Turmeric vs Curcumin: The Complete Breakdown

If you’ve ever enjoyed the Middle Eastern or Indian cuisine, you’re probably familiar with turmeric. The spice offers a distinctive flavor and bright yellow hue to curries. In India, it is also used in chutney and spiced rice dishes like biryani.

Indonesian and Malaysian cuisines often use turmeric in fish or vegetable dishes. They also combine it with salt to coat fish before deep frying. It’s also important in Thai cooking, especially in Red and Musalman curries. The Western world uses it to color mustard, cheese, and other products as well as adding it to soups and stews.

Once turmeric is harvested, its rootstocks or rhizomes are cleaned, dried and then ground into a powder which is a colorful yellow-orange. The powder form is used for a spice, food coloring and medicine. Eating turmeric with meals helps the body absorb it, especially when it is consumed with black pepper, chili peppers, ginger or foods high in fat. The distinct flavor becomes stronger when it is cooked so it should be added slowly while cooking. Taste the dish often to ensure it’s not over seasoned.

Turmeric’s History

Ayurveda and Traditional Chinese Medicine have both revered Turmeric for its medicinal properties for literally thousands of years. Practitioners in India have used the spice as a blood purifier and a tonic for the liver and stomach. Other medicinal systems around the world use it in herbal concoctions. In South East Asian countries like Malaysia and Indonesia, for instance, turmeric is included in an elixir called jamu. More recently, it’s begun to gain popularity and use in the West by herbal medicine because it is beneficial for treating many different health conditions.

What about Curcumin?

Turmeric contains curcuminoids which in turn carries curcumin. There are many who feel curcumin is what gives turmeric its medicinal properties. The substance has gotten a lot of publicity lately and has also been the subject of numerous studies. Many of these have indicated that turmeric offers more benefit health-wise over what curcumin provides alone. Most people do not realize that turmeric contains many bioactive molecules beyond curcumin. Some medical experts suggest turmeric has 23 different chemicals that have antibiotic properties, 12 chemicals have properties that are anti-cancer, 17 anti-tumor, 27 antioxidants and 37 anti-inflammatories in nature.

Conflicting Reports

Many of the studies regarding turmeric have involved non-human subjects but have demonstrated that it may help reduce inflammation, fight some cancers, battle infections, and be effective for treating digestive conditions. Studies to test the effectiveness of curcumin have used a form that is injectable, which may have a different result than when taken orally. The results of multiple studies reflect conflicting evidence. Therefore, many practitioners recommend taking whole turmeric to reap the wide range of medical benefits.

Combining the Two

Turmeric can be combined with many different herbs. For instance, mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder with aloe vera for relief of fatigue. While curcumin can provide many health benefits when taken as a supplement,  most suggest taking whole turmeric can provide the same benefits and more since it is all-inclusive.