Spice superstars: ginger & turmeric

Remember the Spice Girls? My all-time favorite spice girls are the grande dames of spices, ginger and turmeric. Popular in Asia for millennia for both culinary and medicinal use, they are rhizomes (technically subterranean stems) and botanical relatives in the Zingiberaceae family. (You don’t have to pronounce the name.) 

From a taste standpoint, the bright pungent flavor of ginger is widely loved, and positively enchants in combination with other flavors, such as citrus, coconut, pear, peach…all mouth-watering! Turmeric is the orange in curry powder and in American mustard, and is worth cozying up to for it’s satisfyingly warming flavor in soups, stews, teas and dahls. 

HUGELY important: both ginger and turmeric are PHENOMENAL for health. 

Ginger is native to southeastern Asia, India and China. It has been used in Chinese medicine for centuries and was mentioned by Confucius in his writings. Anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer, antioxidant, antiviral, and antibacterial, ginger also famously helps with indigestion, gastrointestinal distress, motion sickness, and nausea — among a multitude of other therapeutic benefits.   

Incorporating ginger into your food is a breeze. I take my microplane and grate ginger into everything! Lemon water with a little grated ginger is an easy, healthy favorite, delicious warm, room temperature or cold. FYI, fresh, unpeeled ginger can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 weeks.

Turmeric is native to southern India and Indonesia, has been cultivated since 3,000 B.C.E., and has long been used as an important healing agent in Ayurveda. Turmeric root’s warm, peppery, slightly bitter flavor makes incorporating it into our foods a little more challenging for some, but I find it’s a taste that can easily be acquired. 

Less widely known than ginger, turmeric root is quickly catching on thanks to recent studies highlighting the powerfully therapeutic effects of one of its key components: curcumin. Curcumin is a free-radical scavenger, protecting healthy cells from DNA damage that can lead to cancer; and aiding in the prevention of heart disease and degenerative neurological diseases such as Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s and multiple sclerosis. 

Suggestive, if not conclusive: statistics show that India has both the highest consumption of turmeric and the lowest rate of Alzheimer’s in the world. 

No wonder turmeric has incited such interest of late!

My culinary buddy Dr. Andrew Weil says simply, “Ginger and turmeric are powerful natural anti-inflammatory agents, and you want to find out how to get more of them into you.” 

Great advice.  Watch his method of making an easy turmeric tea, which he especially enjoys cold during the summer. You could also steep the sliced root instead, and drink the tea as is or as a base for chai with almond or another favorite milk and topped with more warming spices such as cinnamon and cardamom. Mmmm!

Some additional ways to incorporate turmeric: 

  • Add ½ teaspoon to a vinaigrette with lemon, olive oil, a pinch of salt and fresh ground black pepper. Black pepper is what turns on the curcumin in turmeric and makes it bioavailable, i.e., easily absorbed.
  • If you’re an egg eater: incorporate ½ teaspoon of turmeric into your egg batter if you’re making a frittata or scrambled. 
  • In Asia it’s frequently added to rice. It would be fabulous with quinoa! Dissolve powdered turmeric in the cooking water. Don’t use too much! It can be bitter. I suggest starting with ½ teaspoon.

Try some easy, healthy recipes with ginger and turmeric.

Indian Greens from my Global Dark Leafy Greens series are a power-packed favorite from my book The Longevity Kitchen

This meal in bowl is filled with fiber and protein from chickpeas and packs flavor that simply has to be experienced to be believed. Coconut milk, curry, turmeric…it’s all a taste bud blast with outrageous anti-inflammatory ingredients.

When I was a kid, nothing could compare to hearing the jingling bells of the ice cream man; it meant I got a Creamsicle. Looking for that taste again and to create something kids would adore, I came up with this recipe. Yum!