caffeinated coffee drinks. Many cultures around Southern Asia have different versions of warm, turmeric-milk drinks that pre-date the hipster lattes in the US. Just like the cosmetic facemasks, Golden Milk iseasy to make yourself.
Indian food is known for its bright colors and bold flavors. Almost all curry spice blends include some amount of turmeric. In some curries, it is the dominant spice. We can thank turmeric for the attractive, bright yellow color in many curries. Even though it is intensely colorful, turmeric isn’t particularly flavorful in its powdered form. It has an earthy, peppery, slightly bitter flavor. Many times it is used in food mostly for color and health rather than just flavor.
Cultures across Southern Asia and the Middle East also frequently use turmeric in their cooking. The spice is a staple in cuisine from Morocco all the way to Indonesia. Many people useturmeric instead of saffron to color their rice. Saffron is the world’s most expensive spice, so turmeric is an economical alternative.
Indians have used turmeric for many ailments in traditional medicine for generations. While the root contains lots of interesting chemical compounds, curcumin is the most studied. While it only accounts for 3% of the root by weight, it could be a real lifesaver. People around the world claim it has anti-viral, anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, and anti-cancer properties. It can potentially reduce joint pain, indigestion, symptoms of Alzheimer’s, and promote a healthy liver.
Many health benefits of turmeric havebeen proven in lab trials without humans. Clinical trials have yet to produce conclusive evidence of all the medicinal properties in turmeric. A UCLA study did prove thatturmeric consumptionelevates mood and reduces age-related memory loss. Perhaps this one reason why India reports very low levels of Alzheimer’s compared to the rest of the world.
While the scientific community hasn’t proven all the health benefits of turmeric, many trials are still underway. Some scientists think that our bodies can’t absorb the curcumin in turmeric unless it has been cooked with oil, as in Indian cooking, or accompanied by black pepper (or piperine, the chemical compound extracted from black pepper). That’s why many choose to combine turmeric with black pepper to ensure the best effects.
Indians have also found many ways to use turmeric for skincare and bathing. Many people make a face mask out of turmeric to make skin glow. It may alsodecrease acne and improve general skin health. It’seasy to make with just a few simple, natural household ingredients.
The same properties that make turmeric an effective face mask make it work great in soap, as well. Applying the attractive yellow spice to beauty products makes skin radiate!
With demand for natural foods increasing in the U.S., companies are increasingly looking for alternatives to artificial food dyes. Fortunately, turmeric is a bright yellow color and is super effective in turning any food that color. Companies as big as Lays are now using turmeric in some of their chips. Next time you are in the grocery store, check the ingredients of some of the ‘natural’ snacks. You will probably see turmeric listed as an ingredient!
Okay, I know you didn’t ask this question. But now that you are a pro on all things turmeric, you must learn one last thing. Make sure you know how to spell and pronounce it. Have you noticed that turmeric has two ‘r’s? Pronounce both ‘r’s in the word, like “TUR-muh-rihk.” Unfortunately, now that you know this, it may bother you a little bit every time someone gets it wrong.
This fantastic, colorful root has all sorts of uses that you can discover for yourself. Buy the fresh root or powder at your grocery store or online and experiment!
Article written by Evan Levy on October 23, 2020.