We call it: this winter it's all about the turmeric. Of course, it's been a dietary mainstay in many Eastern diets for thousand of years, but in the current trend-driven western culinary scene, we're seeing it used deliciously in a vegan milkshake at Localie, in a health tonic inspired by a hot toddy at L.A.'s Sqirl, and in a hot latte at Cafe Gratitude. A main ingredient in Indian curries, turmeric adds a mild bitter flavor heat as well as a beautiful orange/yellow color to whatever it's cooked with. It also has extensive health benefits which again, Eastern medicine has been taking full advantage of since 500 BC.
Turmeric is a cousin to ginger, and is not found in the wild. Historians believe it was domesticated in South East Asia mainly for its color to dye clothing, jewelry, and food, and only later began to be used as a spice. Because its bright color is associated with the sun in Hindu mythology, it has been incorporated into many parts of their culture: it is rubbed on a newborn's forehead for good luck, brides rub it on their bodies, and the bright red dot worn by Hindu women was traditionally made by mixing turmeric and lime juice (though in our modern times, it is more often a sticker.)
Turmeric was also used heavily in medicine, and is frequently mentioned in Sanskrit medical texts. It was used to treat food poisoning, colds, bronchitis, bladder and kidney infections, and skin ailments. As more research has been done in our modern scientific era, it is looking like Ayurvedic medicine had it right, and turmeric may be just as beneficial as they thought.
Recent studies show:
- that curcumin (the compound found in turmeric) delays liver damage that eventually leads to cirrhosis
- that adding turmeric to barbecued meats lowers their carcinogenic compounds by up to 40%,
- that curcumin inhibits the growth of skin cancer, melanoma, and breast cancer,
- that a pretreatment of curcumin made radiation and chemo more effective
- and, Scientists think that one of the reasons that India has such a low rate of Alzheimer's (less than a quarter of the U.S. rate!) is because of the turmeric in the curries they eat daily.
So, the next time you see turmeric on the menu (and you most certainly will), place your order for aesthetically pleasing, and excellent health results.