If it seems like turmeric is the antidote to almost all health issues, it is – for the most part, especially fermented turmeric taken with freshly ground black pepper.
The reason why it’s the be all and end all for health enthusiasts has to do with the compound behind its yellow pigment, curcumin. It is responsible for a wide variety of health benefits with no-toxic effects, even at high doses.
What pharmaceutical drug can boast of that?
Fermenting turmeric makes curcumin a lot more powerful than turmeric powder or raw, non-fermented turmeric. Let’s look at why this is, what health benefits it offers, best ways to use it, and how to ferment it.
What is curcumin?
Curcumin is a polyphenolic compound, a class of bioactive compounds that wine, tea, berries, and dark chocolate share. Curcumin and its extracts have many activities in the body that surpass those of wine, tea, berries, dark chocolate combined.
Health benefits of curcumin
- pain relief
- kills bacteria, fungus, viruses, and parasites
- prevents blood clots
- lowers blood sugar
- lowers blood fats
A quick Google search shows the plentiful supply of turmeric/curcumin supplements. Capsule supplements are available as “premium,” “extra-strength,” and “high-absorbable” – and there is no shortage of brands to choose from.
Other vehicles for curcumin are gummies and drops. Furthermore, premium health food with turmeric are available in products such as turmeric golden mylk powder and turmeric latte mix. These products offer ways to increase curcumin in take in yummy, concentrated food forms.
Applications aren’t limited to supplements and foods. For instance, skin care brands are adding turmeric into facial masks, moisturizers, scrubs, mists, and serums for consumers wanting extra value.
What is turmeric used for?
Before curcumin became a premium compound, Ayurvedic medicine, old Hindu medicine, and areas in China and Southeast Asia were using turmeric widely for medicinal purposes, treating issues such as bile-related disorders, anorexia, cough, diabetic wounds, liver disorders, rheumatism, and sinusitis (3).
Let’s not forget, turmeric also has culinary applications for flavouring, preserving, and colouring, especially in Indian cuisine.
Long before curcumin supplements, people cooked with turmeric regularly to harness its flavour and function, and I recommend we continue using fresh turmeric root or turmeric powder in daily meal preparation for maintenance of health. Though, if we want supplement-like health benefits from turmeric, we should ferment turmeric.
Disadvantage of non-fermented turmeric
On its own, curcumin is poorly soluble in water (4). That’s because curcumin is a fat-loving compound and repels water. Since the human body is mostly water, curcumin is not well absorbed.
The earliest study in rats supports that curcumin is poorly absorbed and distributed to blood via the liver. Only 75% of orally ingested curcumin was excreted in rat feces (6). Minor amounts were in the blood and bile system.
Human studies show similar results (7,8): curcumin has low bioavailability, that is, poor uptake into the blood. If nutrients or compound are not absorbed into the blood, they can’t deliver health effects to the areas that need them. More time in the blood means more health benefits due to binding to target sites.
Turmeric and pepper
One thing that is shown to improve absorption and utilization of curcumin is black pepper.
Many curcumin supplements now contain piperine, the pungent compound in black pepper, after a study in 1998 showed a 2000% increase (not a typo) in bioavailability. The study noted higher concentrations of curcumin in blood compared to curcumin taken without piperine (9).
Why fermented turmeric is better than turmeric
Compared to supplements, high-priced turmeric-containing foods, or high-tech packaging, fermenting turmeric is inexpensive, easy to do at home, has excellent bioavailability, and can be used therapeutically. This is due to the following reasons:
As lactic acid bacteria produce lactic acid, the brine acidifies and curcumin becomes more stable (5). Fermenting turmeric also enhances solubility of its phenolic compounds (curcumin and others), thereby, enhancing antioxidant (12), anti-inflammatory, and liver protective (13) effects as studies have shown.
Fermentation becomes an ideal way to preserve and enhance the benefits of turmeric/curcumin.
That’s not all, nutrient content also increases with fermentation as one study notes (14). Calcium increased 83% from 151 mg per 100g of turmeric to 903 mg; zinc increased by 98% from 0.17 mg to 7.45 mg; and selenium increased 100% from 0 mg to 0.07 mg. This is a dietitian’s dream food. (I think I’ve said that many times about all fermented foods and sprouts.)
Once fermentation of turmeric root is complete, about 5-7 days, the brine and root become rich sources of good microbes and curcumin in an activated, water-soluble form, tetrahydrocurcumin.
This form of curcumin supports the pancreas in creating insulin to manage blood sugar (15), possess superior anti-inflammatory effects (16), protect the liver (17), and keep oxidative stress in check (18).
As in other brine-pickled ferments, the brine is a rich source of activated bioactive compounds and good microbes compared to fermented vegetables.
Turmeric side effects
Caution should be noted for people with gallstones and blockages of bile passages.
