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Are you supposed to peel turmeric?

Turmeric is a popular Indian spice that has been used for centuries both for its flavor and potential health benefits. Its deep orange color comes from compounds called curcuminoids, the most important of which is curcumin. There has been considerable research interest in curcumin recently due to its antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

When purchasing fresh turmeric root, many people wonder if the rough outer skin needs to be peeled away before use. This article will take an in-depth look at whether peeling turmeric is necessary and provide tips for how to work with fresh turmeric in your recipes.

Benefits of Peeling Turmeric

There are a few reasons why you may want to peel turmeric:

  • Appearance – Removing the skin gives turmeric a bright orange color that can make dishes like turmeric rice look more appetizing.
  • Texture – The outer skin can add a slight toughness, so peeling makes for a smoother consistency.
  • Flavor – Some find the skin to have a slightly bitter taste.

However, the skin contains a considerable amount of the beneficial curcumin. One study found the curcuminoid content of the skin was 6.3%, compared to 5.1% in the inner flesh. So peeling turmeric does mean losing some of its health-promoting compounds.

Reasons to Leave the Skin On

Here are some of the benefits to using unpeeled turmeric:

  • Higher curcumin content – As mentioned, the skin is particularly concentrated with health-promoting curcumin.
  • More fiber – The tough skin is a good source of dietary fiber.
  • Reduced waste – Leaving the skin on makes use of the whole root.

Additionally, the skin contains oils that are associated with turmeric’s anti-inflammatory benefits. Some herbalists believe the essential oils have therapeutic value for conditions such as arthritis when consumed in culinary doses.

How Much Curcumin is Lost from Peeling?

One controlled study measured how peeling affected the curcuminoid content in turmeric. Researchers tested two different varieties of turmeric root. Here is a summary of their results:

Turmeric Variety Curcuminoid Content – Unpeeled Curcuminoid Content – Peeled
Alleppey 5.05% 3.25%
Madras 6.34% 4.56%

Peeling was found to reduce the curcumin content by 26-35%, varying based on the type of turmeric. The researchers concluded that the majority of curcuminoids are found in the inner flesh, but a significant portion is still contained in the skin.

How to Peel Turmeric

If you do choose to peel your turmeric root, here is one effective way to do it:

  1. Wash the roots thoroughly. Use a vegetable brush if needed to remove any dirt.
  2. Trim off the knobby ends of the root. This makes it easier to handle for peeling.
  3. Using a vegetable peeler or paring knife, carve away the skin a bit at a time. Rotate the root as you peel to remove all sides.
  4. Rinse under cold water when done peeling to remove any remnants of skin or residue.

Be sure to peel just before using, as exposing the bare turmeric root to air can cause it to oxidize and lose its bright color. And take care when peeling as the roots can stain surfaces and hands.

How to Use Unpeeled Turmeric

To retain all the beneficial compounds found in the skin, you can simply wash the turmeric well instead of peeling. Here are some tips for working with unpeeled turmeric:

  • Give it a good scrub with a vegetable brush under running water to clean.
  • Chop or slice it, skin and all, for cooking. The skin softens during cooking.
  • When making turmeric powder, dry the washed and chopped roots before grinding to produce powder with the skin.
  • If concerned about texture, steep whole unpeeled roots in soups or stews, then remove before eating.

How to Store Fresh Turmeric

Proper storage is important for preserving fresh turmeric root. Follow these guidelines whether you peel it or leave the skin on:

  • Store in the refrigerator in a plastic bag. Unpeeled roots will keep for up to 3 weeks.
  • Let sit at room temperature for 30 minutes before cooking for best flavor and color.
  • Wrap peeled or cut turmeric tightly and use within a few days.
  • Freezing extends the shelf life significantly. Simply place in a freezer bag or airtight container.

Dried vs. Fresh Turmeric

In addition to fresh turmeric root, dried and ground turmeric powder is also commonly available. Here is a comparison:

Fresh Turmeric Root Dried Turmeric Powder
Appearance Knobby, finger-like orange root Bright yellow-orange powder
Flavor Peppery, gingery, bitter Earthy, bitter
Texture Tough and fibrous Dry powder
Shelf life 2-3 weeks refrigerated Indefinite
Uses Cooked in dishes, juiced, steeped in liquid Stews, curries, marinades, spice rubs

Both fresh and dried turmeric have their uses in cooking. Choose fresh to take advantage of its full flavor, color, and nutritional content. But dried is more convenient for incorporating into spice blends or recipes cooked for a long time.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

There has been considerable scientific interest in the potential health benefits of the curcumin compounds found in turmeric. Here are some of the ways turmeric may promote wellness:

  • Anti-inflammatory – Curcumin has been shown to inhibit molecules that play a role in inflammation in the body. Several studies find turmeric helps relieve arthritis symptoms and joint pain.
  • Antioxidant – The curcuminoids in turmeric exhibit strong antioxidant activity, helping neutralize free radicals that can damage cells.
  • Heart health – Curcumin may improve endothelial function involved in regulating blood pressure and blood clotting.
  • Neuroprotective – Compounds in turmeric can increase BDNF, a growth hormone in the brain involved in cognitive function and memory.
  • Anti-cancer – Laboratory studies indicate curcumin may slow the spread of certain types of cancer cells and inhibit tumor growth.

However, most research has used turmeric supplements with concentrated curcumin. Eating turmeric in the diet provides lower amounts of curcumin. But including turmeric as part of an overall healthy diet and lifestyle may offer protective benefits.

Possible Side Effects of Turmeric

Turmeric consumed in food is generally recognized as safe. But turmeric supplements or large doses of turmeric may cause:

  • Upset stomach or diarrhea
  • Increased risk of bleeding for those taking blood-thinning medications
  • Drug interactions with medications metabolized by the liver
  • Allergic reactions in some people
  • Risk of lead toxicity in certain turmeric powders produced in India

Pregnant or nursing women should avoid taking large or medicinal amounts of turmeric.

Conclusion

Whether to peel turmeric comes down to personal preference. Leaving the skin on provides more fiber, nutrients, and antioxidants. But peeling gives it a bright color and smooth texture. For the easiest use of fresh turmeric, give the roots a good scrub and then add to recipes without peeling. Turmeric provides an earthy, peppery flavor and brilliant orange color to enhance dishes like rice, chicken curry, soups, and more. Consuming turmeric as part of a varied diet may also offer potential health benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory curcumin compounds.