So happy to have Terri Peterson’s knowledge and insight on our spices. Here she is on Turmeric:
The turmeric flower is a majestic bloom. The petals are pointed and can be snowy-white, or magenta, or variegated. They’re stacked one on top of the other to make a stalky bloom, all nestled inside a vibrant green cloak of meter-high leaves.
But we don’t eat any of that. (Side note: We could. We just don’t, as much. And I digress.)
Turmeric is known for its stem, its gnarled and wooden-looking underground stem system. It’s a rhizome, which means it sends out stems horizontally underground from its nodes, which once again begs the question: What won’t we eat? And who’s the first person who looked at a clump of turmeric stems and said, you know, dry those babies out and grind ‘em down, and dinner is on!
But looks are deceiving. Peel the turmeric and suddenly you’re holding a handful of gold. The swollen stems are built to store the energy from the sun and convey it from plant to plant; it’s as if the body of the rhizome holds a bit of the sun itself. Turmeric imparts a pungent, earthy flavor to food, so you have the sun and the earth in one tablespoon, which is not a bad thing to spend a little bit of money on while spice shopping. And it’s been touted for its medicinal properties, too.
Ayurvedic medicine has long employed turmeric as an antibiotic and anti-inflammatory agent, and globally it’s used in a tremendous array of folk preparations. Archaeological digs have uncovered pharmaceutical preparations with turmeric in them that date back to 2500BCE, though turmeric didn’t move into the sphere of Ayurvedic wunderkind until 500BCE. Current research into turmeric shows great promise in its ability to temper the effects of arthritis, Alzheimer’s, and even some cancers.
So how do you get more of this into your life? Drink some turmeric tea. Eat more curries. Shred the raw root and add it to carrot soup, or mix it with spiced steamed milk (coconut, preferably) for “golden milk”. Fans of golden milk claim it can improve memory, lower cholesterol, and temper blood pressure. Make sure to mix a little black pepper in there because the piperine in pepper binds with the cucurmin in turmeric and blocks it from being absorbed by the liver, so it travels all that much more readily through your blood stream. (If you want to get technical, piperine increases cucurmin’s bioavailability. Dig it.) It can even be baked into savory sweets, though you do have to ask where the health benefits begin and end in the face of butter and sugar.
Pro tip: if you do cook with turmeric, don’t wear white, unless you live for the dare. It’s used as a dye for a reason.