Kitchen celebrity

Turmeric has gone from humble spice to health powerhouse writes Meera Murugesan

IT’S a simple unassuming ingredient in the Indian kitchen but one that’s now taking the world by storm.

You would be hard pressed to find an Indian home without turmeric as this gloriously yellow powder is used in everything, from religious rituals to tasty curries.

Turmeric which has also been used for centuries as a healing ingredient is now having its medicinal and disease fighting properties well documented, leading to its new status as a superfood and wonder spice.

There are said to be over 10,000 peer-reviewed articles published on the benefits of turmeric and the Western world has fallen madly in love with this Asian spice. Besides turmeric capsules this potent yellow powder is being consumed as teas, lattes and smoothies and even sprinkled over salads.

In Ayurveda, the ancient Indian art of healing which believes that food is medicine, turmeric is not only widely used in consumption but also utilised as a paste, often in combination with other herbs and applied onto the body to treat wounds, skin ailments and other health problems. Traditionally, turmeric paste was even used on farm animals or household pets with wounds or skin ailments.

Turmeric is known to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties making it a safe and widely used medicine.

This humble kitchen ingredient comes from a plant which is a member of the ginger family and its “star” quality comes from its active ingredient – curcumin which has a host of health benefits.

So, the next time you sprinkle some turmeric into your cooking, remember that you’re not just adding flavour to your meal but giving your health a definite boost.

Here are some of the documented benefits of this unassuming kitchen ingredient:


This is perhaps one of the most researched and documented benefits of turmeric. Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric is believed to have very potent anti-inflammatory and pain relieving properties.

It’s anti-inflammatory ability is what offers relief for those suffering from arthritis. In fact, studies have shown that curcumin is so potent that it can match the abilities of certain anti-inflammatory drugs without the side effects that generally come with treatment.

A 2010 clinical trial conducted on a popular turmeric supplement found that it can provide long-term improvement in pain and function in patients with osteoarthritis of the knee while a study published in the journal Oncogene which evaluated several different anti-inflammatory compounds, notes that turmeric is among the most effective solutions available for anti-inflammation.

Another study in which participants took turmeric in capsule form daily, notes that it is as effective as conventional pain relief medication commonly used by patients with arthritis of the knee.

Turmeric with its active ingredient curcumin can offer relief to those suffering from arthritis of the knee. Picture: Designed by Freepik.


Apply turmeric paste onto problematic skin and you can be assured of some relief due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

Turmeric has been used for centuries in India as a beautifying paste for the skin, to clear acne, blemishes and treat other skin conditions and its ability to speed up wound healing has also been well documented. Turmeric has antimicrobial properties so it can stop the growth of bacteria and aid in wound healing.

One pilot study which involved 814 participants even suggests that turmeric paste can help clear up scabies within 3-15 days.

Indian women have been using turmeric paste to add a lustrous glow to their skin for ages and it’s a standard pre-wedding ritual for Indian brides to have turmeric applied onto their bodies.

Turmeric has a host of health benefits. Picture by Amir A – @guywithprints


In some studies, curcumin has shown potential as a treatment for managing or reducing the symptoms of depression.

One study which looked at the antidepressant effects of curcumin was published in Oct 2014 in the Journal of Affective Disorders. It shows that curcumin does in fact have a positive impact on patients with atypical depression.

Given that curcumin has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, it has a role to play in managing depression since people with depression tend to have greater inflammation and oxidative stress, both of which affect all major organs in the body including the brain.

The journal Phytotherapy Research also published a study in 2014 which made a comparison between patients treated with curcumin and a conventional antidepressant and a combination of the two in managing depression. The results indicate that curcumin is just as effective as conventional medication by the six week mark.


Curcumin is said to be able to increase levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).

This is a growth hormone that functions in the brain and decreased levels of it has been linked to diseases like Alzheimer’s.

Curcumin may therefore play a role in delaying brain related diseases or age-related decline in brain function and even help improve memory.

In fact, curcumin through regular use of turmeric in cooking is believed to be one of the reasons why senior citizens in India have a lower prevalence of Alzheimer’s compared to other countries.

