Turmeric – a super spice or just a great curry ingredient?


Known as the “golden spice” It’s a spice that has been used for centuries not only to flavour, colour and preserve food but also for its medicinal purposes. Turmeric is one of the most studied spices and now it’s also the trendiest new super food on the block, but does this spice live up to the hype.

What is it?

A member of the ginger family, turmeric is derived from the plant Curcuma longo and its root is the most useful part for culinary and medicinal purposes.  It has an earthy aroma and its flavour profile is slightly peppery and bitter with a subtle ginger taste. Turmeric provides a solid dose of phytochemicals – plant compounds that help fight inflammation and oxidative stress as well the daily wear and tear our bodies endure every day.  The root contains plenty of vitamin C, potassium and manganese however when it comes to health benefits, turmeric biggest selling point is curcumin. Curcumin makes up 2-5% of the turmeric plant.

Does it have proven health benefits

Early findings from animal and lab studies suggested that curcumin had anti-inflammatory, anti-cancer and antioxidant properties. This led to the initial hype of turmeric being touted as super spice. With time, the amount and quality of scientific evidence to support the role of curcumin particularly with its role in inflammation continue to mount.  A recent meta-analysis found that curcumin (approx. 1000mg/day) can reduce arthritis associated pain and provide some functional benefits. Other studies looking at the role of turmeric in pain have reported a positive effect when participants used 800mg of turmeric in capsule form each day. 

Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory properties have also been linked to being beneficial for conditions such as heart disease, digestive disorders like Chrons disease, osteoarthritis, Alzheimer’s for example. Although there are studies that suggest benefit for these conditions, it’s too soon to rate the effectiveness of turmeric in providing relief for all these conditions and dosing recommendations. Curcumin by itself is poorly absorbed. Bioavailability is thought to be improved in the presence of black pepper however overall, more research is needed to determine specific recommendations and bioavailability of supplements. The long-term benefits of curcumin are still unknown, and more research is needed to answer this question as well.

Are there any side effects?

In India where turmeric consumption is daily, the average turmeric intake per day is approximately 2-2.5g/day which provides about 60-100mg of curcumin daily.   The research to date suggests 1-3g of dried powdered turmeric root per day is needed to gain health benefits. With regard to the upper limit of intake some studies suggest that doses of up to 8-12 grams per day are safe. The main reported side effect is some gastrointestinal discomfort. 

Take home message

While there are still no clear recommendations for curcumin dosage for the health conditions, in my opinion this is one super spice to watch.  If you are interested in using it for a specific health condition, be sure to speak to a dietitian or registered nutritionist. Even if you aren’t interested in supplementing with it, my advice is to find ways to use turmeric regularly in your diet. Add a pinch to your scrambled eggs or omelette, or sprinkle over roasted potatoes or veg or add a teaspoon to a cup of warm milk and honey for a comforting drink.


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  2. Daily et al. 2016. Efficacy of Turmeric Extracts and curcumin for alleviating the symptoms of joint arthritis: a systematic review and metanalysis of randomized clinical trials.J Med Food. 19(8)717-29
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  4. El Hack M et al. 2021. Curcumin, the active substance of turmeric: its effects on health and ways to improve its bioavailability. Sci Food Agric. 10