Turmeric powder has long been a spice in Indian cooking and self-care. Turmeric is an essential ingredient that dates back to the Ayurvedic uses over 3000 BCE. Turmeric powder is added to all sorts of dishes to enhance the flavor and acts as an amazing antioxidant.
It is also used topically for a variety of reasons which we will discuss below. There are also increasing studies in modern science of this star ingredient.
Most studies are uncovering the powerful benefits that we can derive from turmeric.
What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is a rhizome or a underground stem that comes from the ginger family. While the general consensus would consider turmeric a root, it is a root vegetable similar to other root vegetables grown underground, like carrots.
Visually, the turmeric root looks very similar to the ginger root. Turmeric has a gold-orange hue which gives it its rich color. This rich color is a characteristic derived from the polyphenols in the active agent of turmeric – the curcuminoids.
Turmeric is used in Indian cooking, as a anti-inflammatory agent, a mala stambana (topical blood clotting agent), as a skin enhancing product, and as a powerful antioxidant. We will discuss these benefits and more below.
What is Turmeric Curcumin?
Curcumin is the active compound of the turmeric root. Curcumin has powerful polyphenols called curcuminoids that have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. This is where most of the benefits of turmeric come from.
Is Turmeric the Same as Ginger?
Kind of. They both come from the ginger family but they have different properties, tastes, and uses. While ginger has a spicy but sweet taste, turmeric has a pungent, bitter, and earthy taste. Turmeric is generally not eaten the same way ginger is. Turmeric is usually dried and ground down and used sparingly, while ginger can be eaten raw or cooked and is commonly used in its fresh form.
Benefits of Turmeric Powder
There are many benefits to using turmeric powder (curcumin). Most of these benefits come from the active properties that exist within turmeric powder. We will list some of the benefits of turmeric powder below, but to better understand this, these are some of the therapeutic effects of using turmeric as detailed by an NIH study:
- Powerful antioxidant
- Protective cardiovascular effects
- Antiplatelet aggression
- Gastric effects
To break it down further, here are the major benefits of turmeric powder:
1. Turmeric is Anti-inflammatory
Turmeric can be used in fighting chronic inflammation in the body. While there is a need for acute inflammation in the body to fight off foreign objects that attack the body, inflammation if chronic, is a source of disease. Regular use of turmeric in your food is one way to assist (but not solve) inflammation in the body.
2. Turmeric is a Strong Antioxidant
The curcumin in turmeric is a powerful antioxidant that can help disarm the free radicals that cause oxidative damage in the body. Use in food or in turmeric milk (recipe below).
3. Curcumin Can Assist in Cardiovascular Diseases
Curcumin is said to help in heart diseases, especially in normalizing the blood vessels of the heart’s endothelium. This then helps regulate blood pressure, clotting, and other healing functions. Using turmeric in food or in turmeric milk is a good way to keep your heart in check.
4. Wound Healing Properties
Turmeric has been known in Ayurveda, to be astringent herb that acts as a wound healer. Curcumin is an antimicrobial agent that acts to reduce the effects and replication of fungi, bacteria and viruses. Add directly or as a paste to the wound for quick healing.
5. Turmeric as a Topical Blood Clotting Agent
Ayurveda considers astringent herbs such as turmeric to be a rakta stambhana or a hemostat. This means they have a constricting and binding action on the blood (stimulates platelet coagulation) and in turn assist with clotting at the skin, tissue, and membrane levels. This in turn prevents loss of blood from the body. In action, taking a heap of organic turmeric powder and adding it directly on top of a skin scrape or open wound, can speed up the clotting and healing process.
6. Topical Use of Turmeric Powder for Acne
Since turmeric has anti-inflammatory and anti-microbial properties, it is a great product to use on acne. Take a little bit of powder and water, and make a paste. Use the paste on top of the acne after washing your face.
Leave for 20 minutes and wash your face again. Note: due to the potent color of turmeric, this will leave a yellow tone on your acne. Make sure to wash off a few times or when you don’t need to leave your home.
7. The Role of Turmeric in Cancer
While there are increasing studies of the role of turmeric (or curcumin) reducing the effects or growth of cancerous cells, these studies should be taken with a pinch of salt.
Read more about the case study done by the NIH, here.
8. Turmeric as a Skin Brightening Agent
Many Indian household have used turmeric as part of their skin care regimen. Applying a pinch of turmeric to your home-made face masks provides increasing brightening effects on your skin over time. As with anything, consistency of use over time is necessary.
Take a look at these home-made face masks that incorporate turmeric as an anti-microbial and skin whitening agent.
There you have it. These are the larger benefits to using turmeric for overall heath. Of course, consult your doctor before use for any possible side effects.
How to Use Turmeric in Cooking?
While it is common to use turmeric in Indian cooking, it does not seem to be used a lot elsewhere. Modern use of turmeric seems to use it in smoothies or teas or sprinkled on top of food.
Unfortunately, that type of use does not cause your body to absorb the nutrients from it. If you research Indian curries, most of them will use it with oil and other spices like black pepper. It is left to “cook” before it is consumed as part of a larger dish/curry/recipe.
This is because the curcumin in turmeric needs some fat and spice (commonly ginger or black pepper) to aid in absorption.
Easy Turmeric Golden Milk Recipe
An easy recipe to use turmeric is to make a turmeric milk or commonly known in Hindi as haldi-dood. The modern term for this is golden milk. You can find many chef and food bloggers who have variations of the recipe.
As a quick recipe – take a glass of milk (full fat or skim) and add a ¼ teaspoon of turmeric + ¼ teaspoon of black pepper. Bring to a boil. Remove and consume while warm.
Precautions While Using Turmeric
- Always do a patch test to avoid rashes & allergies before applying turmeric on your face
- Check with your doctor if using turmeric internally and topically is suitable for you
- Turmeric will NEVER get out of your clothes haha. So make sure you are wearing clothes you don’t care too much about while using turmeric topically
- Avoid turmeric if you are pregnant or breastfeeding; consult your doctor first
There are many benefits to using turmeric both internally through food and topically. It is just a matter of find the best organic turmeric powder or root-stem and incorporating that into your lifestyle.
Turmeric can be found at your local grocer or at Indian/Asian food stores.
How are you going to incorporate turmeric into your life?
Disclaimer: Please speak to your health care professional before incorporating anything here into your healthcare regimen.