Spices for Health: Turmeric


The herbs and spices we use to flavor our foods can have powerful health benefits. One of the most potent spices we have in our kitchen is turmeric. Turmeric is a bright yellow spice commonly found in curry powder (typically a mixture of coriander, cumin, fennel, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, turmeric, red chili, and ginger - although this can vary). Turmeric is also used in some foods as a natural coloring agent (such as yellow mustard).

Turmeric has a very long history of medicinal use, dating back over 4000 years! Turmeric is also one of the most studied spices of our time. Curcumin is the most studied component of turmeric.

According to research, curcumin:

  • Is an extremely effective anti-inflammatory and a strong inhibitor of the master switch of inflammation in our body. This master switch can activate almost all other inflammatory genes in the cell. Therefore, inhibiting this is a very effective way to reduce the inflammatory process.
  • Helps lower systemic inflamation which is seen in those with excessive weight, diabetes, heart disease, arthritis and many other conditions.
  • Enhances our body's natural detoxification process.
  • Acts as a potent antioxidant.
  • Helps reduce arthritis pain and indigestion.
  • May help prevent cancer and diabetes.
  • May be protective against Alzheimer's disease.

Curcumin has also been shown to have antiviral, antibacterial, and antifungal properties and is used topically for infections.

For more information on turmeric, check out the video below.

Note: Some research shows that the absorption of turmeric and curcumin is enhanced with a compound found in black pepper. Most traditional recipes that use turmeric also contain black pepper (like curry powder).

Want to reap the benefits of turmeric? Give these recipes a try!

Click here for a printer-friendly version of these recipes.

Grilled Turmeric Chicken
Makes 4 servings
Recipe Adapted from: SeriousEats.com

This is hands-down one of the best chicken recipes I’ve ever eaten! Fish sauce and Oyster sauce can be found in the "ethnic food" aisle in most grocery stores.

For best results, use chicken thighs. Breast meat can be substituted, but the dish may be drier.


2 Tablespoons finely-chopped cilantro
2 teaspoons whole white peppercorns
2 teaspoons whole coriander seeds (or 1 teaspoon ground coriander)
4 large cloves garlic, peeled
2 1/2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 Tablespoon fish sauce
2 Tablespoons oyster sauce
1 Tablespoon ground turmeric
2 Tablespoons light or dark brown sugar


  1. Combine cilantro, white pepper, coriander, and garlic in a mortar and pestle and pound into a fine paste. Alternatively, combine in a small food processer and process until a fine paste is formed.
  2. Cut the chicken into 1-inch cubes. Transfer to a large mixing bowl along with fish sauce, oyster sauce, ground turmeric, brown sugar, and the prepared paste. Mix everything together well, cover, and refrigerate for 2 hours.
  3. Thread the chicken pieces onto bamboo skewers, pushing them tightly against each other to form a tight, compact body of meat on the skewers.
  4. Grill the chicken, turning occasionally, until thoroughly cooked through and slightly charred, about 8 minutes total. Remove the chicken from the grill and serve.

*You can also cook the chicken on a grill pan or without skewers in a large skillet.

Nutrition Informaiton per Serving: 250 calories, 8g fat (2g saturated), 180mg cholesterol, 570mg sodium, 6g carbohydrates, 1 gram fiber, 4g sugar, 37 grams protein

Curried Cauliflower Soup
Makes 6 servings
Recipe from VegetarianTimes.com

This soup's secret ingredient, an apple, lends a touch of tangy sweetness that complements the curry’s spice. Letting the soup cool 20 minutes before blending helps deepen the flavors, and like most soups, it’s even better the next day!


2 Tablespoons olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium tart apple, such as Granny Smith, peeled, cored, and coarsely chopped
1 Tablespoon curry powder
1 clove garlic, sliced
1 large head cauliflower, chopped into 1-inch pieces
4 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
1 teaspoon honey
1 teaspoon rice wine vinegar


1. Heat oil in large pot over medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté 5 to 7 minutes, or until soft and golden. Stir in apple, curry powder, and garlic, and cook 2 minutes more, or until curry powder turns deep yellow.

2. Add cauliflower and vegetable broth and bring to a simmer. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer 20 minutes.

3. Cool 20 minutes, then blend in food processor or blender until smooth. Stir in honey and vinegar, and season with salt, if desired.

Nutrition Information per Serving: Calories 104, Protein 2 g, Total Fat 5 g, Saturated Fat 0.5 g, Carbohydrates 14 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 304 mg, Fiber 4 g, Sugar 8 g

Turmeric Tea
Makes about 8 cups
Recipe from 101Cookbooks.com

This is a quick and easy way to get the benefits of turmeric.



1/3 cup raw local honey
2 1/2 teaspoons dried turmeric
lots of freshly ground black pepper


  1. Work the turmeric into the honey until it forms a paste. You can keep this on hand, in a jar, for whenever you'd like a cup.
  2. For each cup of tea, place a heaping teaspoon of the turmeric paste in the bottom of a mug. Pour hot (but not boiling) water into the mug, and stir well to dissolve the turmeric paste.
  3. Add a big squeeze of juice from a lemon and a good amount of black pepper.
  4. Enjoy! Stir often as you drink so all the good stuff doesn't settle to the bottom, or top.

Nutrition Information per Serving: 50 calories, 0g fat, 0mg cholesterol, 0mg sodium, 14g carbohydrates, 12g sugar



About Author

Kelly LeSage, MS, RDN, LDN


Kelly is a Nutritionist at the HCC at SAS Institute Inc. in Cary NC. She received her Bachelor of Science degree in Exercise Science from Arizona State University and her Master of Science degree in Nutrition from Bastyr University. She is a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. Her areas of expertise include functional nutrition, health and wellness education, prenatal nutrition, food allergies and intolerances and culinary nutrition. Follow @klesageRD on Twitter.

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