Trendy Turmeric: Why Everyone's Talking About It, Plus Our Favorite Recipes That Use It (Deliciously)
Turmeric is the golden child of the spice rack. It sings of many nutritional benefits and uses, from drinks to dinner and even self-care. Here are some of our favorite ways to enjoy it.
You might see turmeric’s unmistakeable yellow-orange hue overtaking coffee shops in the form of lattes. It’s a caffeine-free alternative to tea and coffee. The proliferation of turmeric drinks and dishes isn’t just because it’s pretty (although it is), but also because it stacks numerous health benefits, and happens to taste good, too.
So ... What Is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a rhizome from the ginger family; a rhizome is a root-like underground stem. Turmeric is grown in a range of over 40 colors and flavors in India and southeast Asia, but the most iconic is the golden-yellow variety. I’ve tasted lighter yellow rhizomes that resemble their ginger cousins and blue-purple roots that reminded me of topical muscle cream (ew!). The rhizome can be used fresh, but most of the time it is peeled, dehydrated, and ground into a powder — that's what you've got in your spice drawer. It tastes earthy with a little mustard, ginger, and depending on how old it is, a bit of bitterness.
Health Benefits Of Turmeric
Ayurvedic medicine has long praised turmeric as an anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and disinfectant. It can be ingested, or applied topically as a cream or poultice. Centuries of safe use and anecdotal evidence piqued the interest of the scientific community, which now confirms that curcumin, the active ingredient found in turmeric, can improve memory. This has spurred an abundance of research on its use in treating Alzheimer's disease. It's also been shown to have anti-inflammatory properties. However, the jury is still out on its effectiveness in killing cancer cells.
To take advantage of turmeric’s magic, experts recommend a teaspoon of powdered turmeric per day; more if you're hoping to treat chronic pain. But don’t go swallowing spoonfuls — trust me, I’ve tried it. It becomes a paste in your mouth and, like the ill-advised "cinnamon challenge," it’s difficult to swallow. Dieticians also warn that you might cancel out the benefits of turmeric by consuming it in products with lots of sugar and preservatives, so keep that in mind if you're ordering your turmeric latte with an extra pump of hazelnut creamer.
Drink Your Daily Dose
The easiest way to start incorporating turmeric into your diet is to drink it. A simple ginger and turmeric tea, or a turmeric-spiked tonic or smoothie first thing in the morning can wake you right up. You’ll notice that packaged detox drinks advise you to shake the bottle (or lightly swirl if carbonated) because the turmeric has sunk to the bottom. Turmeric is fat soluble, meaning it doesn't mix well with water. To help things blend if you're making a smoothie, mix the turmeric with coconut oil, milk, or yogurt to start.
Start The Day Off Bright
A little sprinkle of turmeric will make your breakfast pop. It plays well with healthy fats like avocado and yogurt. Spices like cinnamon compliment turmeric’s warmth in a bowl of oats, chia pudding, or homemade granola.
If you're going in a savory direction, a dash of turmeric makes a tofu scramble look like its egg counterpart (and tastes great). And while we’re on the topic of eggs, whisk a ¼ tsp. of golden powder into your morning skillet or use it to pickle some hardboiled eggs (recipe below).
Attack Your Snacks
Stock up on a few ready-made bites to keep you going through the day. Whip up a batch of turmeric hummus for tortilla chips and crudites. Get rolling with no-bake cookies or maca balls (which are also a good way to get protein after you work out). Roast chickpeas with a sprinkle of ground turmeric for a crunchy, guilt-free morsel between meals. Or put equal parts turmeric, garlic powder, nutritional yeast, and salt in a shaker to make a golden spice mix for popcorn.
Using turmeric-packed condiments to augment your sandwiches and salads is a great (and tasty) way to eat more of the yellow stuff. Since turmeric works well with fats, tahini and other seed butters are easy to spike with a bit of turmeric. Tahini dressing can go on pretty much anything (read more about the joys of tahini here). Fermented pickles and sauerkraut pack a 1-2 punch, combining turmeric’s antioxidants with probiotics for your gut. Pile them on and don’t feel bad about it.
Gilded Savory Mains Around The Globe
For 4,000 years, spice blends in the Indus Valley have included turmeric root as an ingredient. The most easily available version of these mixes in the United States is commercial curry powder, which includes coriander, cumin, fenugreek, and other spices depending on the brand.
In Tunisia, Morocco, and Algeria, ras el hanout marries turmeric with 12 or more spices, depending on who you get it from. Each shop has its own family mixture and can showcase rosebuds, ginger, coriander, pepper, paprika, fenugreek, or other local ingredients. Ras el hanout acts best as a savory rub for meats and roasted vegetables.
Heading into Southeast Asia, curry returns in a form quite distinct from Indian or British curries. Turmeric is a key ingredient in classic Thai yellow curry, but drops in and out of Malaysian, Indonesian, and Vietnamese curries, that can favor a variety of spices that are available locally. You'll also see turmeric popping up in bánh xèo, a Vietnamese savory crepe and chả cá lã vọng, a turmeric-marinated fish. In the Philippines, adobong dilaw, which translates to yellow adobo, is a classic turmeric-rich stewed meat dish.
At home, it’s easy to add turmeric to recipes you know and love. Anywhere you use butter or oils, turmeric can hang out. Add it to soups and rice, or mix a teaspoon of turmeric with 1/2 cup of olive oil to drizzle onto fresh vegetables. Do be aware that turmeric can stain your hands, cutting boards, and bowls. Wear gloves (or make a quick pair with zip-top bags) when rubbing turmeric on roasts or coating vegetables like pumpkin, potatoes, and cauliflower.
In sweets, turmeric’s bold yellow color brings an unexpected twist. Try it in golden milk ice creme brulee (a Yummly original recipe, below). Fruit flavors become warmer with the addition of turmeric in jellies, popsicles, and sorbets. For all the bakers out there, try sfouf, a Lebanese semolina cake.
Outside of the kitchen, turmeric is a powerful dye for fabric. When mixed with henna powder, it becomes temporary body art or hair coloring, depending on the tradition. In Okinawa, they believe in the disinfecting properties of turmeric and used it to color their traditional umeshi chopsticks yellow.
Need to relax? Have a spa day! Treat yourself to an oatmeal-turmeric face mask to calm your skin (and your brain). Or mix a dash of turmeric with olive oil and massage it into your scalp to prevent dandruff: Let the mixture soak in for 20 minutes and shampoo it off. As always, before trying any new beauty regimen, test a patch of skin on your wrist before applying it all over yourself.
Whether in a bowl or in the spa, no matter how you choose to use turmeric, one thing is for certain: your life is about to get brighter.