Turmeric is an ancient spice that has been used in Asia for culinary, as well as medical applications for approximately 2,500 years. Frances Siver, is a registered dietitian nutritionist and dietetic internship coordinator in the Nutrition and Dietetics Flagship Program at the University of North Florida, discusses myths and facts about turmeric.
Myth: Turmeric is a simple culinary spice with few health benefits.
Fact: Far from being simple, turmeric has many color and flavor compounds that meld together to create a complex, rich flavor. Many of these same compounds are responsible for the spice’s healing properties. In fact, turmeric has been used in Asian healing traditions, such as Ayurveda, to treat stomach, liver and dental problems, as well as diabetes and arthritis. Modern research has confirmed the use of turmeric in several of these conditions.
Myth: Turmeric’s major anti-inflammatory component is curcumin.
Fact: Recent research suggests that other compounds in Turmeric exhibit similar anti-inflammatory properties to that of curcumin. However, curcumin remains the most studied component of the spice. Over the past 25 years of research, curcumin has shown promising effects in many pro-inflammatory conditions, such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, inflammatory bowel disease, ulcers, gastritis and diabetes.
Myth: Turmeric’s health benefits are best obtained through consuming supplements of curcumin.
Fact: Ancient traditions, such as Ayurveda, have generally used herbs in conjunction with food. In this way, herbs and spices are consumed as part of the normal diet and in amounts that rarely cause problems. Therefore, ingesting large amounts of supplements containing curcumin, one of Turmeric’s active components, may have negative health impacts for some individuals. Remember to always consult your health care professional before beginning any supplement regime.
Myth: Turmeric has an astringent, bitter taste which makes it difficult to use in cooking.
Fact: Although it’s true that turmeric does have an astringent, slightly bitter taste, it can easily be paired with other spices that offset these qualities and bring out turmeric’s unique flavor. For example, in most curry mixtures, turmeric is paired with spicy chilies, pungent garlic, fragrant cardamom and warm cinnamon. Turmeric can even be incorporated into a chai tea spice mix or added to hot cocoa for a flavor twist.
Myth: Turmeric is best when used from the raw, fresh root rather than dried and powdered form.
Fact: Using the fresh or dried form of turmeric will provide the same health and culinary benefits. For culinary purposes, the fresh root may be less bitter than the dried spice. However, this slight advantage doesn’t compensate for the high cost of the fresh root. Additionally, only specialty groceries stores carry the fresh root. Another point to remember is that it generally takes more of a fresh spice or herb to equal the amount required of the dried product. The dried spice should be stored in a cool, dark cabinet, whereas the fresh root needs to be layered between paper towels in a container and kept in the refrigerator.
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