Us Aucklanders are an adventurous bunch, especially when it comes to our food and are often the first in the country to jump on the latest health-food trend (especially if we can consume it in our active-wear). We’ve become accustomed to consuming our greens in liquid form and the bitter leafy taste might even be growing on us. From juices to smoothies and even our coffee, if it’s green, we want it. But there’s a new superstar in town; green is out and orange is in.
From golden coloured lattes to brilliant persimmon coloured juices and smoothies, turmeric is sneaking its way into beverages across the city. Touted around town as a superfood, this golden spice is the real deal.
Yet there’s more to turmeric than it’s glorious colour. Science now backs what the Indians and the Chinese have known for years; Turmeric is a medicinal powerhouse. Revered for its anti-inflammatory properties and ability to promote healthy liver function, studies have also determined it contains powerful cancer preventative properties. It’s no wonder this odd root has quietly been growing a cult following over the past few decades.
High in a substance called curcumin, turmeric provides a myriad of health benefits:
The curcumin in turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory.
While acute, short-term inflammation is beneficial for our bodies (it’s our bodies way of fighting foreign invaders and repairing damage), it can become a real problem when the inflammation becomes long-term or chronic. Chronic inflammation is known to be a contributor to many common Western diseases including heart-disease, cancer, metabolic syndrome, Alzheimer’s and other degenerative conditions.
Curcumin is such a strong anti-inflammatory that scientific studies are comparing it favourably to anti-inflammatory pharmaceutical drugs, only without the side effects.
Turmeric can help keep you looking youthful.
You don’t have to look far to find yet another health food advertisement touting the benefits of antioxidants against free radicals. While free radicals are villainised and depicted as the cause of all human suffering in the first world, antioxidants are promoted as the ultimate defence and the secret to immortality – or so the ad-wizards would have you believe. While the truth maybe somewhat stretched by clever marketing, the fact remains that free radicals do damage our DNA molecules. Over time the biological function of our cells diminishes and they cannot repair themselves in the same way. Visibly, we perceive this as aging. Antioxidants, like those found in turmeric, act like bottom-feeder fish in a fish-tank, sucking up all the gunk and grime (a.k.a those pesky free-radicals). In essence, turmeric helps to mop up free-radicals, preventing damage to your cells, keeping you looking younger.
Turmeric helps detoxify your body.
Just like antioxidants, detoxification is another buzz word that is thrown around to market products with little understanding as to what it is. As we go about our lives, our bodies take on chemicals from the foods that we eat (which is why we love organic food so much), from the air that we breath, the products we put on our skin and the water that we drink. Our liver does a pretty ace job of ensuring these toxins are removed from your body safely. It’s a gory sounding process, but one that’s very important in maintaining a healthy body. Your liver secretes bile which it uses to eliminate the toxins you absorb however sometimes it gets a little over worked and its little in-tray starts to overflow. When this happens we may notice symptoms (mild or severe) that can include fatigue, acne, migraines, acid-reflux and fatty liver disease.
Our nutrition plays an important role in the livers ability to keep on top of its workload. Good food, low in chemicals and additives help reduce the toxins entering your body, while substances such as the high levels of curcumin found in turmeric aid help stimulate the production of bile. Essentially more bile is the digestive systems’ equivalent of “many hands make light work.”
Turmeric can help prevent (and perhaps even treat) cancer
Cancer is a terrible disease. It is characterised by the uncontrolled growth of cells. Studies have shown that the curcumin in turmeric can help reduce the growth of blood vessels in some types of tumours; without blood supply, tumours cannot survive. Evidence has also been found to support the observation that curcumin can help reduce the spread of cancerous cells. While studies are still being performed to determine exactly how effective turmeric is in the fight against cancer, the results look promising.
Foodie tip #1: When using turmeric in savoury dishes, don’t forget to add several good cracks of freshly ground black pepper. Not only does the earthy flavour of the pepper pair beautifully with the aromatic and bitter notes of the turmeric, pepper also contains a natural substance called piperine. Curcumin is 2000% better absorbed by your body when consumed with piperine.
If you haven’t yet jumped on the turmeric bandwagon, you’ve probably at least got a packet of the powdered stuff hiding up the back of your pantry just waiting until you cook your next curry. But there are a lot more uses for turmeric than just a curry.
While you’re most likely to have powdered turmeric hiding in your cupboard, you may not know that it’s actually available in root form. Similar to ginger, this gnarly looking root has a brighter and livelier flavour when fresh. There are a lot of benefits to eating raw, fresh turmeric over the powdered variety:
Increased health benefits
When dried and turned into powder, turmeric loses a big chunk of its curcumin. If you’re wanting to maximise the health benefits of this root, using fresh turmeric will ensure you get a greater dose of curcumin.
250g of fresh turmeric will cost you about $3.70 vs $2-3 for a 40g pack of the dried stuff. In terms of health benefits, 40g of turmeric doesn’t go very far. You need to consume the same weight of turmeric powder as you do fresh to reap the same benefits. Due to the water weight of fresh turmeric, the root form is significantly heavier. Essentially you would need to consume more than 6 packets of dried turmeric to get the same benefits, which would cost you $18. Additionally that quantity of powdered turmeric on anything would be taste incredibly overpowering!
A good guide for how much fresh turmeric to use is 1 inch of fresh turmeric root equals about 1 teaspoon of dried powder.
By eliminating the processing step, we have a better idea of exactly what is going into our body. When we buy powdered turmeric, we don’t know whether there have been fillers or colours added the final product. This is particularly important if you’re wanting to use turmeric as a detoxification aid for your liver. There’s no point adding more toxins in the way of colours and fillers for your liver to sort through.
Fresh turmeric has a beautiful aroma that is lost when it’s converted into powdered form. The essential oils locked in the fresh root are dried away meaning the powdered version loses some of its smell.
Foodie Top #2: Turmeric stains everything it touches yellow. And we mean EVERYTHING! It’s easy to spot a turmeric rookie by their almost fluorescent yellow digits. When peeling a chunk to use, leave some skin on the tip to hold on to. Should you happen to get some on your hands, lemon juice is the most effective method to remove the colouring.
We love turmeric and think it’s way more than just a fad sweeping the Auckland café scene. Whether it’s in a stir-fry, a smoothie, our coffee or just a good old curry, we think this fantastic root is here to stay. We’re also quietly glad that this trend is a far less acquired taste than those green smoothies!