In Indian cooking, that pinch of turmeric is believed to impart colour more than flavour or anything else. Yet, Ayurveda recognised the potential of this spice ages ago and today, herbalists, naturopaths and a host of holistic Doctors rave about turmeric being a wonder spice, with almost miraculous health benefits. Back in India it is still common practice to go to bed with a warm glass of milk and turmeric.
Or to just load some turmeric powder onto an accidental cut while working in the kitchen or to slather some turmeric paste when your little one scraped a knee. It's also that secret beauty recipe that a Grandmother passes down to her granddaughter: to mix turmeric to a paste of chickpea flour (besan) and fresh milk cream and use it as a face scrub/ pack for a glowing bright complexion, free of acne and blemishes.
However, like all traditional wisdom, this bit was lost for awhile while the world was popping pills until we reached a point where popping pills alone did not seem to resolve issues, in fact sometimes, they added a few nasty side effects.
It was then that the world woke up once again to the wonders of turmeric. Among the many virtues of turmeric, are these: anti-tumor, anti-allergic, antioxidant, antiseptic, antispasmodic, astringent, digestive and diuretic.
Turmeric increases the body’s detoxification capabilities by up-regulating specific liver detox pathways. It's anti-tumor properties make it a great weapon against cancer. There is a long list of studies supporting its anti-cancer benefits including multi-drug resistant cancers and its potential to actually kill cancer stem cells which may be the driving force behind tumor growths.
There is also evidence that curcumin (active ingredient in turmeric) increases levels of circulating Vitamin C and E, and shows a strong reduction in DNA damage. Being anti-microbial/ anti-bacterial, it has been shown to kill infections particularly in the digestive tract and topically as a paste. A broad-spectrum of resistant infections can be resolved with the use of this spice. Due to its anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has shown significant improvements for inflammatory conditions such as rheumatoid arthritis, osteoarthritis, pain, tissue degeneration and inflammatory bowel conditions. Also has been shown to reduce post-operative inflammation.
The craze behind turmeric has reached such levels that the market now is flooded with Curcumin capsules, as a health supplement. Indian cuisine however, has them in smaller quantities, although on a daily basis as almost all of our curries, vegetables, dals and meats have them. There is a little secret to consuming turmeric though. For it to be absorbed by the body and be effective, it needs to be taken together with fats or black pepper. Which is why Ayurveda recommends having turmeric stirred into warm milk. There is also the turmeric infused ghee that is fantastic. Using a good organic brand of ghee, add in turmeric with some black pepper powder, mix well and have a small spoonful of it daily.
Gulping tons of turmeric capsules with water, will have little effect, if any. I also now see logic in how my Moth advised me to use turmeric while cooking. It is usually to be added in the warm oil that's used for tempering, rather than at the end of the cooking and the rationale behind it is probably the same! Turmeric acts best when combined with a fat. Now that commercially available Turmeric Latte is the new fad, we will share a more humble recipe that's been traditionally made in Indian homes for hundreds of years.
* Take fresh/ dried turmeric and make a smooth paste with few drops of cold pressed, virgin coconut oil. Preferably in a mortar and pestle.
* Add in a small pinch of black pepper. Mix this paste to a warm cup of (preferably unhomogenised) milk.
* Add in some raw honey if you like it sweet. Include this in your daily bed time routine, before signing off to a good night's sleep.
Caution: not all brands of turmeric are created equal. There are concerns over artificial Colours being added to commercially available turmeric powder. If possible, it is highly recommended to buy organic turmeric powder unless you are sure of the quality.