Mother Earth Living

Be Smart When Cooking with Turmeric

By Cornelia Carlson, Ph.D.
July/August 2000
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The main medicinal components in turmeric are antioxidant molecules called curcuminoids. Although cooking will destroy these fragile molecules, our recipes are designed to retain the best of both the taste and health benefits of this spice.

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More than any other spice, turmeric marries health benefits to zesty taste. Numerous recent scientific studies—not to mention millennia of experience—suggest the breadth of turmeric’s therapeutic potential, while its flavoring potential is equally broad for adding clean, camphorous, and peppery notes to myriad ­savory dishes.

The most exciting research indicates that this brilliant yellow spice may inhibit several types of cancers. Other data show that it inhibits inflammation, ulcers, gallstones, and the growth of various microbes. It may also aid wound healing, muscle regeneration, and the cardiovascular system as well as modestly decrease total cholesterol while increasing HDL cholesterol.

The main medicinal components in turmeric are antioxidant molecules called curcuminoids. But cooking easily destroys these fragile molecules. The recipes below are designed to retain the best of both the taste and health benefits of this spice. Here are a few of many possible dishes in which turmeric gives a flavorful, health-promoting lift to already nutritious foods.

Recipes with Turmeric:

• Honey-Mustard Vinaigrette
• Barbecue Sauce
• Roasted Onions
• Green Beans with Turmeric Glaze
• Ras Al Hanout
• Spicy Tomato-Olive Soup
• Masoor Dahl
• Apricot-Rice Pilaf 

In the Kitchen

A fat-soluble molecule, curcumin constitutes roughly 1 to 6 percent of turmeric’s dry weight. Curcumin is extremely sensitive to light, moisture, and heat. Roughly 85 percent is destroyed when turmeric is boiled for 15 to 30 minutes. Furthermore, it degrades rapidly (within 30 minutes or so) at a neutral pH. The rate of destruction increases sharply as the pH increases (becomes more alkaline). In laboratory situations, some proteins stabilize curcumin. Whether the same happens in the kitchen with proteins such as the albumin in milk has yet to be determined.

Protect it from the elements. Store turmeric in a dark, cool place, away from light. A foil-wrapped, tightly capped bottle stored in the refrigerator is ideal.

Minimize heat exposure. In cooking, add the spice when you’ve finished heating the dish.

Stabilize it with acids. Whenever possible, use turmeric in acid-containing recipes such as salad dressings and tomato-based dishes. Or add a little vinegar or lemon juice to stews or vegetables, just enough to lend a faint, pleasing tartness that will stabilize the curcumin as well.

Marinate. If you barbecue meat, there’s another way turmeric inhibits cancer potential. A recent study conducted at the Cancer Research Center of Hawaii indicates that steaks soaked in a turmeric-garlic marinade prior to grilling had lower levels of two potent carcinogens.

Turmeric’s Health Benefits

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), belongs to the ginger family and is a rhizome native to the tropics of Southeast Asia, where its medicinal use dates back at least 3,000 years.

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