By Shelby Davidson

With all the buzz around new superfoods like acai, goji berries and chia seeds, we’ve forgotten about one of the most ancient spices that has been celebrated for centuries as both a delicious food and medicine — turmeric. The beautiful gold color you see when you have a curry dish, the golden lattes on Pinterest and iconic new vegan options all feature this spice. Before you choose your go-to superfood, let turmeric swoop in to your diet.

All about turmeric

Turmeric is a spice that is derived from the root-like stem portion of a plant commonly found in India and the tropics. Classified within the ginger family, it serves as both a food and a medicine, thanks to one of its main active ingredients, curcumin. Curcumin, according to the UCLA Alzheimer Translation Center, gives turmeric its vibrant yellow color and has been found to have antioxidant properties. If you plan on using turmeric in your food, you can expect a warm, bitter taste.

A hybrid of medicinal and health benefits

Although the advantages of turmeric have recently become a fad in the culinary world, this spice has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years. Turmeric is most commonly used for conditions including arthritis, joint pain, heartburn, skin inflammation and high cholesterol. More clinical trials may be needed to prove the exact benefits of its main active ingredient curcumin, but consuming turmeric has been linked to improvements in liver function, according to a 2009 study published in Liverpool International.

Beware of the caveats

While the media has sung the praises of turmeric, it actually has some downsides that are commonly neglected and important to be aware of. According to the University of Maryland Medical Center, if not utilized in moderation, turmeric may cause gastrointestinal problems, such as upset stomach and ulcers. Turmeric may also lower blood sugar levels, so diabetics should consult a doctor before consuming turmeric supplements. Remember to always consult your doctor before adding any supplements to your daily routine.

Using Turmeric to Spice Up Your Diet

From sauces and smoothies to hummus and chicken, there is no shortage of ways to incorporate turmeric into your diet. The first thing to know is that you can choose to either use ground turmeric or fresh.

Fresh turmeric

Using the fresh root is not as common, but if you choose this method you will first need to peel and grate it. Use no more than 1 teaspoon when adding to meat marinades, salad dressings, stir-fry and pies. Because it does not mix as easily as ground turmeric, make sure to do plenty of stirring and allow the flavor to simmer within the entire dish.

Ground turmeric

All you usually need is 1–2 teaspoons of the ground turmeric to create amazing flavor and beautiful yellow colors. You can blend it into smoothies, soups, lentils or beans, rice dishes and mac and cheese. Another great way to incorporate this spice is as a dip topper, whether for hummus, bean dip or even salsa. The flavor is relatively intense, so use it wisely.