Turmeric has exploded in western culture. From turmeric flavored kombucha to raw turmeric root shots, this nutty and earthy spice has finally toppled some of the most popular superfood spices such as matcha powder and raw cacao. Yet, what do we really know about turmeric, it’s history, and, most importantly, the crucial natural element that makes it so powerfully healing?
What is Curcumin?
For thousands of years’ Asian cultures have used turmeric as a beautiful dye, in traditional culinary dishes, and as a healing spice in Ayurvedic, Siddha, Unani, and traditional Chinese medicines. Turmeric is part of the ginger family, a group of plants that are known for their incredible health properties. Yet, the differentiating element of turmeric is a molecule called curcumin.
Curcumin is responsible for thepand plays a similar role as many polyphenols, chemicals that are high in antioxidants and are naturally made in plants. Yet, curcumin is relatively unique in that it is different from all other polyphenol categories such as flavonoids, stilbenes, and phenolic acids. One of the little-known facts about curcumin is the difficulty in which the human body absorbs and reaps those polyphenol benefits. The turmeric root contains only about two to five percent of the curcumin molecule and, on top of that, our gastrointestinal tracts have a hard time absorbing the agent. Therefore, while turmeric is an excellent spice for culinary purposes, if you’re consuming it exclusively for the curcumin health benefits, it’s recommended to simply go with a curcumin extract or supplement.
Where to Get Curcumin
For supplements, try out NatureWise. Not only does NatureWise sell organic items, this specific supplement offers 95 percent curcuminoids in 750-milligram capsules. In addition, this supplement includes high absorption Bioperine as the active agent to help your gastrointestinal tract absorb the curcumin.
Turmeric powder is also a great way to get that curcumin, as long as you pair the powder with that cracked pepper. Plus, turmeric powder, such as this Premium Quality Organic Turmeric Root Powder by Naturevibe Botanicals, is generally cheaper ($11.39 for 32 Oz) than straight curcumin supplements ($14.99 for 90 capsules).
Last but not least, go straight for the raw turmeric root. While turmeric root is generally sold at your local whole foods or natural grocery store, you can also find it available online, such as this Fresh Yellow Turmeric Root product, which is being sold at $11.73 for an entire pound!
While there are a handful of benefits related to the consumption of curcumin, one of the most prominent is its incredible anti-inflammatory properties. Yet, curcumin has what’s called a poor “oral bioavailability”. This means that the body only consumes a small portion of what you eat. Therefore, depending on where you want the most benefit in the body (if you want anti-inflammation help with the colon, no agent is necessary), turmeric or curcumin should be paired with a helping agent such piperine, black pepper extract.
Curcumin has been shown to reduce inflammation by blocking a handful of enzymes that are “part of the inflammatory process.” While many of my articles reference inflammation, even highlight the incredibly useful and yet mischievous bodily function, it’s also important to know natural ways to help reduce unwanted inflammation. An inflammatory response is natural and acts as a mechanism to fight infection and disease. Chronic inflammation is linked to most diseases including asthma, inflammatory bowel disease, and arthritis. Yet, when it comes to curcumin, inflammation doesn’t stand a chance! In a study published in Oncogene, conducted at the University of Texas, the anti-inflammatory properties of curcumin were compared to those of Ibuprofen and aspirin. Curcumin was found to be far more effective than both these over-the-counter medications.
One of the lesser known, yet great health benefits of curcumin is healthy skin. On top of anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, both of which fight free radicals and conditions that lead to skin issues, curcumin also has shown to have quick wound healing powers and “improved collagen deposition”. While curcumin may lead to beautiful skin, it may also be beneficial for other more serious skin conditions.
Boosts Mental Health and Cognition
While studies have a long way to come on this, preliminary results are incredibly positive. A study published by the Journal of the American Medical Directors Association showed that curcumin consumption decreased depression and anxiety symptoms in the test subjects. This may be linked to the ability of curcumin to decrease the amount of an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA, which has been linked to increased anxiety. On top of that, recent animal-based studies have shown that curcumin may improve memory, reduce oxidative damage, and boost cognition by increasing levels of a “brain-derived neurotrophic factor, a type of growth hormone linked to brain function.”
Cooking with Curcumin
It’s great for you and tastes great as well! Yet, how do you get the most out of your turmeric powder or curcumin extract? As mentioned above, it’s incredibly important to pair your spice with an engaging agent. When it comes to curcumin you’ll want to use fresh ground pepper. Luckily, these two spices go hand in hand when it comes to most recipes and, if pepper isn’t part of the recipe, it’s an easily included spice!
Sunshine Turmeric Latte/One Green Planet
When you think of turmeric, your thoughts most likely instantly drift off to traditional Indian cuisines such as yellow curry. Yet, turmeric is an excellent ingredient for healing beverages. Plus, adding a bit of cracked pepper into a smoothie is easily balanced with a squeeze of healing lemon or orange juice. One of the tastiest curcumin enhanced beverages I’ve found is this Healing Turmeric Golden Juice, which uses both powerhouse agents of turmeric powder and fresh cracked pepper, as well as additional healing agents including ginger, orange juice (high in Vitamin C), and carrots (high in antioxidant-rich beta-carotene’s). If you’re feeling the turmeric infused drink, also try out this Golden Chaga Latte, Sunshine Turmeric Latte, Turmeric Glow Lemonade, or this Turmeric Peppercorn Wellness Milk.
Cauliflower Gashi: Spicy Cauliflower Curry/One Green Planet
If your mind does go to the traditional uses of turmeric, then go with your gut! Turmeric lends most Indian dishes their rich colors, while also imbuing a nutty taste that can be beautifully enhanced with that cracked pepper agent. Plus, there’s no end in traditional recipes such as this simple Coconut Turmeric Dal, this Cauliflower Gashi, or this traditional Goan Sorak Curry.
Indian Lentil Burgers With Dill Yogurt Sauce/One Green Planet
For those looking to incorporate curcumin-based spices into their diet on a daily basis, try using turmeric in everyday recipes. While this may pose a challenge in the beginning, the understated flavor of turmeric lends it as a great ingredient in so many diverse recipes. To get you started, here are a couple non-traditional turmeric recipes that are both easy and delicious: Coconut Turmeric Cheesecake Pots, Sweet and Spicy Golden Chia Pizza, Indian Lentil Burgers With Dill Yogurt Sauce, or these Tahini Turmeric Cookies.
For an array of recipes rich in turmeric, we highly recommend downloading our Food Monster App, which is available for both Android and iPhone, and can also be found on Instagram and Facebook. The app has more than 10,000 plant-based, allergy-friendly recipes, and subscribers gain access to new recipes every day. Check it out!
Lead Image: SoFuego