A beginner’s guide to turmeric. Including its health benefits, several FAQs, top tips on how to use turmeric, as well as powdered and fresh turmeric recipes and recommendations!
What is turmeric and its benefits?
Turmeric root is a flowering plant that comes from the ginger family. It is native to India and Southeast Asia and has been used for centuries either in fresh or powdered form. It is used for color (both dyeing items and to naturally color foods thanks to its bright yellow color). It’s also used for flavor (particularly curries), and medicinal uses (for example, within Ayurvedic medicine). The latter is thanks to potent compounds within the plant called curcuminoids, primarily curcumin, a powerful antioxidant, and anti-inflammatory.
It has grown in popularity in the US/UK in the last few years too, thanks to several trendy turmeric recipes. These include “golden” drinks – aka turmeric milk and turmeric lattes, which are beloved for their many health benefits.
The Health Benefits
Luckily, there is even the science out there to back up many of the health claims! For example:
- Turmeric is a natural anti-inflammatory: inflammation plays a role in several serious chronic health conditions. These include heart disease, Alzheimer’s, arthritis, and cancer (to name a few). However, some studies have found that turmeric can work as well as, if not better, than certain pharmaceuticals when it comes to anti-inflammatory benefits (though in large doses), all with no side effects!
- It increases the antioxidant capacity of our bodies: as well as providing its own antioxidants (to neutralize harmful free radicals and reduce oxidative damage to the body), curcumin may also stimulate our body’s antioxidant enzymes. Though, admittedly, this needs more research.
- Turmeric may improve memory, attention, and brain health: some studies have shown that curcumin may increase BDNF levels in the brains. which play an important role in memory, learning, and the health/life of neurons. On the other hand, low BDNF levels could lead to Alzheimer’s, depression, and other brain diseases.
- Anti-cancer properties: some studies show that this plant may actually physically stunt the growth of cancerous cells and tumors.
- It can regulate mood: a study comparing it with Prozac found it may boost the brain’s neurotransmitters serotonin and dopamine, both of which regulate mood.
More so, research has looked into the benefits of turmeric and curcumin concerning pain relief, heart health, and blood pressure. In addition, smaller amounts of research are beginning to look into it in relation to boosting our immune system, gut flora, and bone health!
However, it’s important to note that the bioavailability of curcumin is low when eaten alone. So keep reading for my top tips for making the most of this supplement. Plus, tons of powdered/fresh turmeric recipes!
Top Tips on How to Use Turmeric
- When possible, purchase turmeric organically from Fair Trade companies!
- Curcumin won’t easily absorb into the bloodstream without some help. So whenever you consume it, make sure to pair it with freshly cracked black pepper (which can increase the absorption by 2000%) and/or healthy fat (like avocado oil or coconut oil). Fat binds to the curcumin (as it’s fat-soluble, meaning it will go directly to our bloodstream, bypassing the liver) and help our bodies absorb it.
- Cooking with turmeric powder/root (aka heating it up) also helps it to become more bioavailable! It also makes it taste better (though adding a little powder to smoothies and drinks is fine!)
- Use it sparingly, to begin with! If you don’t usually consume it, a sudden increase may cause stomach upset, nausea, and vomiting (among other side effects). These can also appear if you consume too much.
- If you’re new to eating turmeric, check with a doctor to ensure it doesn’t react negatively with any medications you’re on! Particularly blood thinners, but it may also be harmful to those gallbladder issues and anemia.
- Last but certainly not least, turmeric stains! So, watch what you wear when working on recipes using turmeric (I recommend wearing gloves). Just in case, here is a list on how to remove turmeric stains (From Counters, Kitchen Gadgets, Clothes, etc.).
How to Store Turmeric Root/Powder (and Prep it)?
If you’ve purchased fresh turmeric root (usually found alongside ginger in grocery stores and in many Asian stores), it’s best to store this whole (unpeeled) in the fridge for up to two weeks. Once you’ve started to use it, wrap remains tightly and store in the refrigerator for between 7 to 10 days.
In comparison, store dried turmeric in a cool, dark location (like a kitchen cupboard/pantry) for up to 6 months. Ensure you tightly seal the lid, and the powder doesn’t come into contact with humidity/steam/liquid, which affects shelf life.
How to prep fresh turmeric root?
If you’re used to using fresh ginger in your kitchen, then this process will sound familiar. In fact, it’s almost identical. To mince/grate the root, you can use a spoon to peel the thin skin and then use a Microplane grater.
Use gloves when dealing with fresh turmeric, or you’ll end with yellow fingers for days to come! (turn to these top ways to clean turmeric stains, if needed).