Researchers have noted that there is a significantly lower rate of Alzheimer’s amongst Asian populations that have a diet high in turmeric. This does not mean however that turmeric prevents Alzheimer’s but it may offer potential for research into development of treatments for the disease.

Turmeric has become famous for its health and disease fighting properties.Picture: Designed by Jigsawstocker / Freepik.


Some studies have suggested that curcumin may have the ability to prevent clogged arteries which lead to heart attack and stroke.

Curcumin is generally believed to offer benefits for the heart in various ways.

One study published in Cardiology in the Young in 2016 states that curcumin supplementation can reduce ischemic injury and inflammation in patients who have undergone heart surgery.

A study published in the International Journal of Cardiology in 2009 also suggests that curcumin may help prevent cardiac arrhythmia, which is an abnormal rhythm of the heart.


One important function of turmeric is its ability to help the body detoxify. Consumption of turmeric and its active compound curcumin is said to be able to assist the liver to detoxify and clear dangerous carcinogens from the body.

Some studies have even shown that curcumin can protect against liver damage and that it may be beneficial in helping patients with certain liver conditions including non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD).


TURMERIC is a powerhouse of nutrients. Just one tablespoon of turmeric powder contains:

26 per cent of daily manganese needs.

16 per cent of daily iron

5 per cent of daily potassium

3 per cent of daily Vitamin C

Source: United States Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) National Nutrient Database.

Turmeric is a commonly used spice in the Indian kitchen. Designed by / Freepik.


Turmeric Detox Drink

One cup or glass of warm water

Juice of half a lemon

One tablespoon honey

One tablespoon apple cider vinegar

Half (or quarter) teaspoon turmeric

Pinch of black pepper

*Mix well and consume in the morning for best results. Black pepper is said to help improve the body’s absorption of curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric.

Turmeric Milk

( a home remedy for a cough and cold)

Half teaspoon turmeric powder

A glass of milk

A pinch of grated ginger or half a teaspoon powdered ginger

A tiny pinch of ground black pepper

Half teaspoon cinnamon powder

Sugar to taste

Mix all ingredients in a small saucepan or pot and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer until mixture is fragrant and flavourful. Strain and consume.

*Most households have their own recipe for this nourishing drink. Saffron and cardamom or honey may be included in some recipes and the quantity of the ingredients used varies according to the user’s taste.

Turmeric milk is a nourishing drink.Picture by Amir A -@guywithprints

Turmeric Face Mask

(to clear blemishes and improve skin tone)

Two tablespoons gram/chickpea flour

Half teaspoon turmeric powder

Milk to make the mixture into a thick paste

Apply the paste on the face and leave for 15-20 minutes. Wash off and repeat regularly for best results.

*Some people add almond oil to this mixture and others include honey. Milk can also be substituted with yoghurt to make the paste, depending on one’s skin type and preference.

Turmeric paste is used in Indian households to improve and beautify skin. Picture: Designed by Freepic.diller / Freepik.


THERE is no specific recommended daily intake of turmeric as consumption generally depends on the condition that needs to be treated.

However, most research on adults seems to support the message that what’s safe is 400 to 600 milligrams (mg) of pure turmeric powder three times daily, or 1 to 3 grams (g) daily of grated or dried turmeric root.

While turmeric supplements may be the choice of some people as high quality pills may contain up to 95 per cent curcuminoids, others prefer to keep it simple and include turmeric in their diet in a natural way.

Here are some easy ways to add this potent superfood into your daily diet:

*Sprinkle turmeric powder onto fresh eggs, whisk well and scramble for breakfast.

*Put a pinch into curries or stews. It adds colour and flavour in a natural way.

*Use turmeric as a marinade for fish, meat and poultry before grilling, baking or frying.

*Make a dressing for salads using turmeric, oil and vinegar.

Turmeric can be used as a marinade for chicken or meat. Picture: Designed by Freepik.


Despite being a natural substance, some people may experience negative reactions when consuming turmeric especially in high doses.

Some of the potential side effects include diarrhea and nausea as digestion can get affected if doses are high.

Patients who are on blood thinning drugs are also generally told to avoid consuming large amounts of turmeric and some studies have indicated it may lead to increased menstrual flow and cause uterine contractions in pregnant women.

However, small amounts of turmeric included in meal preparations generally do not cause such problems.

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