“Then eat of what Allah has provided for you [which is] lawful and good. And be grateful for the favor of Allah, if it is [indeed] Him that you worship.” Quran 16:114

For years, the only culinary spices and food flavors that I was very familiar with were Maggi cubes, Monosodium Glutamate seasoning, and Accent. This was because these three food flavors were used in our daily meals while growing up. It wasn’t until my college years when I majored in public health nutrition at the university, that I became more enlightened about real foods, nutrition, and the impact of genetically modified food products on the public’s health. In my quest to search for healthier options, I learned about different herbs and spices. Then, I got to know about turmeric. I read more about it and decided to replace my other food flavors with turmeric. Slowly and surely, I got hooked to the herbs and spices. It didn’t take me that long to get used to them because they looked natural, earthly, and real.

Turmeric is a very bright yellow, powdery spice. Its color often reminds me of the yellow sweet potatoes that have red skin.  Turmeric is made from a root plant similar to the ginger family. Its skin is coarse in nature and it tastes bitter in its powdery form. Historically, turmeric has been used for thousands of years in Asia, and just a few decades in other parts of the world.


Turmeric in the Clinic:

It always amazes me how rich and bountiful the nutritional components of many of our earthly plants are. Although turmeric is typically used in its dried, powdery form, fresh turmeric can also be used. Clinically, turmeric is made up of carbohydrates, water, protein, fat, dietary minerals (iron, potassium, manganese, and vitamin B6), dietary fiber, and curcumin, which is a primary antioxidant in turmeric.


Turmeric in the Kitchen:

Turmeric is one of the ‘must-have’ key ingredients and a widely used spice in many countries around the world, especially in African, Middle Eastern, and Asian cooking. It is also the main ingredient in curry powder, another very common spice in many households. It is used both in savory and sweet dishes. In Southern Nigeria, turmeric is dubbed the ‘yellow ginger’; its use in cooking jollof rice has become very popular. In India, the leaf plan of turmeric is used to prepare a sweet dish known as Patoleo. In Thailand, fresh turmeric roots known as turmeric rhizomes are widely used in their turmeric soup and yellow curry dishes. In Saudi Arabia, their chicken kabsa is highly marinated with turmeric and other spices. In Morocco, turmeric is a main component of their spice mix ‘Ras el Hanout’ which plays a similar role as ‘Garam masala’ does in Indian cuisine. In Japan, turmeric is used to make a hot drink known as “golden milk”. One advantage of using fresh turmeric for consumption over powdered turmeric is that fresh turmeric is less bitter. Hence, it can be cut into small pieces, grated, or thinly sliced, and eaten raw by itself. It can also be added to salads or other fresh dishes for a colorful edible garnish.

In addition to its use as a culinary spice, it is also used as a coloring agent, herbal remedy, and beauty treatment. Some food items we find in supermarkets and grocery stores have food coloring agents such as turmeric, added to them. Turmeric seems to be a strong food coloring because of its golden yellow color which tends to give a permanent stain sometimes. These food items include ice cream, orange juice, yellow cakes, popcorn, sauces, and many baked products.

When it comes to herbal remedies, turmeric seems to be one of the top choices for natural medicinal use in most South Asian homes. It is widely known for its anti-inflammatory, antiseptic, and anti-oxidant properties and it is used in healing cuts, burns, stings, and bites, according to http://prophetic-medicine.blogspot.com/search/label/turmeric. When it comes to beauty treatments many South Asian women use turmeric in their daily skincare. They believe the strong golden yellow color of turmeric and its natural chemical properties, do clear up some skin blemishes and hyperpigmentation, thus brightening up the skin.

Personally, I use turmeric mainly for my cooking alongside other spices and herbs. I use it to marinade raw beef, chicken, and fish. I also use it for my stir-fry mixed veggies to give it a distinct coloring. Instead of having the usual salt and pepper staples on the dining table, I have swapped the salt for turmeric. Just a quick dash of turmeric instead of salt, is healthier and more beneficial. I sometimes use turmeric for my homemade concoction whenever I am down with a chesty cough during the winter season. I add a small teaspoon of turmeric to a cup of hot water mixed with honey, fresh lemon juice, and grated ginger.

As Islam has advised us on eating good and clean food, it also encourages eating in moderation. Hence, it is always good to caution how much turmeric we use in our foods so that we do not overuse it. In addition, balance and variety are two other factors that nutritionists advise their patients to focus on when it comes to food consumption. Thus, balancing the use of turmeric by using a variety of other spices and herbs is a good idea.

As always, read the food labels and ingredients on a food item carefully. If you have any doubts about a product, contact the manufacturer.

Maryam Funmilayo is a certified food literacy educator and community health professional based in Irving, Texas. She holds a Master of Arts degree in Health Education and Promotion, and a Bachelor of Science degree in Human Nutrition. She is the CEO and co-founder of Scholarship Plaza.