The little spice that could… from combatting chronic inflammation to boosting memory to fighting depression and beyond…
Last week I celebrated the advent of what I lovingly refer to as hot drink season with a steaming cup of one of my favorites, the golden latte. (Side note, you guys! I actually found a cafe in Brooklyn that serves golden lattes! Goodbye paycheck.) As I sipped, my mind was suddenly flooded with thoughts. Thoughts such as “man, this is good,” and “summer? What’s summer?”and, most notably, “I forgot how awesome turmeric is! … How could I have forgotten how awesome turmeric is?!” I realized that what was once a staple of my routine had gone rogue in recent months. Truth be told, my world has been one crazy roller coaster lately, and in the whirlwind of it all, I forgot how to take care of myself. The wellness practices, healthy eating and self-care that are typically part of my routine were suddenly second fiddle to early mornings, late nights, and the frenzy that comes with moving (never fun). But with a new season comes new resolutions and, after downing that latte faster than I probably should have, I made a beeline to the nearest grocery store and picked up a fresh piece of turmeric. And this is the perfect time of year for you to do the same!
A natural addition to any autumn health reboot, turmeric is the little spice that could. From chronic inflammation to boosting memory to fighting depression and beyond, this rhizomatic root (say that 10 times fast) does it all, all while tasting fantastic. Read on to learn why turmeric deserves a place in your diet, and be sure to scroll down for an energizing morning recipe that will get you moving on these darkening autumn days.
What is it? You may have spotted fresh turmeric before at the market and not even realized it. Similar to ginger in that it’s also a rhizome (a subterranean stalk often consisting of several nodes) with a dry, scaly flesh, the fresh turmeric available in stores often looks like a yellowish mini ginger root or an especially large caterpillar (fun!). It can also be found dried in the spice aisle. Native to southern Asia, turmeric is a staple in Indian cuisine and commonly used in Ayurvedic practices to treat digestion, infections, colds, wounds and many, many other ailments. Considered to be holy in India, turmeric is also widely used in spiritual practices.
What are the benefits? A far better question would be, what doesn’t turmeric benefit? This is one spice we should all be consuming more of. The main beneficial compound in turmeric is curcumin. This little wonder not only provides a dizzying dose of antioxidants all on its own, but actually makes the antioxidants already present in your body work harder. It’s like a pep rally for your cells. Curcumin is also a natural anti-inflammatory (it’s even been compared to some over the counter drugs), helping to ease chronic inflammation of the body at the molecular level. When paired with black pepper, which contains piperine, the curcumin in turmeric is activated, making it more bioavailable for your body to absorb. On top of its ultra-healing powers, the curcumin in turmeric has been shown to boost brain activity, stave off Alzheimer’s, and even help with depression.
How do I use it? Don’t let the price per pound of fresh turmeric fool you — the piece you see here was only about 20 cents, and a little goes a very long way. Fresh turmeric lends itself well to smoothies, juices and sauces, while the powdered turmeric you’ll find in the spice aisle will blend beautifully into soups, savory dishes, turmeric paste, and most other applications.
As we discussed above, this spice is most beneficial and potent when combined with black pepper, which activates the curcumin in the turmeric, making it more bioavailable for your body to absorb. Whenever possible, be sure to add a pinch of black pepper to any recipe involving turmeric (you’ll be pleasantly surprised by how good black pepper tastes in turmeric tea and smoothies).
One of my favorite ways to use turmeric in the fall is creating a paste out of it to use in turmeric lattes (check out my recipe here). Turmeric blends easily into tropical smoothies (try it with a little ginger, pineapple and mango — yum!), savory dishes, sauces and soups, and beauty treatments (like this bath). A far more versatile spice than you might expect, turmeric is worth experimenting with. Just be sure to protect your clothing and any porous surfaces because turmeric also makes a gorgeous marigold-colored dye.
Turmeric Ginger Morning Elixir Concentrate
1 small piece fresh turmeric (about an inch and-a-half), washed with outer skin scraped off
1 medium piece fresh ginger (about two inches), washed with outer skin scraped off
2 lemons, peeled with seeds removed
Pinch of black pepper
Run the turmeric, ginger and lemons through your juicer (in that order) and catch juice in a measuring glass. Add a pinch of black pepper to the glass and stir. This liquid may be stored in an airtight container for up to two days, or decanted into an ice cube tray and frozen for extended use (recommended, a little goes a long way).
To Use: In the morning, place a tablespoon of elixir concentrate or 1 frozen cube in a glass and top off with warm water. Allow to melt and/or mix and drink. Enjoy!
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