Has turmeric been keeping a low profile on your pantry shelf forever, if it's even been there at all? You might want to stock up: The spice, often associated with Indian food, is getting catapulted to worldwide fame—and deservedly so. The herbaceous plant, related to ginger root, has been named one of the year’s hottest search terms and the “superfood of 2016.” While you’d probably recognize turmeric ground up in powdered form (hint: it’s mustard-colored, because that’s where mustard traditionally get its color), how much do you really know about the in-vogue root? We asked Monica Bhide, author of A Life of Spice and creator of the iSpice app, to clue us in on some surprising facts about turmeric, and on how we can give it a more starring role.
1. Turmeric powder and root are (sort of) two different things.
“Typically when people talk about using turmeric, they are referring to the golden powder… used to season dishes” Bhide explains. “This is the dried, ground root.” But in its original form, “the root can also be used in cooking and adds a delightful flavor to salads; just peel and grate. But remember, this lovely fresh root stains like crazy!”
2. Despite its bold color, turmeric's flavor is quite mild.
“When used sparsely, the spice doesn’t really have much flavor on its own… [but] a touch of the spice gives a warm, toasty flavor to dishes,” Bhide says. “About half a teaspoon is enough to flavor a dish that serves four people; if you add too much, it will make your dish bitter.”
3. You can now find turmeric in Kraft Mac & Cheese
Proof that turmeric’s taste really is subtle: After promising last year to remove artificial flavors and dyes from its iconic mac and cheese, Kraft retooled the product to include turmeric, which helps maintain the dish’s signature yellow shade. The new recipe was rolled out in December and tasted so much like the old version that nobody noticed.
4. Turmeric acts like your body’s cleaning crew.
Bhide says the best description she’s heard of turmeric’s health benefits comes from noted cancer expert Rebecca Katz, author of the book The Longevity Kitchen: Satisfying, Big-Flavor Recipes Featuring the Top 16 Age-Busting Power Foods. “Turmeric acts like a vacuum cleaner for your system,” Bhide explains. “It vacuums up free-radical debris that can cause disease.”
5. You can add black pepper to it to boost the health benefits.
Bhide also learned from Katz that “in order to derive turmeric’s full anti-inflammatory benefits, always use it along with a pinch of black pepper. This allows turmeric to be fully assimilated into the body.”
6. You can easily add it to foods you already eat every day.
A pinch can go into your favorite lemon- or vinegar-based salad dressings. Bhide also suggests adding it to spice rubs for meat, fish and poultry or mixing into into chili, stews, broths, etc.
7. Turmeric can help you fall asleep.
Among those who practice holistic medicine, mixing turmeric into a nighttime beverage is a well-known secret for getting your ZZZs. Bhide recommends you “add it to a warm glass of milk and drink before sleeping." And perhaps you've heard about that turmeric latte.
8. It’s surprisingly great in baked goods.
Bhide recommends “adding a half-teaspoon of turmeric to your homemade bread dough. I have also added it to pancake batter, waffle batter and even simple pound-cake batter.” Don’t be afraid to use it in sweeter treats, too, says Bhide: “I've even started to use it in desserts: a touch in a cake batter and in cookies.”
9. Not a home cook? Head out for Indian food.
“Typically, Indian curries with a yellow or golden hue have turmeric,” Bhide says. “When in doubt, ask the servers at the restaurant and they should be able to point it out.”
10. If you're going to use turmeric as a facial mask, know what you're doing...
Star Wars: The Force Awakens’ Daisy Ridley learned this the hard way recently when she revealed on Instagram that she slathered turmeric all over her mug as a DIY zit-zapping mask. A type of turmeric is actually used for facial masks in India, but when Ridley attempted it herself, it turned her entire face yellow. Which would’ve been perfect, Ridley joked, if she were the star of Minions 2.
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