I opened the in-house magazine of a high-street supermarket recently and spotted a recipe for Golden Turmeric Latte. This, and the fact that Nigella Lawson has been putting turmeric in her cauliflower soup, is a sure sign that, in the West, turmeric (previously the sole preserve of curry enthusiasts and metropolitan hipsters) has crossed over into the mainstream. And it’s certainly here to stay.
“What,” I hear you ask, “is the difference between Golden Turmeric Latte and our beloved haldi doodh?” As far as I can work out, the only difference is that the latter is what Indian grannies have been recommending for millennia to ward off colds, flu and “change of season”, whereas the former was “discovered” a few years ago by men with beards in establishments with the word “artisan” in their name (incidentally, in Scotland, the seasons often change several times in one day, so I’ve been bingeing on turmeric for some time now).
Like many other “superfoods” before it, turmeric has suddenly become the cure-all for everything from cancer to Alzheimer’s, arthritis and diabetes. It has even been claimed that there is evidence that the active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, is just as effective as drugs like Prozac, Aspirin, Ibuprofen, the chemotherapy drug Oxaliplatin and the diabetes drug Metformin.
There does seem to be mounting evidence to support turmeric’s superfood status but (and it’s a big but) most of the research has only been carried out on animals. While it’s encouraging that studies in female mice have shown that turmeric can slow down the progression of breast cancer, the jury is still very much out on whether it can help women.
Last year, there was great excitement when doctor and cynical science journalist Michael Mosley looked into the health claims being made for turmeric. He asked scientists at the University College London to conduct turmeric-related research with 100 British human guinea pigs. They were divided into three groups: One group was asked to consume a teaspoon of turmeric in their food every day for six weeks; the second had to take turmeric in the form of a supplement containing the same amount of turmeric; and the third was given a placebo.
Incredibly, the scientists found that in the group which took the turmeric in its food, there were clear improvements to a gene that causes a range of diseases. “(In) the group that mixed turmeric powder into their food...we saw quite substantial changes,” said Prof. Martin Widschwendter. “It was really exciting, to be honest. We found one particular gene which showed the biggest difference. And what’s interesting is that we know this particular gene is involved in three specific diseases: depression, asthma and eczema, and cancer. This is a really striking finding.”
I just love it when Indian grannies were right all along. If you haven’t got an Indian granny handy, here’s an easy recipe. And if you’re still not convinced, for a guaranteed feel-good moment try this lovely breakfast muffin, with or without Golden Turmeric Latte.
Makes 1 cup
1-inch piece fresh turmeric, finely grated, or 1 tsp turmeric powder
Half tsp cinnamon powder
Half tsp ginger powder
A few white or black peppercorns, ground
1 tsp coconut oil or ghee
1 cup almond milk/coconut milk/plain milk
Honey or jaggery to taste
In a small pan, mix together the turmeric, cinnamon, ginger, pepper and oil (or ghee). Add the milk and bring to the boil and let it simmer for a minute. Add honey or jaggery to taste. Serve.
Spiced Apple, Courgette and Maple Syrup Breakfast Muffins
275g wholemeal flour
2 tsp baking powder
Half tsp bicarbonate of soda
Quarter tsp salt
2 tsp cinnamon, ground
100ml oil or melted butter
125g brown sugar
350g finely grated courgette (no need to peel)
175g apple, peeled and chopped into 1cm cubes
A handful of porridge oats for sprinkling
50g soft butter
100g icing sugar
2 tbsp pure maple syrup
Preheat the oven to 180 degrees Celsius. Put muffin cases in a 12-hole muffin tray.
Sift the flour, baking powder, bicarbonate of soda, salt and cinnamon into a large mixing bowl.
Put the milk, oil, sugar and egg into a jug and beat together with a fork. Add the courgette and mix well. Pour all the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and mix gently until you can’t see any dry flour. With the last few strokes, add the chopped apple.
Divide the mixture between the 12 muffin cases, sprinkle some oats on top. Bake for 20-25 minutes, then remove to a baking rack to cool.
To make the icing, mix together the butter, icing sugar and maple syrup until smooth. When the muffins have cooled, put a teaspoonful of icing on each muffin.
The Way We Eat Now is a fortnightly column on new ways of cooking seasonal fruits, vegetables and grains.