This is my science-updated take on an old Ayurvedic treatment beloved of Indian grandmothers. Treatment for what, you may wonder. Just about everything. Although clinical evidence supporting its cure-all reputation is scanty (not many big studies have been funded), what is around looks very promising. Very promising indeed. And with 14 centuries of culinary and medicinal use, perhaps grandmother really does know best.
Why is turmeric so good for us? Looking at the wide-ranging literature (both clinical and not), turmeric seems to be anti just about anything bad: viruses, disease-causing bacteria, carcinogens – perhaps even vampires: who knows. Turmeric is also widely used to support digestive health and treat gastrointestinal complaints, such as IBS and colitis. This highly-pigmented root – that we typically use ground – tastes like a very peppery ginger (to which it is related). It is also what makes curries yellow.
Many integrative cancer centers in the US and in Europe recommend turmeric use for those with certain types of cancers, most notably colorectal. A small 2008 study of pancreatic cancer patients showed turmeric slowed tumour growth. Other studies also point towards effectiveness for a wide range of conditions. A recent small study of kidney transplant patients showed fewer rejections with the use of curcumin in combination with another antioxidant, quercetin, compared to placebo. It is also widely used in many countries to treat rheumatoid arthritis, with recent science finally ‘validating’ its impressive anti-inflammatory action. Here is a fantastic overview of the recent research, as is this one from Drugs.com. For a more detailed, clinical read click on this academic overview.
Turmeric is not a miracle spice by any stretch of the imagination, especially because absorption is limited, but there are few potential side effects. If you have health issues, discuss turmeric with your doctor before embarking on using it beyond the culinary.
How to use: The good stuff is quite strong tasting so if you have some old stuff knocking about in the back of your cupboards perhaps treat yourself to a new, more potent, jar of it. It’s usually pretty cheap. “Therapeutic grade’ turmeric is sometimes preferred as it will contain a standardised amount of the main active compound, curcumin. Here in the UK your best bet is definitely from the respected herbalists, Napiers.
Some people drink milks such as this one daily when colds and sore throats are zinging around, or if they are prone to/have a respiratory infection. It has many, many other purported uses (eg rheumatoid arthritis) and a few important cautions (eg those with gall bladder disease). Read this dispassionate summary from the always-reliable mskcc.org for more information. It can also be used with immune-stimulant echinacea – also available at Napiers -to reduce the symptoms of a cold.
The research-indicated optimal ‘dose’ of turmeric (as opposed to straight curcumin – which is not to be recommended) for daily consumption is between ¼ and ½ teaspoon – ideally with black pepper and some kind of oil (a curry a day!). To be honest I took it daily when I had a long-running lung infection last year (it seemed to be more helpful than the ruddy antibiotics!) but now only take it when I feel something coming on. And with back-to-school just around the corner I will make sure my supply is copious. I am one of those people who skips over the head cold and goes straight for the chest infection.
So, my turmeric milk update? Coconut oil. Oil helps us absorb the notoriously difficult to absorb curcumin, and coconut oil seems much more palatable than, say, olive or rapeseed. But you could use those if you like. If you use full fat milk, or best-quality coconut milk, that will have plenty enough uptake-enhancing fat. Here is a link to more interesting info about coconut oil, citing some valid studies. Even still, I don’t think of it as a ‘wonder food.’
And I know the idea of pepper in this sounds capital S strange, but it also helps us to ‘take up’ this useful and very pretty spice, and tastes absolutely fine in this sunny-hued milk. Studies have indicated that turmeric may be 1000 times better absorbed with the piperine in fresh black pepper.
Disclaimer: This post and recipe is not intended to treat any illnesses, diagnosed or suspected. But, it is a delicious – and potentially helpful – drink in its own right. If you are interested in the therapeutic and preventive, as opposed to the purely culinary, benefits, please see the links in this post.
There are loads of ways to use turmeric other than in curries. I’ve listed some recipes below, as well as links to other sites featuring tumeric-based recipe. For something quick and tasty I sometimes mix turmeric with best olive oil and salt and use it as a fabulously healthy and tasty dip or spread for good bread. What way do you like your turmeric? Do you use it as a remedy? If so, how? I would love to hear your suggestions and uses.
Last year: Espresso Ice Cream with Dulce de Leche
Two years ago: So Summery Chickpea Salad
Track of the Week: Joseph Attieh’s Ya Kel El Deny – an exuberant wedding video of a song!
Absolutely everything in this simple drink is good for us – the turmeric, the good local honey, cardamom, cinnamon, and pepper. Use whatever milk you like, but to keep cholesterol out of the picture, choose a calcium-fortified plant-based milk, such as almond or hemp. To your health!
250ml (1 cup) milk of choice – I use unsweetened almond milk
1 crushed green cardamom* pod OR 1/8 tsp ground
small cinnamon stick, lightly bashed – optional OR 1/4 tsp ground
½ tsp ground turmeric* (from jar or capsule)
¼ tsp freshly ground black pepper* (grind straight into the milk to capture the essential pepper oil)
1 tsp best local honey (or to taste) – another great anti-viral and antibacterial ingredient OR raw sugar, to taste
½ tsp pure virgin coconut oil/coconut butter
Heat the milk slowly with the cardamom and cinnamon stick (if using), whisking in the turmeric, pepper, honey and coconut oil. Heat until steaming but not boiling. Strain off the cinnamon and cardamom and enjoy immediately. May be served cold too, but this isn’t recommended by those who practise Ayurvedic medicine – it’s all about the warm spices and warm milk.
You can also prepare this in the microwave. Just a note, the ingredients are not soluble, and will settle in the bottom of your cup, so do give it a stir once while drinking or you’ll get a strong surge of turmeric at the last sip. A lovely substitute for your morning coffee.
Turmeric Crib Sheet
- Anti-cancer** (preventive and therapeutic), especially esophagus, mouth, bowel/colorectal, stomach, breast, pancreas, skin
- Appetite stimulant
Historical Uses: diarrhea, fever, bronchitis, colds and nonspecific viral infections, parasitic worms, leprosy, bladder and kidney infections, skin infections and wounds (topically applied)
* An alternative is to use the very excellent Holy Lama Spice Drops – one drop of each is quite enough for one serving. The clear advantage is that unlike the ground or whole spices, the drops blend in so well. I take them on holiday with me – just in case!
Other posts with/about turmeric on Food To Glow:
* Turmeric and Lime Salmon with Lime-Scented Baked Rice (delicious recipe; shame about the photos!)
…and other recipes too.
Others’ Turmeric-centric Recipes