You can also prep the turmeric root to prepare other “ingredients,” ready to use in recipes. Including:
- Turmeric powder: you can make your own vibrant and tasty ground turmeric powder at home using a dehydrator, oven, or even air drying.
- DIY Turmeric Tincture: Okay, not technically an “ingredient,” but this tincture allows for a more concentrated dose of curcumin that is absorbed faster (and easier) in our bodies when dissolved in a glass of water (or juice).
- Turmeric juice: easily make turmeric juice at home with or without a juicer, ready to add to health shots and smoothies.
- Simple Turmeric Paste (Golden Paste): this golden paste combined turmeric (fresh or powder) with several other warming spices (including ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon) as well as a fat and black pepper, ready to mix into drinks and add to breakfast dishes, use as a spread, and add so sauces, curries, and soups, etc.
How to Cook with Turmeric: Top Turmeric Recipes
Cooking with turmeric powder/root (and using it raw) is surprisingly simple once you get the hang of it. My major tip is always to start with a pinch and build the flavor, as it can be pungent. Below is a list of some of my favorite recipes with fresh turmeric and powdered!
You can use turmeric in drinks in several ways. Whether to make a soothing tea, glass of golden milk, add to juice shots, or hide it within smoothies.
- Ginger Turmeric Immune-Boosting Energy Shots (juicer recipe): these daily juice shots make for an excellent digestive and immune system boost, perfect for cold and flu season! You need just 4 ingredients and under 10 minutes for this recipe with fresh turmeric. You can also make a non-juicer version of the turmeric-ginger shots.
- Turmeric Tea: a nourishing throat-soothing, anti-inflammatory drink packed to the brim with health benefits! Enjoy warm or cold and with several optional add-ins!
- Easy 5-ingredient Golden Milk: this original golden milk recipe is made from scratch (including the coconut milk) for a soothing, healthful, lightly spiced drink that you can enjoy chilled or warm.
- Golden Milk Mix/Powder (Turmeric Latte Mix): preparing this spice mix takes just 5 minutes and 5 ingredients, cutting down on prep time for making golden lattes whenever the mood strikes. Mix up a large batch and enjoy it repeatedly without having to deal with every ingredient each time.
- Healthy Golden Frappuccino (Turmeric Milk): golden milk with a frosty twist! This golden Frappuccino is dairy-free and can easily be made sugar-free, paleo, and keto! A delicious way to get your turmeric fix during the warmer summer months.
- Mango lassi: adding a pinch of the powder to any mango flavored drink is a great way to reap the benefits without tasting it (and this creamy yogurt-based lassi is a great way to start the day). Add a pinch of freshly cracked pepper to further boost curcumin absorption.
- Easy Masala Chai (Indian Spiced Tea): while turmeric isn’t on the original ingredients list, it is a popular addition to this Indian spice tea packed with soothing, warming spices (And several health benefits).
- Ginger turmeric tea: follow the method for making ginger tea, adding 2-3 teaspoons of ground turmeric (fresh or dried) and, optionally, some orange zest.
You can also easily add a pinch to smoothies (¼ teaspoon max) along with a pinch of black pepper. I particularly like adding it to mango smoothies (like this mango smoothie bowl, raspberry and mango smoothie, or citrus mango smoothie), but you can “hide” it in almost any smoothie.
In Soups and Stews
It’s really simple to add turmeric powder into soups and stews for a hint of flavor (and color). It works particularly well within creamy soups (especially those that use coconut milk). I recommend adding 1/4-1/2 teaspoon for a subtle flavor.
- One-Pot Turmeric Ginger Pumpkin Soup: this one-pot immune-boosting pumpkin soup is not only super creamy and comforting but also dairy-free, gluten-free, and can be prepared on the stovetop or in an Instant Pot.
- Ginger Butternut Squash Soup with Coconut Milk (GF| Vegan): this butternut squash ginger soup hits the spot for an even simpler fall/winter soup. It’s creamy, flavorful, and nourishing. It’s also gluten-free, dairy-free, nut-free, whole30, and paleo!
- Simple Lebanese Lentil Soup (Vegan Lentil Soup): while not an ingredient in the recipe, lentils and turmeric pair wonderfully. I recommend adding ½ teaspoon for a subtle flavor and color boost in this healthy, wholesome vegan soup.
- Added to stock: you can also boost the flavor in your homemade vegetable stock (or chicken stock/bone broth) and stock cubes (bouillon) with a small amount of fresh or powdered turmeric.
- Chana Masala (curried chickpeas): while not technically a soup or stew, I think this saucy chickpea dish fits quite well within this category. Highly aromatic and perfect for serving with rice or naan.
