What is Turmeric? | What It Does + How It Works

Interest in turmeric (and more specifically, it’s active ingredient, curcumin) has been on the rise over the past several years due to the increased positive benefits uncovered in studies.

Learn about what turmeric is, how much you should take, and what the benefits of curcumin are.

What is Turmeric?

turmeric and curcumin spice powder
Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory agent (via curcumin) which makes it great at relieving joint pain and arthritis symptoms. But getting enough into your diet can be tricky since most recipes call for more than just a pinch of turmeric powder

Turmeric is a spice that has been used widely in the Middle East and Asia for centuries. The use of turmeric and other spices in traditional Indian dishes has been dated back to roughly 6000 BC.

Turmeric is the yellow powder that comes from grinding the root of a plant called Curcuma longa, which belongs to the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). Turmeric is used for many different purposes, such as coloring food and dyeing fabrics, and it is also used in cooking.

Turmeric is Anti-Inflammatory

Turmeric is famous for its anti-inflammatory properties and has been used to treat arthritis and other inflammatory conditions. Curcumin is the main active ingredient in turmeric that contributes to many of its health benefits such as alleviating joint pain, and managing diabetes.

Why Use Turmeric In Cooking?

Turmeric adds a very specific flavor to your food, and can make normally boring foods such as chicken breasts taste great. The best things about cooking with turmeric is that it’s healthy for you and it has many medicinal properties.

Some studies have shown that just a small amount of turmeric, 1/4 tsp per day, can reduce your cholesterol levels drastically! It can also help regulate your digestive system and improve liver function.

Benefits of Turmeric

The benefits of turmeric come from a chemical in the spice called curcumin. Curcumin gives turmeric its bright color, and it has powerful anti-inflammatory effects that may help protect against several forms of cancer.

It’s approved for use in many countries as a safe, effective drug just like aspirin or ibuprofen.

The FDA, however, doesn’t regulate it as a drug. It’s sold as a dietary supplement in the U.S.

Turmeric is high in antioxidant activity, essential minerals, and phytonutrients. It also has anti-inflammatory, antimicrobial, antiviral, antifungal, antibacterial properties.

Curcumin Absorption

Curcumin is poorly absorbed into the bloodstream without assistance, but adding black pepper to turmeric can increase absorption by 2,000%.

  • Turmeric is high in antioxidant activity, essential minerals, and phytonutrients.
  • The main benefits from turmeric’s antioxidants lower inflammation, and lower blood glucose.
  • Lower blood glucose means you’re able to create a fat burning environment in your body easier due to lowered insulin resistance.
  • The anti-inflammatory properties decrease joint pain, and general wellbeing.
  • Up to 12 grams of turmeric have been studied without side effects.
  • Some studies have shown improved regulation of blood pressure, possible lipid-lowering effects, and possible relief against arthritis.

How Much Turmeric Should I Take?

The standardizing of the total curcuminoid extract of turmeric (95% curcuminoids) used in clinical studies is 1,000 milligrams (mg), which contains 80-100 mg curcumin. However, dosages in research range from 200 to 12,000 mg/day for a wide variety of conditions.

Clinical studies have been conducted using doses as low as 20 mg/day and as high as 12,000 mg/day over a period of several months. For rheumatoid arthritis, a dose of 1,500 mg curcuminoids has been taken twice daily for six weeks. In a study of osteoarthritis, 500 mg curcuminoids were taken daily for eight weeks.

How Long Does It Take Turmeric To Work?

How long does it take for turmeric to work? It’s going to depend on the condition you’re using it for. In general, however, it can take a few weeks—though eating turmeric every day will deliver benefits over time.

Turmeric works by increasing your body’s levels of antioxidants and reducing inflammation, two steps that may help with several different conditions. It can take around three weeks for your antioxidant levels to increase and another few weeks for inflammation to drop. For serious health problems, it may take longer, as much as two months or more.

Turmeric is most effective when taken as long as possible—for at least a few months once you start taking it. Many of its benefits are cumulative, so the longer you take it, the better off you’ll be.

If you want to test out turmeric on a smaller scale, try mixing some in with your food. It’s known for having a bitter taste, but many people find they can stomach it if they mix it with other ingredients.

Turmeric Tea

Making turmeric tea is simple. Here are the steps to make the perfect cup every time.

1. Put 1/2 teaspoon of dried turmeric root in a large saucepan. Add 12 cups of water and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce heat to low, cover, and simmer for one hour or until liquid is reduced by half.

2. Strain out the roots and let cool to room temperature, you can store in refrigerator for up to 3 days.

3. Add 2 tablespoons of honey and a 1/4 teaspoon of fresh grated ginger root or ground ginger. You can also add cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, cayenne pepper or any other spices for added flavor.

4. To make iced turmeric tea, pour cooled tea into glasses filled with ice cubes and garnish with lemon slices or fresh mint leaves before serving.

Simple Turmeric Milk Recipe

  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 cups milk
  • In a small saucepan, heat the milk and whisk in the turmeric. Bring to a simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Serve hot or cold with honey if desired.

Which Foods Go Well With Turmeric?

Turmeric can be used in both sweet and savory dishes. When cooking with turmeric, it’s important to add it at the beginning of the cooking process so that the flavor has enough time to cook out of the dish. For example, add turmeric when cooking grains or ground meat.

The following foods typically go well with turmeric

Breakfast – good with scrambled eggs and oatmeal

Lunch – good with lentil soup or a turkey sandwich

Dinner – good with sautéed chicken and vegetables, rice, or roasted potatoes

Dessert – good with chocolate mousse (sweet) or Greek yogurt (savory)

Foods to avoid adding turmeric to include

Fruit juice – the taste of turmeric will overwhelm the fruit juice

Fried foods – turmeric is fat-soluble so will be absorbed by the oil in fried dishes if added too early

Dairy products – The curcuminoids can bind to milk proteins making them less bioavailable. If you are adding milk to a dish, add it after the curcuminoids have been metabolized