Medicine from Scratch
To enhance turmeric’s medicinal wallop, ferment it. In five minutes of your time (plus two days to ferment), you can create a base for a month’s supply of tasty and healing fermented turmeric tea.
Best known for its characteristic bright orange-yellow color and as a signature ingredient in curry, turmeric is the small rhizome (root) of a ginger relative. It has a musky aroma and a flavor that is both slightly astringent and bitter. The active ingredient in turmeric, curcumin, quells inflammation, supports digestion, deactivates carcinogens and prevents the release of histamines in the stomach, which counteracts food allergies. Turmeric also has antiseptic, antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Studies show that turmeric isn’t always easily absorbed and that people with compromised health aren’t able to fully utilize its active ingredients (curcumin and other curcuminoids). So here’s the great news: fermenting turmeric makes it easier for you to assimilate its medicinal properties. A study published in the International Journal of Food Science and Technology found that the antioxidant power of turmeric increases when it is fermented. Fermentation not only concentrates the curcuminoids but also mitigates its bitter flavor.
You can ferment either fresh or dried turmeric to make a turmeric concentrate (pictured below) that can be stirred into tea. Dried turmeric, which has been cooked and cured, has a milder flavor and aroma than fresh. (Other ways I enjoy turmeric fresh are shredded and added to sauerkraut, kimchi and beet kvass. Here’s a great turmeric-kraut recipe for Masala Kraut from Leda Scheintaub.)
Fresh turmeric is pricy, but a little goes a long way, and it is becoming increasingly available in markets. Look for rhizomes that are crisp and evenly colored; at home, they will hold for several weeks in the refrigerator. When using dried turmeric, purchase organic turmeric from a reputable source, as nonorganic turmeric may be adulterated.
Fermented Turmeric Tea Base
Makes about 2/3 cup (or ½ cup when made with ground turmeric)
4 ounces fresh turmeric or 1/3 cup ground turmeric
2 tablespoons raw honey
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon lemon zest
1 ounce fresh ginger, grated (optional)
If using fresh turmeric, finely grate it (there’s no need to remove its soft skin). Place the fresh or dried turmeric in a pint jar. Add the honey, lemon juice, lemon zest and ginger, if using, and stir. Note: Initially the honey will not easily mix in, but in an hour or so it readily softens and dissolves on its own. Cover and let rest for a few hours. Stir to blend the ingredients and taste just a little to get a sense of its intense, pre-fermented flavor.
Cover loosely and leave on the counter for 48 hours to ferment. When ready, the flavors will be tangy and bitter; the fresh turmeric tea base will also be lively and sprightly. The consistency of the fresh will be like marmalade and the dried will be like peanut butter. Refrigerated, the base will hold for several months.
To make a tea or a tonic from the fresh turmeric base, place a rounded teaspoon into a tea ball or in a strainer and steep for several minutes. If using the base made from dried turmeric, stir a scant teaspoon into hot water or a tea of your choice and drink. By using hot, rather than boiling water, the living enzymes will remain vital.
I also enjoy a dollop of the fresh base straight from the jar; it has a punch and tastes so vital. The odds are you’ll find a number of ways to use fermented turmeric such as adding it to a salad dressing or smoothie.
To learn more about the healing powers of turmeric, I recommend Turmeric for Health, a web page dedicated only to the rhizome.
Thanks to my awesome physical therapist, Mary Gorman, for this recipe idea. Mary favors using Meyer lemons in her base.