How to use turmeric
Turmeric: what it is and how to use it
Turmeric is an ingredient that is always appearing in recipes and on blog posts these days and is hailed as a miracle spice, renowned for it’s health properties. Although it may sound like a great idea to include turmeric within your diet, there are two main issues that we often get asked about how to use turmeric…
- Why is turmeric so good for me/why should I adjust my eating to include turmeric?
- How do I include turmeric within my diet?
When you research this ingredient, you often get lots of hits coming back, showing you articles consisting of pages and pages of scientific research. Although this may be interesting to read, it doesn’t always help you to understand how to actually incorporate turmeric into your diet in ways that are sustainable.
So, as a person who uses turmeric on a regular basis (and has done so all my life in cooking our traditional North Indian food), I’m going to tell you how and why Punjabis use turmeric on a daily basis, and how you too can reap the benefits of this amazing spice.
How to use turmeric’s Health properties
If you have read any previous information about turmeric, you will have seen the word ‘curcumin’ mentioned several times. Curcumin is a compound within turmeric, that is responsible for giving it many of it’s health properties. A typical turmeric root contains between 2 – 5% curcumin.
Curcumin is believed to help with many ailments. Many studies have been conducted into the health benefits of curcumin, with results showing that it is…
- An anti-inflammatory: Studies have found that this compound reduces inflammation in the body, whether ingested or applied topically. Many patients have claimed that their symptoms (from inflammation-based diseases such as arthritis), have improved once incorporating turmeric or the curcumin compound into their healthcare
- Anti-carcinogenic: Research has been conducted into the curcumin’s ability to block free radicals and help reduce the development of cancer cells
- Brain health: Due to it’s anti-inflammatory properties, studies have shown that curcumin may help with conditions of the brain that are associated with inflammation, such as Alzheimer’s.
- Digestive health: studies have been conducted on both the effects of turmeric and curcumin on digestive health. One study showed that patients who suffered with IBS saw an improvement in their symptoms when taking turmeric on a daily basis. A separate study looked into the effects of curcumin on colitis. The results concluded that curcumin may help patients improve colonic damage.
Please click here for further information on studies conducted into the health benefits of curcumin.
Different forms of turmeric
Turmeric is available in 2 forms: as a fresh root (as seen here), or as a powder.
The powder is made from the root, which is dried and then crushed into a powder. Turmeric powder keeps for several years.
The root is fresh, so like any fresh item, it will keep for a week or two. There are 30 varieties that are most commonly cultivated. The most common variety which is available in shops is yellow turmeric (this variety is called ‘erode’).
You may be wondering which form of turmeric is best to buy? My advice would be that using either type would be better than not using turmeric at all, it will just depend on what you can at your local shops. The powdered form is far more readily available than the root.
If you have a supermarket or grocer’s near you that sells the fresh turmeric root, buy a small amount. When you get home, remove the skin, and finely mince the turmeric root. Once you’ve done that, divide it into teaspoon portions, and freeze them. Then you can take a teaspoon’s portion out of the freezer the night before you want it, and you’ll always have a supply of fresh turmeric without any unnecessary waste.
Turmeric and its uses
How to use turmeric in your food
Turmeric is often used in Indian food to colour dishes. It is often used as a cheaper alternative to saffron in many dishes. In larger quantities it can taste bitter, so if you are using a lot of turmeric, just be aware of that.
Here are the top 3 ways Punjabis use turmeric in their food:
- To colour rice. Simply add a pinch of turmeric powder to rice before bringing it to the boil and each grain will be a beautiful yellow colour once cooked.
- To make a Golden Spiced Latte (known as ‘haldi doodh’ in Punjabi, which literally means ‘turmeric milk’). Haldi doodh is a traditionally remedy for clearing a cough. See our recipe below, telling you, step-by-step, how to make a Golden Spiced Latte.
- To make vegetarian ‘meatballs’ (which we simply call ‘kofte’ in Punjabi). When you combine turmeric with garam flour, and an Indian marrow called ‘bud’, the texture becomes incredibly meat-like, meaning that even the most ‘hardcore’ meat eaters would never know that they are eating plant-based food.
Haldi Doodh recipe (Golden Spiced Latte)
- 500ml whole milk (or dairy-free milk if lactose intolerant or vegan)
- 1 1/2 teaspoons turmeric powder (or 2 teaspoons freshly grated turmeric root)
- 2 cloves
- 1 stick of cassia (this is the bark of the cinnamon tree, you can also use a cinnamon stick if you can’t get hold of cassia)
- 2 heaped tablespoons goor / jaggery* (Alternatively, just use whatever sugar you have at home)
- A pinch of ground green cardamon
*Goor (which is called jaggery in English) is an unrefined sugar, which is almost like honey in smell and taste. So it’s perfect for vegans who would like to use something that tastes similar to honey. You can get this from Indian supermarkets.
- Put the milk, turmeric, and cloves into a heavy based pan. Gently bring the mixture to the boil, making sure that you stir the milk throughout, so that it doesn’t burn.
- Once the milk has come to the boil, turn the heat down to the lowest setting, and add the jaggery/sugar. Allow to simmer for 2 -3 minutes. Continue to gently stir the milk mixture as it simmers, again, so that it doesn’t catch on the base of the pan.
- Add a pinch of ground green cardamom, stir and simmer for another minute.
- Strain the mixture through a sieve, and serve hot.
I already touched on one medicinal use turmeric, with ‘haldi doodh’ (Golden Spiced Latte), which Punjabis take to clear a cough. However, there are a few other ways in which we use turmeric…
- As an antiseptic rub for the skin: When a man or woman’s head is shaved in India, the skin on their head is covered in a turmeric paste. This paste immediately cools the skin and is left on till is has completely dried. It then cracks and falls off. This paste stops the hair follicles from becoming infected, as well as protecting the newly exposed skin from the harsh heat of the sun. This paste also makes for a great natural sunburn remedy. Mix turmeric and cold water together and press it onto sun burnt skin. I have used this myself when I’ve had a combination of minor sun burn and wind burn, and trust me when I tell you how soothing this cold paste is when you put it on your skin. It also doesn’t really seem to lose it’s cold feel, so you can leave it on for a little while and you will still feel the cooling effect. Just remember that turmeric stains badly, so wear old clothing and don’t rub up against any fabrics or walls.
- A natural acne remedy: Due to it’s anti-bactierial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, many people make a natural acne face mask by mixing a couple of tablespoons of yogurt with a heaped teaspoon of turmeric and rubbing the mixture onto the affected area. Leave it on your skin for 20 – 30 minutes and then rinse off with lukewarm water.
- A natural toothpaste: Due to it’s anti-bactierial, anti-inflammatory and anti-fungal properties, many natural toothpastes contain turmeric. Like activated charcoal, it also helps to naturally whiten your teeth. If you want to try your own turmeric teeth whitening, check out @farahdhukai ‘s Instagram video on her natural turmeric teeth whitening method by clicking on the image below…
In Indian culture, turmeric is believed to make your skin ‘glow’. It is believed to such an extent that there is a ceremony that is done before Sikh weddings that specifically involves a beautifying turmeric paste.
The day before the wedding, the bride and groom take part in a ceremony (each with their respective families) which is called a ‘maiyan’ ceremony (prounced ‘mya’). During the ceremony the bride and groom are pampered by having a paste rubbed on their skin, which is made from turmeric. Every person present at the ceremony (which is usually a mixture of family and close friends), take turns in rubbing the paste onto the bride or groom’s skin. It is believed that the turmeric paste will make the bride/groom glow with beauty on their wedding day.