Cooking Tips and Tasty Recipes for Turmeric

Golden turmeric adds vibrant color, flavor, and health benefits to recipes like Curried Barley Salad with Shrimp and Indian-Spiced Potatoes and Spinach.

April 26, 2010

Turmeric is the go-to ingredient for homemade curries.

A relative of ginger, turmeric is the spice that gives curries their vivid golden hue, and familiar yellow mustard its bright color. For thousands of years, people in India have considered turmeric a healing herb, which is one reason so many turmeric recipes come from that part of the world. And in fact there’s a lot of research that shows that turmeric does in fact have many beneficial effects on the body.

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Adding some turmeric recipes to your repertoire can help your health in many different ways. By stimulating production of bile, turmeric helps the body digest fats. The spice, which is actually a rhizome that’s ground into a deep yellow-orange powder, also has liver-protective properties. Studies show that turmeric protects the stomach, as well, helping to prevent ulcers. Multiple studies show that curcumin—the compound in turmeric that gives the spice its flavor and intense hue—works as an anti-inflammatory agent, with the ability to help ease symptoms of arthritis.

And several studies now indicate that by lowering cholesterol and preventing blood clots, turmeric may also help prevent heart disease. These studies were done on lab animals, so further research will be needed to determine whether the same effects can be seen in humans. Animal lab studies also found that curcumin has anticancer activity, possibly due to its antioxidant power. Researchers at the University of Illinois found that turmeric reduces the inflammation caused by H. pylori, the ulcer-inducing bacterium that's also linked to colon and gastric cancers. That’s important because the inflammation is what’s thought to actually lead to the development of cancer.

The spice may also fight Alzheimer’s disease. Researchers have found that elderly villagers in India appear to have the world’s lowest rate of the disease, and the speculation is that curcumin might play a role. When UCLA researchers gave curcumin to mice prone to accumulating Alzheimer’s signature amyloid plaques in their brains, the compound not only blocked the accumulation of plaques but also reduced inflammation, an effect of Alzheimer's disease on brain tissue. The curcumin-fed mice also performed better at memory tests than mice who didn't eat the substance.

Some tips on using turmeric: Pair it with black pepper, as many Indian-inspired recipes already do, and you’ll enhance curcumin’s bioavailability by 1,000 times. This effect is due to a substance called piperine that’s found in black pepper. Since turmeric has a tangy flavor, using too much can make food taste bitter. A good rule of thumb is to use about ¼ to ½ teaspoon of turmeric to season beans, rice, or couscous. And try making your own homemade curry powder using turmeric and other classic spices; the spice aisle’s premade versions can be more expensive than the sum of their parts. Store your curry powder tightly sealed in a cool, dry place.

For soups, salads, curries, and lots of other recipe ideas using healthful turmeric, look no further than the Rodale Recipe Finder.

#1: Herb Breakfast Scramble. For a change of pace, start your day with this cheesy, flavorful tofu scramble.

#2: Curried Barley Salad with Shrimp and Baby Greens. Liven up main-dish salads like this shrimp and barley salad with turmeric’s exotic flavor and color. For a simple side salad, try this Arugula Salad with Golden Vinaigrette.

#3: Curried Chickpea Soup. Flavorful turmeric makes a great addition to bean soups like this chickpea soup, Madras Split Pea Soup or a Bahamian-inspired stew.

#4: Burmese Chicken Curry. Make easy, zingy curries using convenient chicken breasts, or if you’re vegetarian, tofu. Other vegetarian-friendly options include a split pea-based coconut dal and Indian-Spiced Potatoes and Spinach.

#5: Tandoori Chicken. For hearty, delicious entrées, grill or bake chicken or fish fillets using aromatic spice mixtures that include turmeric.