Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Fresh Turmeric Root

Fresh turmeric root, whole and peeled.
When I was shopping for my demo in Chicago weekend before last, I spied some very fresh turmeric root on the produce shelf at Whole Foods. This was too good to pass up, because where I live, no one seems to know what it is, so the produce departments at even the most progressive natural food stores won't order it anymore. It's like a guaranteed loss for them. I picked up as much as I thought I could consume before it spoiled, and brought it home.

Turmeric has been used for over 3,000 years in Ayurvedic medicine to treat various health problems. Curcumin, a compound in turmeric, apparently has powerful antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor, anti-arthritic, antifungal, and antiamyloid properties. It has significant potential to fight cancer, heart disease, Alzheimer's, arthritis, candida, liver cirrhosis, gastro-intestinal problems, and many other nasty ills. It may even help with obesity, by altering fat metabolism.

Naturally, once all this became known, curcumin supplements began to appear on the market--which is fine, but I like my food to be my medicine as much as possible. So when I hear that a spice I've been using and eating for years is this good for me, I'm immediately drawn to think of new, creative ways to use it in its raw plant form. Why let someone step on it first, take the fun out of the equation and give me a pill to swallow, when I could be eating it fresh and letting it dance into me across my palate the way nature intended? I read somewhere that curcumin crosses the blood-brain barrier, which means that it can get into the grey matter cells, un-corrode and de-rust things, brighten the synapses. Who knows? Maybe it'll even manage to counteract the depredations of my new friend, the iPhone.

The most common source of curcumin is the well-known dried, ground form of turmeric, which gives curry its characteristic yellow color. The root, a relative of ginger (another powerful anti-inflammatory), has a gorgeous deep orange color when raw, and a flavor I can't quite describe. It's not sharp the way ginger is, or pungent, but rather somewhat astringent, with an earthy quality vaguely reminiscent of burdock root. The orange hue is actually a highly concentrated yellow, which becomes immediately apparent the moment it comes in contact with other foods--or hands, clothing, or any porous surface. I've even had to work hard to scrub the yellow stain off my "stainless" steel microplaner after using it on fresh turmeric root!

How to use it? Easy. Grate it and add it to salads and soups, or add a few slices to your smoothie or green juice.

Speaking of which, my current favorite green juice consists of Tuscan kale, cabbage, celery, green apple, cucumber, medjool dates, banana, fresh ginger, a new coconut water probiotic drink from the makers of Good Belly, and (until I run out) fresh turmeric root . A potent, serious green drink, this one.

In the next couple of days, I'll be using up what's left of my golden stash--trust me, I don't want any of it to go moldy and head for the compost heap--so stay tuned. I feel some interesting turmeric root ideas coming, featuring chocolate, perhaps, saffron, green olives and preserved lemons, maybe. This could be good...

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