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What You Should Know: Spices can hail from many different parts of a plant, including the dried seeds (cumin), buds (cloves), fruit (peppercorns), bark (cinnamon) and roots. That latter brings us to turmeric, which is the rhizome of a tropical plant native to India and Southeast Asia. When the turmeric root is dried and finely ground it produces the yellow powder that you see in the supermarket spice aisle. Turmeric is also a main spice in various curry powder mixtures. And the latest research suggests that when it comes to fortifying your health, yellow means full steam ahead.
Why You Should Try It: Turmeric gleans most of its healing superpowers from the phytochemical curcumin, the same yellow pigment that stains your Tupperware. In research circles, curcumin is best known for its knack at quelling the low-grade inflammation in the body that many medical professionals now consider the hallmark of chronic ailments including heart disease, memory loss, arthritis and diabetes. The natural anti-inflammatory action of turmeric may also help waylay post-workout muscle soreness allowing you get back on the gym floor quicker.
A study published in the journal Nutrition Research found that another way in which curcumin can keep your ticker in tip-top shape is by increasing the dilation of blood vessels thereby allowing more blood flow to the heart much the same way that regular bouts of aerobic exercise does. Curcumin’s anti-aging prowess also extends to its ability to kill off cancerous cells and improve brain functioning to keep you as sharp as a whip.
Spooning up bowlfuls of curry more often may also help you whittle the middle by halting the expansion of those pesky fat cells that can cover up your six-pack.
And here’s more news that should put a smile on your face: The benevolent spice has been shown to positively influence brain chemicals like dopamine involved in boosting mood. Don’t forget that spices like turmeric are also a great way of bumping up calorie-free flavor in various dishes, while simultaneously allowing you to reduce the need for extra salt, sugar and fat.
What to Look For: Whole, dried turmeric is very hard to grind at home. For this reason, it is almost always sold already ground into powder form. It is best to purchase turmeric in a quantity you will use up in a couple of months, since beyond this time frame it begins to lose some of its aromatic flavor. You’ll likely find that dedicated spices stores and online sources sell the highest quality turmeric offering the best flavor. You may also come across fresh turmeric, slices of which are often used in detox smoothie and juicing recipes.
How to Use It: Astringent turmeric is a kitchen staple in India, a foundation in just about every dish from curry to dal that crosses the table. But you can use it to brighten up a wide range of everyday dishes. Sprinkle turmeric on cauliflower florets before roasting, blend into dips like hummus, stir into scrambled eggs and tuna salad, and use the yellow powder in shrimp stir-fry’s and lentil soups. For a protein-packed snack, simmer frozen shelled edamame until tender and then season with turmeric and a pinch of salt. For a healing drink, heat almond milk in a saucepan until warm to the touch and then stir in 1/2 teaspoon each turmeric and cinnamon, 1/4 teaspoon ginger powder and honey to taste.