Appetizers and Side Dishes
The “odds and ends” of turmeric recipes on my blog include several appetizers and sides. These include using it to color bread, tofu, or add to roasted cauliflower!
- Turmeric Rosemary No-Knead Focaccia Bread: more for color than flavor, this turmeric focaccia is a beautiful golden color while light, fluffy, and the perfect accompaniment for mopping up saucy dishes!
- Simple Turmeric Roasted Cauliflower Head: roast the cauliflower head whole or slice it into steaks first. Either way, this turmeric roasted cauliflower makes for a delicious plant-based, low-carb addition to tons of meals!
- Easy Vegan Tofu Scramble: for a high protein, dairy-free, gluten-free version of scrambled eggs, you can turn to tofu scramble (made an incredible golden yellow thanks to turmeric). Perfect for enjoying in wraps and over toast.
- Easy Vegetable Rice Pilaf (Yellow Turmeric Rice | Vegan): this vegetable rice pilaf (aka yellow turmeric rice) is packed with mixed vegetables and a combination of aromatics and spices for a truly flavorful (and colorful), versatile side dish!
I’ve also used turmeric to naturally color pickled quail’s eggs (though the health benefits for that are likely very minimal).
In Sweet Treats
While primarily used in savory recipes, you can also enjoy several sweet recipes with turmeric, including:
- Simple Turmeric Honey Paste (+ Uses): similar to the golden paste above, but with the addition of raw honey, this turmeric paste makes for a delicious addition to smoothies, tea, as a spread, and more!
- Turmeric Citrus Immune Boosting Tart: with a combination of orange juice, turmeric, coconut milk, and vanilla, this golden tart is creamy, mildly sweet, and an excellent way to boost your nutrient intake; even in dessert!
- Golden Turmeric Energy Balls (No-bake): these 6-ingredient, bite-sized, no-bake turmeric balls are packed with nutrients to nourish the body and give you an energy boost throughout the day.
- You could also add half a teaspoon or so to pancakes and waffles for a boost of color!
More Ways to Use Turmeric
Looking for more inspiration on how to use turmeric? Here are some other recipes using turmeric that you can enjoy!
- When seasoning, add a small pinch to sauteed or roasted veggies, especially potato dishes like roasted or smashed potatoes and wedges/fries.
- Add minced fresh turmeric to salad dressings (include a pinch of pepper to your salad, too) – whether it’s oil-based, a creamy tahini dressing, or yogurt-based, etc.
- Make turmeric rice by combining around 1.5 teaspoons of ground turmeric (or fresh) per one cup Jasmine rice (plus garlic, onion, and a bay leaf). Or use around ½ teaspoon added to the cooking water for subtle color.
- Add a pinch to egg dishes, including scrambled eggs, omelets, frittatas, and more!
- Mix 1/4-1/2 teaspoon into creamy sauces like mac and cheese and bechamel sauce (dairy or vegan).
- Add the powder to marinades and rubs for meat, fish, and plant-based proteins (like homemade tofu or tempeh)!
- A small pinch can be added to breakfast dishes like oatmeal, overnight oats, and chia pudding. The milk used in the recipes will add the fat so no need of a pinch of pepper.
And, of course, you can use it and tons of Indian recipes, including curry’s, dahls, and more!
For many, turmeric powder is the only widely available option and will be used no matter what. However, if you have access to fresh turmeric, I like to use the turmeric powder as a “spice” and the fresh as an ingredient (i.e., for turmeric tea, within juice and drink recipes, etc.)
Turmeric has an earthy/slightly grassy, slightly bitter, pungent, peppery flavor. However, when used as a spice, you often don’t use enough to impact the flavor too much, and it is actually fairly subtle.
Note that the fresh turmeric will have a more neutral flavor, as it isn’t as concentrated.
As a general rule, around a tablespoon of minced turmeric root will be about ½ teaspoon of turmeric powder.
I recommend consuming somewhere between 500 to 1000 MG per day (around 1/2-1 tablespoon of turmeric). It’s important to note that the spice contains only around 3% curcumin compared to extracts, which is concentrated to up to 95%.
This will differ from person to person; however, it will usually take 8 to 12 weeks to see the benefits.
Yes, but only in small amounts (i.e., around 1/8 teaspoon per 10lb weight of your dog). I’d also consult a vet if your dog is on any medication/has any health issues.
Turmeric isn’t hot, but it is slightly spicy and almost peppery way, with a warm, bitter flavor.
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If you try any of these turmeric recipes, I’d love to hear your thoughts and questions below. Also, feel free to tag me in your recipe recreations on Instagram @Alphafoodie!