Until I became a chef, I actually thought curry powder was a spice in and of itself. It wasn’t until culinary school that I realized it was a blend of different herbs and that different mixes and ratios made each curry powder unique (I’ve since learned that chili powder, poultry seasoning and “fine herbs” are blends as well, but growing up learning to cook from mom, this information was never passed on). This lead me to try every different curry powder I could get my hands on, experimenting with each one in a curry to see what the subtle differences were. I also began experimenting with my own blends, adding different Indian spices in different ratios to try to get the mix just right.
But the main thing this experiment lead to was the discovery of the one spice common to all curry powders that gives the blend its distinctive yellow color – turmeric. And it wasn’t until I went to Holistic Nutrition school that I discovered how good for you this exotic spice is.
For thousands of years, both the ancient Chinese and Indian medical systems recognized the beneficial properties of turmeric. Science has uncovered the beneficial aspect of this spice is the compound that is also responsible for the spice’s distinctive yellow pigment – curcumin. Curcumin has been recognized for its antioxidant properties, tumor inhibition, ability to enhance liver function, health benefits to cells, detoxification, pain reduction, anti-inflammatory effects, and protection against DNA damage, stomach ulcers and cancer. In fact, laboratory studies conducted on animals have shown curcumin to be poisonous to tumor cells.
More recent studies have focused more closely on curcumin’s ability to buffer cells against infection. Previously scientists had believed curcumin works by interacting directly with proteins in the cell membrane, but a recent study conducted at Michigan University challenges that notion. It is now known that curcumin acts by actually inserting itself into cell membranes and making them more orderly, thus improving the cell’s resistance to infection and malignancy.
Says the study’s lead researcher, Ayyalusamy Ramamoorthy: “The membrane goes from being crazy and floppy to being more disciplined and ordered, so that information that flows through it can be controlled.” It is believed that this “disciplining” action is what is responsible for the cells’ resistance to infections, and may be what helps to prevent cancer.
Previous studies have suggested that curcumin is a potential candidate for inhibiting the oxidative damage that leads to Parkinson’s disease, can counteract the harmful DNA damage caused by arsenic, a poison that can be fatal to humans, may help protect against type 2 diabetes and reduce the dangerous inflammation associated with obesity, and may dramatically reduce the chance of developing heart failure, as well as preventing and reversing hypertrophy (enlarged heart). Is there nothing this wonder spice can’t do?
Author by Doug DiPasquale, Holistic Nutritionist and trained chef, living in Toronto.