Curry, and its all-star ingredient: Turmeric

I swear- everyone tells me, “I LOVE curry!” And I always think, “but what type of curry do you like?” There are so many different ways this dish can be made- the spice mixture and ingredients can vary greatly from one to the next. Curry is generally defined as a sauce-based dish with strong spices and may contain meat, seafood, vegetables, coconut milk, onion and/or ginger, among other ingredients.

The spices in a curry may include cumin (or jeera), turmeric, coriander, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom, black pepper, cloves, coriander, and/or chili powder. Garam masala is a great spice mixture for curry, as it typically contains cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, cardamom and cumin, and you can easily find it at the grocery store (like I did!) if you choose not to make it yourself.

Although the spices can vary, turmeric is one of the most common ingredients in curry. Turmeric is often confused with cumin, as they’re both yellow/orange in color and earthy in flavor; however, cumin has a stronger flavor and a sweetness to it, while turmeric is more versatile and can be bitter. Ground turmeric is bright yellow in color while ground cumin is a darker orange. The two are often confused because curcumin is the active ingredient found in turmeric and is associated with the spice’s health benefits, and because they sound similar- this word is often confused with cumin.

Turmeric is all the rage right now. Turmeric juice, turmeric chai latte, turmeric Kombucha, turmeric in your smoothie, your yogurt and your supplement box. It’s everywhere! And for good reason. Curcumin is a powerful antioxidant and is anti-inflammatory in nature, therefore fighting damage in our bodies with the goal of keeping us healthy and free of disease. We know now that most chronic diseases (i.e. heart disease, cancer, dementia) are associated with a consistent level of inflammation in the body; because this spice is so crucial in fighting inflammation, we can see the importance of regularly incorporating it into our diets.

Curcumin has also been associated with reducing the risk for depression and Alzheimer’s disease. A recent study found that 250 mg curcumin twice daily taken for three months can reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety, particularly after taking for four weeks.

Some research suggests turmeric may even be helpful for people with indigestion and ulcerative colitis (UC). One study of particular note included people with active, mild to moderate ulcerative colitis who had not responded well to the standard UC therapy. In addition to continued standard treatment, participants were either given a placebo or 1.5 grams of curcumin twice daily. After four weeks of this therapy, 0% of the participants receiving the placebo reached remission, while almost 54% of those receiving curcumin did. No significant side effects were experienced. Another study conducted over six months found that 1gm of curcumin twice daily in addition to standard treatment was associated with fewer relapses of disease as compared to those given the placebo along with treatment.

Curcumin is poorly absorbed by our bodies, so it helps to add black pepper to the food you make with turmeric to promote better absorption; also, because curcumin is fat-soluble, it’s best to take it with a meal containing some fat (i.e. avocado, olive oil) instead of in between meals or with a carb-heavy snack like crackers or only fruit. In terms of supplements, always check with your MD and RD before starting supplements, as it can interact with medications, such as blood thinners, amlodipine (Norvasc), and phenytoin (Dilantin). I always review Consumer Labs as the organization independently evaluates products and therefore is a great resource for determining which supplements truly contain what they say they do and are not contaminated. Some reputable brands for turmeric supplements include Jarrow Formulas Curcumin 95 (500 mg extract; gluten-free), Life Extension Super Bio-Curcumin (400 mg extract; vegetarian, gluten-free), NOW Curcumin, and Solgar Turmeric (400 mg extract; Kosher, vegetarian, gluten-free). The Spice Hunter Turmeric is a good option for turmeric spice.


The Verdict
Have homemade turmeric tea with a fat-containing meal, add it to your food, and you can include one of these reputable supplements into your daily regimen after getting the OK from your MD and RD. At this time, it appears controlled daily amounts will only help, and not harm! See below for a delicious recipe (as pictured above) courtesy of my brother’s lovely girlfriend, Priyanka!



1-2 tsp coriander powder

1-2 tsp cumin seed (jeera)

1 tomato

1 onion

Chickpeas (I used 1 can)

Salt to taste

1-2 tsp cayenne

1-2 tsp mango powder

1-2 tsp garam masala

Fresh cilantro


Directions (Makes 4 servings)

1. Dice tomatoes and onion. Sauté with coriander and cumin seed. Stir quickly to avoid burning.

2. Once tomatoes and onion have softened, add in chickpeas and water at a ratio of 2:1.

3. Add in salt to taste and cayenne.

4. Bring to boil and then let simmer for 5-10 minutes.

5. Add mango powder and garam masala.

6. Top with cilantro.

Can serve over brown rice or with naan; I added spinach as well.

Lauren KellyComment