What is a functional food?
A functional food is a food that provides additional benefits above its nutritional value. Examples, other than turmeric, include probiotic and prebiotic yoghurts, fortified breads and omega-3 enriched eggs.
Origins and properties
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family and is a spice that comes from a root called Curcuma longa. As a fresh root, turmeric resembles fresh ginger with its rough exterior. However, unlike the pale interior of ginger, turmeric is bright orange. This is due to a component called curcumin.
Turmeric root is typically grown in tropical regions of Asia, but we normally see it dried and ground or as part of a curry spice mix. These days, you’ll pick up turmeric powder in most supermarkets alongside the other dried spices, while fresh turmeric can be found in smaller fruit and veg shops or in some health food stores.
Health – Turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory, anti-septic and anti-oxidant health benefits. Some researchers have noted that curcumin may help to improve blood circulation, subdue certain types of joint pain and aid digestion. However, the verdict is still out on the exact mechanics of turmeric’s power. Until then, we’ll base our opinions on the anecdotal evidence from the people of Asia and China who still use turmeric as part of their traditional medicinal practices.
Curcumin is the active ingredient in turmeric, meaning that it is the component that provides the proposed health benefits. Curcumin has poor bioavailability, meaning the body finds it difficult to absorb and put to use. A component called piperine, found in black pepper, helps to improve the absorption of curcumin.
Cooking – Turmeric is widely used in Indian cooking to bring depth of flavour and vibrant colour. Its use has extended to African and Middle Eastern cooking and, in more recent years, has become a regular feature in many Western European kitchens.
To include more turmeric in your diet, try adding it to your dinner, lunch or breakfast — yes, you can include spices at breakfast time!
BREAKFAST – Sprinkle turmeric on scrambled egg or add ½-1 tsp to your morning smoothie.
To bring the morning sunshine to your table, cook porridge with ½ tsp turmeric, ½ tsp cinnamon and 1 tsp honey; cinnamon and honey themselves both boast health benefits, but that’s for another day!
LUNCH – Cook 1-2 tsp turmeric and 1 tsp ground black pepper with your vegetables when making soup for extra warmth and flavour, or whisk with eggs when preparing an omelette.
Pop into Insomnia Coffee Company shops to try a Turmeric Latte (yes, they’re a thing)! If not, Pukka offer a wonderful “Turmeric Gold” tea.
DINNER – Incorporate turmeric into curries and stews as part of a curry blend or by cooking fresh turmeric with your veggies as you would cook ginger (warning: turmeric temporarily stains your nails and fingers yellow).
If you fancy being more creative, add 1 tsp turmeric powder to risotto for a bowl of golden goodness or simply add ½ tsp to salted water when cooking rice or couscous!
You may see curcumin listed as an ingredient in sweets. This is because curcumin is widely used as a natural yellow/orange colouring agent.
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