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Turmeric Is a Superfood Spice—Here's What It Is and Why You Should Add It to Your Diet

It has serious anti-inflammatory properties.

If you've eaten anything cooked with curry powder or sipped on some golden milk, then you've already consumed the superfood turmeric. With a bright yellow/orange color, this spice is loaded with beneficial compounds. One polyphenol called curcumin could even help prevent and treat various ailments, according to research from Oregon State University. So, what are some of the most noteworthy turmeric health benefits? You'll want to add this spice to your rotation ASAP.

It's no surprise that this superfood is popping up in products ranging from drinks to crackers, thanks to its rich nutritional makeup. However, this tropical plant has a long history of being used in Indian cuisine. Much of the world's turmeric is still produced in South Asia, but farmers in the mainland United States have also started growing this crop under protective high tunnels.

Thankfully, the rest of the world has caught onto turmeric, and its availability is increasing, so there is no better time to add it to your diet.

Here's the important information on what is turmeric, its health benefits, how to use it, and what it tastes like, so you'll be more familiar with the superfood spice.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric is a tropical plant related to ginger and native to Southeast Asia. The plant has large, waxy green leaves that grow about five feet tall when the plant is mature. While the leaves are sometimes used to wrap meat or rice to steam, the underground rhizomes, or stems, are the most sought-out part of the plant. Turmeric rhizomes are knobby, oblong pieces that vary in color from golden to dark orange.

Turmeric is most commonly used as a dried spice made from the dried and powdered rhizomes. This orange powder is the main component of curry powder blends, and it's also used to give a natural color to various foods. Turmeric is available in capsules, as well as in the form of fresh rhizomes.

What are the health benefits of turmeric?

Turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic medicine for thousands of years to help treat inflammatory and bacterial related ailments, including irritable bowel syndrome and arthritis.

Recent research has shown that many of these turmeric benefits are associated with the compound curcumin, as noted in the journal Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. Turmeric is a great source of curcumin, as it contains about 3 percent of it by weight, as noted by the journal Nutrition and Cancer.

So, what exactly are the benefits of curcumin in turmeric? Curcumin was shown to have antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and anti-diabetic properties in a study performed on rats and published in the journal Advanced Biomedical Research. So turmeric has the potential to treat a variety of health conditions, although more research on its specific effects on humans is necessary.

To achieve some of these turmeric benefits, try eating it with some black pepper. Curcumin has a low bioavailability factor, but black pepper helps keep curcumin in the body for a longer time, increasing its effects.

When is turmeric in season, and what does it taste like?

Dried, ground turmeric is available year-round in the spice aisle. Whole turmeric rhizomes can also be found year-round in select grocery stores. International markets often carry the rhizomes in their produce sections, so check there if you're looking for the fresh stuff.

If you are looking for freshly dug turmeric, check your local farmers' market in early fall. Turmeric is planted in early spring in the United States, but it takes about six months to grow to a stage that is ready for harvest.

Turmeric has a taste that some people love and others hate. It is bitter and a little musty, with hints of ginger and pepper. Because turmeric is used as a spice, its flavor is often a subtle component of the dishes it is used in.

What is turmeric's nutritional breakdown?

Turmeric is low in fat and sugar, with one tablespoon of ground turmeric containing just 0.31 grams of fat and 0.30 grams of sugar.

In addition to containing curcumin and antioxidants, turmeric is also a good source of iron, potassium, and magnesium.

How can you incorporate turmeric into your cooking?

Turmeric lends itself well to all kinds of sweet and savory dishes. You can try sipping it in the form of golden milk or throwing it into your favorite smoothie recipe. Or, if you're craving a baked good, add a spoonful of ground turmeric to a cookie or muffin batter.

Turmeric's flavor lends itself especially well to Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. It is a key component of dishes, including curries and chana masala. Turmeric can also be added to rice or blended with other spices, including cumin and black pepper, to make a rub for meat or vegetables.

RELATED: Easy, healthy, 350-calorie recipe ideas you can make at home.

Are there any downsides to turmeric?

If you're enjoying this spice, just watch out for stains. Although turmeric's bright color is great for your health, it can leave a mark. Don't fret if your fingers, countertops, or dishes turn yellow. Stains will fade within a few days, but if you want to remove them quickly, apply a baking soda and water paste, then scrub off after 15 minutes.

Now that you know more about turmeric, you might want to add it to your next home-cooked meal. Its health benefits are plentiful, and it will add serious flavor to just about any dish.

Briana Yablonski
Briana is a freelance food and agriculture writer and an organic vegetable farmer living in Tennessee. Read more about Briana
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