Furthermore, at high levels, curcumin is known to lower testosterone and decrease sperm motility. If you and your partner are struggling with infertility and eating lots of turmeric, don’t have too much of a good thing.
In addition, people using proton pump inhibitors to reduce stomach acid should keep turmeric to a minimum as turmeric increases stomach acid (a good thing normally) and may interfere with these medications.
Lastly, people with diabetes should be cautious when using turmeric, especially fermented turmeric. Taking medication to lower blood sugar (hypoglycaemia meds) and using turmeric therapeutically can induce hypoglycemia (low blood sugar) (19).
By all means, if you want a natural way to lower your blood sugar, try turmeric to start. I also encourage you to try fermented turmeric to see if its effects are better.
Always tell your doctor if you are using turmeric therapeutically, that is, consistently taking turmeric with high bioavailability. This may influence medication dosage or whether your doctor prescribes medication at all.
How to use fermented turmeric
1. Turmeric gut shots
I like to use a 3/4 L Airlock Fermenter even though a small batch of fermented turmeric fits perfectly into a 1 L Airlock Fermenter. The extra space in a 3/4 L jar provides room for extra brine; extra brine means more turmeric gut shots; more turmeric gut shots means an easy way to get microbes, activated curcumin, and nutrients. Start with 1 teaspoon of turmeric brine (gut shot) and work your way up to no more than 1 ounce a day.
As always, as you consume the brine, always ensure you use it at the same rate as the turmeric root. Submerging fermented vegetables under brine is key to preventing spoilage. Don’t be tempted to drink all the brine before utilizing the fermented turmeric.
2. Cook with it
Most of the time, it’s best to consume fermented vegetables raw. In the case of turmeric, fermentation has already transformed curcumin into a compound with high bioavailability. Heat won’t affect curcumin.
Moreover, if you are drinking turmeric gut shots, you are getting live microbes. Therefore, killing off microbes when cooking with heat is not a huge loss. Use finely grated turmeric:
- add to cooking water of quinoa, rice, millet, or other whole grains
- add to stews, soups, or curries (FYI: turmeric powder is an ingredient in curry powder blends)
- steeped in hot water with or without ginger for a medicinal tea
- simmer it in milk with peppercorns, fresh ginger, a cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods to make golden milk
3. Use it raw
If you want to get every last microbe from fermented turmeric, keep it raw. Consider the following ways to incorporate grated turmeric into your diet:
- mashed with chickpeas and mayo
- blend into hummus
- mix with a salad dressing
- combine into devilled or scrambled eggs
- juice it with other vegetables or add a portion to a “green” smoothie
4. Chew on it
Caution! Do not do this before a big date, business presentation, or special event. This will stain your teeth temporarily.
If you do this, remember to eat it with a little black pepper.
An easy way to remove the yellowish stains (assuming it is not Halloween) is to brush your teeth with straight baking soda. That’s right. Just dip a moist toothbrush in a portion of baking soda and brush away. The slight abrasion from baking soda makes it a a natural stain remover.
5. Dehydrate it
Make your own microbial-rich turmeric powder by dehydrating fermented turmeric. Dry it at 115° F or lower to keep it raw and preserve the microbes. Once completely dry, grind it into a powder using a coffee grinder. Store in an air-tight container. Use as you would regular turmeric powder.
Okay, now for the super easy recipe.
Fermented Turmeric Recipe
- 3/4 L Airlock Fermenter or Fido jar
- 250 grams fresh organic turmeric root
- 500 mL non-chlorinated water there will be leftover brine
- 10 grams non-iodized sea salt
- Make a 2% brine with water and salt. Set aside to cool.
- Gently wash each root in filtered water (a clean tooth brush helps wash around the knobes). Trim the ends and any scabs where exposed root has healed (this is often where mould grows). Slice each root lengthwise, keeping one end connected.
- Transfer turmeric to a clean 3/4 L Airlock Fermenter, below the shoulder of the jar. Put a glass weight over top.
- Once the brine is lukewarm, pour into the jar, just below the base of the neck (there should be some brine left over). This should leave 1/2-inch headspace and generously submerge the turmeric.
- Fill the 3-peice airlock with water to the fill line. Insert through the lid; fit lid on the jar and clamp shut.
- Ferment at 18-22ºC for 7 days on the counter away from direct sunlight or with a dark towel wrapped around the jar. Careful not to obstruct the airlock.
- Eat now or transfer to the fridge or cold storage for at least 3 more weeks. The ferment will keep unopened in cold storage for 6-9 months as long as the airlock remains full. Once opened replace the airlock with the plug. Store in the fridge. Grate fermented turmeric on a microplane and add to curries, smoothies, marinades for meat, salad dressings, stir-fries, pumpkin loaf, or, simply, hot water or milk for tea.