Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ingredient of the week - Turmeric

Turmeric, the bright yellow spice adding zip to Indian curries and the bright yellow colour to ball park mustard, may be one of your new best friends.  

Why would I use it?
Well, what ails you? Turmeric is currently being used to treat a range of conditions and diseases: indigestion, ulcerative colitis, osteoarthritis, atherosclerosis, diabetes, kidney stones, infections, liver problems, blood clots, irregular menstruation, inflammation, gallstones, wounds, and eczema.  But it has received more media exposure in recent years as evidence grows that this cousin of ginger may be a powerful weapon for three other health concerns. It contains natural agents that may block the formation of the substance responsible for the plaques that, over time, obstruct cerebral function in Alzheimer's disease. Turmeric also has anti-inflammatory properties and curcumin, the main active ingredient, has been shown to reduce the symptoms of arthritis. Studies have also found that turmeric may help with prevention and/or treatment of breast, prostate, esophogeal, oral, skin, and colon cancers. If we focus for a moment on breast cancer, research conducted at the M.D. Anderson Cancer Centre in Houston in 2005 suggested that curcumin may help prevent its spread. Researchers were sufficiently impressed to suggest that it might be worthwhile for women at a high risk of breast cancer due to a family history to take curcumin.

How do I use it?
1) As a supplement
You can take turmeric much as you would any herbal supplement. According to the Livestrong website, the University of Maryland Medical Center says that a standard medicinal dosage of turmeric for adults is 1.5 to 3 grams of cut turmeric root per day, 1 to 3 grams per day of the dried, powdered root, 400 to 600 milligrams of standardized powder in capsule form up to three times per day, 30 to 90 drops of fluid extract per day, or 15 to 30 drops of turmeric tincture up to four times per day. There is no recommended dosage for children, though it is believed they may safely consume small amounts of the herb. If you are considering adding turmeric to your daily supplements, please discuss it with your health care provider.

2) As a tea
Dr. Weil believes that one of the best ways to get the benefits of turmeric is to follow the example set in Okinawa, the island nation with the world's longest average lifespan - cold turmeric tea.
  • Bring four cups of water to a boil.
  • Add one teaspoon of ground turmeric and reduce to a simmer for 10 minutes.
  • Strain the tea through a fine sieve into a cup, add honey and/or lemon to taste.
He suggests adding a teaspoon of ginger along with the turmeric. You can also substitute fresh turmeric at a rate of one inch of fresh root for every teaspoon of dry.
3) As a cooking ingredient
One of the easiest ways to give turmeric a try is to simply begin adding it to your diet. Dr. Andrew Weil says that because turmeric's anti-inflammatory and anti-cancer effects are seen at doses well below "pharmaceutical strength", you could begin by simply adding the spice to your foods.You may be most familiar with turmeric as one of the spices making up Indian curry. But there are certainly other ways to incorporate it into daily cooking. On Saturday I purchased fresh turmeric in its root form at the South China Seas Trading Company at Granville Island and I am itching to get started. So I am in search of recipes!

So far, I am most excited about these ones:
Alice Water's Spicy Cauliflower Soup from Jane Spice
Tomato Soup with Lentils from Delicious Days 
Casbah Wings from Food 52

As I try out these recipes, I will post the results on my other website - the river and the sea recipes. And if you have any recipes you would like to share, please send them along! Help me help others fight cancer! If I try them out, I'll post my experience and pictures there as well.

If you are coming up with your own recipes, one point you should remember from the Livestrong website is that turmeric is fat-soluble so it is best absorbed when taken with some form of fat. So, if you want to toss some with cauliflower before roasting it, add some olive oil as well. 

High dosages or long-term use of turmeric may cause indigestion, stomach upset or ulcers. If you have gallstones, obstructed bile passages, gastrointestinal disorders or diabetes, or are undergoing chemotherapy, only take turmeric supplements after discussing it with your health care provider because it may worsen these conditions or cause adverse affects in some cases. Women who are pregnant or nursing may eat foods containing turmeric, but should not take supplements. 

Find out more
For more information on turmeric, there are informative articles on Livestrong and on Dr. Andrew Weil's website:  Three Reasons to Eat Turmeric and Turmeric for Breast Cancer Prevention


  1. It would be interesting to know if cultures that use turmeric as a regular ingredient see lower incidents of cancer. Has that link been made?

  2. I will work on finding statistics, but many articles state that rates of prostate cancer are lower in countries like Sri Lanka and India where turmeric is consumed in large amounts. Don't you do an Indian cauliflower recipe that has a fair shwack in it?