CookingLight diet CookingLight diet
Photo: Getty Images

Because it’s not just great for cooking.

Jaime Ritter
December 15, 2017

Not only is turmeric a great way to add distinctive flavor to otherwise-ordinary dishes, but it’s also touted for its natural medicinal properties—especially its purported role in preventing chronic diseases, aiding in weight management, and improving insulin sensitivity.

Turmeric is a knobby root like ginger, but it has an earthy, pungent, and slightly bittersweet flavor. It’s bright orange in color and is delicious when added to mustard blends, curries, or golden milk lattes—giving food a warm taste that’s hard to mistake once you’ve had it.

RELATED: 25 Delicious Ways to Cook With Turmeric

But it’s the health benefits that have made the most difference to me. As a lifelong golfer I have spent years torquing my body to hit that little white ball, and it’s resulted in terrible back pain. There were several times my back spasmed so badly that I had to sleep sitting up on my couch or take time away from work.

Over the years I’ve seen chiropractors, tried stretches, yoga, and pilates, and even (in a #TreatYourself moment) massage, but nothing has helped for more than a week or two. Finally, a massage therapist told me I should try taking turmeric capsules and sprinkling the spice into my food daily for back pain relief.

I was skeptical, but also willing to try anything at that point. I ran out and bought a hefty jar of turmeric to cook with, as well as some pills for when I couldn’t fit it into a recipe. After just a week, I felt noticeably less sore. Suddenly I was bouncing back from workouts quicker. After about a month, my back muscles completely stopped spasming.

Turns out it probably wasn’t just a placebo effect, either. Cooking Light’s Assistant Nutrition Editor Jamie Vespa, MS, RD, says, “Curcumin, the bright yellow polyphenol compound found in the spice, has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effects. Curcumin’s role in the treatment of arthritis also shows promise. Studies show that patients supplementing with curcumin had reduced arthritis pain and swelling due to the inhibition of COX-2 activity.[4] This is typically what NSAIDs are prescribed for.”

RELATED: The Healthy Benefits of Turmeric

But I’ve also learned that you have to be careful where you get your spices from. Last year, six popular store-brands of turmeric were recalled for excessive lead. Lead is particularly dangerous, since it can accumulate in the body over time.

Luckily, I found Diaspora Co, a seller based in the San Francisco area, that’s extra transparent about where they source their spices. Sana Javeri Kadri, the company’s owner, says a lot of spices can be unreliable and hard to trace. “With bulk spices at the supermarket, they're often up to four years old and are mixed together from several different countries or continents.”

So, for example, 25 percent of your store-bought turmeric might be from Hawaii’s 2015 harvest, whereas 50 percent is from Fiji’s 2014 harvest, and the rest could be from a bulk trader in India without any specific timestamp.

Kadri says, “We visited farms all over India before working in partnership with the Indian Institute of Spice Research to collaborate with a farmer growing a strain of turmeric known as Pragati known for its rich color, high curcumin content, and short growing time. Creating a system of accountability between farmers, consumers, and brands is the best way to ensure the highest quality product.”

Our team of editors compared Diaspora’s turmeric to a store-bought brand and noticed a significant difference in the color and taste. Diaspora’s powder was brighter and warmer tasting, with a stronger smell. It also didn’t hurt to know we were supporting farmers with a fair and living wage.