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Turmeric is a healthy ingredient of the moment, but its popularity as a medicinal spice is ancient. The brilliantly yellow-orange root contains the antioxidant curcumin, which is touted as beneficial for a host of ailments—and this is one trend for which the science actually (preliminarily) backs up the hype. Turmeric been used for its health properties in South Asia for generations, and recent animal studies have shown that turmeric does have antibacterial, antiviral, and anti-inflammatory effects and that it shows promise in preventing or treating some cancers. Plus, it’s super useful in the kitchen. Here’s everything you need to know about turmeric.

Sarah DiGregorio
December 30, 2016

What it is: Turmeric is native to India, where it has been cultivated since prehistoric times. The spice is made from the underground stem (called a rhizome) of a plant in the ginger family. Ground turmeric is made from boiling, drying and grinding the root. In the Hindu tradition, turmeric (haldi in Hindi) is used in some religious ceremonies—relatives apply it to a bride’s face before a wedding. It is also used as a skin cleansing and beautifying treatment. Of course, it is also used frequently in South Asian cooking; the spice adds an earthy, woodsy, pungent flavor.

Where you’ll find it: Ground turmeric is a large component of most jarred curry powders, and is also used as a natural food coloring—in cheese, mustard, and chicken broth, for example. You can sometimes find fresh turmeric root in South Asian groceries; it looks like orange-colored ginger. But most turmeric is sold ground. As with all ground spices, the fresher it is, the better. Keep a jar for up to a year before replacing it.

How to use it: Turmeric is frequently called for in Indian and Southeast Asian recipes. It’s also welcome in egg dishes, where it amps up the eggs’ golden color. Really, you can use it in any dish that could use a subtle kick of earthiness: Mix it with cumin and use it to season easy roasted vegetables or put it in a shrimp sauté. You can even use it to make DIY cheese crackers. Or try mixing turmeric with warm milk and honey—sometimes called golden milk, it has become popular as a way to get a big dose of the spice.