Spring is finally in the air – and as we clean out clutter at home, some are inspired to clean out the body as well. “Spring cleanse” is a popular term these days, and it made us take a closer look at a spice known for its cleansing benefits in Asian cultures: turmeric. North Americans are mostly familiar with turmeric in its dried form: a bright yellow powder you find in the spice aisle. Turmeric is related to another rhizome – ginger – but has a completely different taste.
In Asian countries, turmeric is a staple spice in curry paste and other dishes. It also has medicinal uses in some cultures – as in Ayurvedic medicine in India – and is an essential ingredient in the herbal drink known as “jamu” in Indonesia. Turmeric can also be found in mustard, butter, and some cheeses as a natural coloring agent.
Nutritional Information for Turmeric
One teaspoon of dried ground turmeric powder contains:
- Calories: 8 kcal
- Fat: 0.2 g
- Protein: 0.2 g
- Carbohydrates: 1.4 g
Turmeric contains a compound called curcumin, which has been shown to help enhance triglyceride transport out of the liver and stimulate the gallblader to produce bile. It also appears to enhance the activity of the liver enzyme that converts cholesterol to bile acids.
In addition, curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and is being studied for its anti-inflammatory, cancer-preventing properties. It also exhibits anti-clotting properties and is therefore being studied for its potential for preventing atherosclerosis (plaque buildup in the arteries).
The bulk of turmeric you can find in the store is the dried, powdered form. You can sometimes find fresh turmeric in Chinese, Southeast Asian, or Indian markets. It has a root-like shape similar to ginger, but has a vibrant yellow color when peeled. Fresh turmeric tastes completely different from dried turmeric and has a much stronger flavor, so be careful with how much you add. Turmeric also stains everything yellow, so it is best to wear some gloves when working with it and avoid using white or other light-colored containers.
Turmeric is rarely used on its own; when using turmeric in cooking, combine it with other spices such as ginger, onion, garlic, and coriander and sautee over medium heat to bring out its best flavor. Interestingly, curcumin in turmeric appears to be better absorbed by the body in the presence of fat. Many types of curries are cooked using coconut milk, which supplies a significant amount of fat.
When used in traditional herbal drinks, turmeric is often combined with a sweetener such as honey or palm sugar, as well as a tart flavoring ingredient (such as tamarind) because it has a slightly bitter aftertaste. The fresh root is simmered in water, ground, and then pressed through a fine sieve or muslin cloth, and the resulting “juice” is used in the drink.