Turmeric to the Rescue!

True story: three days ago when I woke up, the forefingers on both my hands were stiff. Oh, no, I thought, my arthritis is back! My mother and aunt suffered terribly from arthritis in their joints. Was I genetically doomed?

I had my first battle with arthritis about twenty years ago. I got rid of it by taking daily doses of B-complex vitamins and those squishy, fish oil capsules. Or was it the tons of soy I was eating at that time adhering to the mega-strict ZONE diet? But neither vitamins nor fish nor such strict, unsustainable eating are palatable to me anymore.

Then I remembered turmeric.

For a couple years now, I have been using turmeric – for its beautiful orange-yellow color – to make my tofu scramble look like eggs. The pigment curcumin in turmeric is what does the trick. Adding turmeric to curry gives it the beautiful yellow color.

Turmeric is native to southern Asia and was first used thousands of years ago as a dye. For centuries it has been used in both Ayurvedic (Hindu) and Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory, to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases and wounds. And curcumin, that wonderful compound in turmeric, is a powerful anti-oxidant. Today the research continues into the roles curcumin can play in lung and brain disease, to speed recovery after surgery and in a variety of cancers! That’s powerful stuff!

No wonder it cleared up my burgeoning arthritis in three days!

I have to give credit to my wife for reminding me about it. She was on Jury Duty and wandered into Cocobeet, the Boston juice bar near City Hall. There she noticed they had shots of orange juice, turmeric and cayenne pepper. When she told me about it, I remembered drinking such a shot at my own gym juice bar but all I remembered was the potent cayenne! I decided to try my own home remedy so off I drove to my local grocery story (I’m now on the Cape so off I went to Salty’s Market in Truro) and bought some oranges. Back at home I squeezed one into a glass (I like the pulp) and then consulted my favorite research doctor (Michael Greger) to see how much turmeric to add. He said only a 1/4 teaspoon. (Hooray, my one tiny bottle will last a year). I added a dash of cayenne to cover the astringent taste of the turmeric. Et voilà.

If you’re using it at home, do know that turmeric does stain. And you will need something (cayenne, ginger, or just mix it into a savory dish) to cover the strong taste. You can buy fresh turmeric in powdered form or you can buy the dried form (think of fresh ginger) and grind it yourself. Any way you do it is fine. That one tiny bit makes such a difference.

Most of you already know turmeric from its many culinary uses, specifically in many savory Asian dishes and, of course, as a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. It is commonly used nowadays, as long ago, in the cuisines of India, Nepal, South Africa, Viet Nam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Thailand, Iran and Pakistan.

Beautiful color and good for you … humm, I pause as I write these words, thinking of all these wonderful ancient cuisines that have kept people happily nourished and healthy for thousands of years … and how we, in the US, are now exporting our famous burgers, outsourcing our many fast food restaurants, and selling packaged goods of foods unimaginable years ago. Lots of folks are making money, but people around the world are also getting fat and sick like never before. Thank you, Corporate America.

I say treat yourself to a juice bar if there’s one near you. Eat fruit and veggies as often as you can. Anytime you can alternate, exchange, a healthy food for an unhealthy one is a good thing.

And take turmeric, however and whenever you can. Throw it in your OJ, toss it into a savory dish. It’ll make things pretty. And you’ll reap its healthful benefits.

As always, I welcome your comments and any suggestions or recipes you use