Turmeric Part I

As a graduate student working towards my PhD in molecular biology at a highly regarded US University, the last thing I expected to hear touted for its beneficial effects on cancer (and pretty much everything else) was 'haldi'! Having grown up in India, I had witnessed the spice turmeric or haldi being indiscriminately claimed as the ultimate panacea for all ailments. Fighting a sore throat? Turmeric boiled in milk was what mum (and often the doc) ordered. Suffering a digestive upset? Turmeric-infused 'khichdi' - rice and lentil porridge - was a must. Healing from an open wound? A paste of turmeric and water would do the trick. And even plagued by unwanted body hair?! Turmeric mixed with chickpea flour and water was better than anything Sally Hansen could concoct. You can therefore imagine my delighted surprise when world-renowned scientists and clinicians at Harvard and everywhere else were suddenly obsessed with curcumin, a bioactive component of turmeric, for its miraculous medicinal properties. 


Ancient medical systems like Ayurveda in India and Traditional Chinese Medicine began using turmeric as medicine about 4000 years ago. It has a plethora of claimed health benefits including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, choleretic (promoting bile production by the liver), antimicrobial and carminative (preventing formation of and easing discomfort from abdominal gas) effects. Traditionally therefore, it's been used for digestive distress, jaundice, menstrual problems, heart disease, colic, gallbladder ailments, arthritis, conjunctivitis, skin cancer, small pox, chicken pox, wound healing, urinary tract infections, liver problems, respiratory conditions, anorexia and diabetic wounds. The list is long! A query for turmeric on Pubmed, a search engine for all biomedical research and review articles, yields 3000+ results over the last 70 years. Modern science is frantically trying to understand why this miracle spice has dominated the traditional medicine cabinet for centuries and how it may be used effectively in modern medicine.


Turmeric is the underground stem, known as a rhizome, of the plant Curcuma longa of the ginger family. Fresh turmeric rhizomes look very much like ginger with a hint of orange on the skin. Upon slicing them, it becomes apparent why turmeric is called the Golden Spice or Indian Saffron. A fiery, almost fluorescent orange, fresh turmeric has an earthy, peppery and vibrant aroma and flavor. Most turmeric, however, is consumed in powdered form. Ground turmeric has an earthy and peppery but also slightly bitter and mustard like smell. You can find it in most grocery stores in the ethnic aisle or in Indian, Nepalese or Pakistani food stores (although see note on lead contamination below). The fresh root is harder to procure but can be found at some health food and Thai or Indonesian shops. The ground spice can be stored away from light in an airtight container for about a year without too large a loss in freshness and aroma. Fresh turmeric root should be stored in the fridge for 1-2 weeks or frozen for longer periods. As some of you may have experienced, turmeric stains! It was used as a dye before anything else and if you've worked with it, fresh or dried, you know why that was such a brilliant idea centuries ago. If you don't want orangey fingernails, use gloves, If you forget to do so, nail polish remover works well. On clothes, pre-treating with detergent or stain remover and washing once or twice with ample sunshine for drying can help. Bleach is a good option for countertop stains. 


There have been reports of some manufacturers using lead chromate to enhance the weight and color of turmeric powder. Lead-laced turmeric is more orangey-red than yellow. This was very alarming as lead in high enough quantities can be a neurotoxin and cause developmental delays in children. The benefits of turmeric were convincing enough that I wanted to sort through this issue before deciding whether or not to give it to my son. I wrote to a few well known spice brands inquiring about lead testing, including McCormicks, and was assured that they do test for lead in their ground turmeric to ensure it is safe. We recommend buying McCormicks or a well recognized, preferably organic brand for turmeric and really all spices. I would steer clear of unlabeled or unknown brands from ethnic shops. Also worth noting is that we are exposed to lead in a multitude of ways and our bodies have ways of clearing it, especially if our diets are well balanced in iron, calcium and vitamin C. I breathed a sigh of relief on discovering these facts. Just make sure your turmeric is from a reliable source and you're good to go. 


As is typical here at Spice Spice Baby, we will diligently investigate whether turmeric's traditional health claims stand up to the modern scientific test and share our findings in a subsequent post. Without giving away the punch-line, let's just say there is enough reason to use turmeric A LOT in cooking for ourselves and our kids. For those unfamiliar with turmeric, it can seem daunting to use this somewhat foreign, a-bit-too exotic spice in mainstream, Western cooking. Fear not. Here we suggest 3 ultra easy recipes to incorporate this miracle spice into your baby's, kid's and family's food. 

To health and haldi!

NOTE: The main medicinal component in turmeric is curcumin which is fat versus water soluble. Also, it's bioavailability is augmented in the presence of black pepper. We have therefore tried to add pepper and good fats to our recipes whenever possible. We suggest 1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric for most recipes. If you've never used it, start with less and work your way up. 

Turmeric Thai Curry
6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Both butternut squash and green beans are incredibly high sources of carotenoids which are converted to Vitamin A in the body and crucial for healthy skin, mucous membrane integrity and eye development. Coconut milk is rich in medium chain fatty acids which are more readily utilized for energy rather than for fat storage (take that cellulite). Moreover, lauric acid in coconut milk is converted into monolaurine in the body which has anti-viral and antibacterial effects. Combined with the benefits of turmeric, this is true baby super food. Add a bit more coconut milk and some salt for a 'thai inspired soup' perfect for the family table. 

1 cup or 2 4oz baby meal servings

3 cups diced butternut squash (about half an average squash)
1 cup chopped green beans
Water for steaming
1 tablespoon olive, rapeseed or coconut oil
1/2 teaspoon finely chopped or grated ginger (optional)
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8-1/4 teaspoon ground pepper (optional)
2 tablespoons coconut milk

Steam the butternut squash and green beans in a pressure cooker, steam basket or baby food maker of choice until soft. In a small saucepan, heat the oil until hot but not smoking. Add the ginger and sauté for one minute. Add the turmeric and sauté for another minute. Add the oil mixture, pepper (if using) and the coconut milk to the squash and beans and blend. Add water for a more liquid puree. 

Serving Suggestions
Serve as is for a nutritious, delicious baby meal. Add a bit of salt and some more coconut milk or water to make a warming winter soup for the family table. For spicy spice-loving adults, serve with chopped thai chillis. 

Turmeric Hummus
6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

Chickpeas provide a tremendous amount of insoluble fiber which regulates blood sugar and cholesterol levels, aiding heart health. This fiber is converted into short chain fatty acids by gut microbes which serve as fuel for cells lining the colon, thereby keeping this very important digestive organ in healthy, pristine condition. Tahini is a superb source of calcium and vitamins B and E. Combined with pita or wheat bread, hummus offers complete protein i.e. all 9 essential amino acids, critical for growing babies and toddlers (and us adults!)

2 1/2 cups

1 15oz can cooked garbanzo beans
2 tablespoons tahini
1-2 garlic cloves (optional, especially for younger babies)
2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice ( from 3/4 of an average lemon)
2 tablespoons good olive oil
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground black pepper (optional)
6 tablespoons ice water
1/2 teaspoon salt (skip for babies)

Heat the oil over medium flame until hot but not smoking. Add the turmeric and stir the pan on and off for about a minute until the turmeric heats and opens up. Turn off the heat and allow the oil to cool. Meanwhile, rinse and drain the chickpeas and add to a blender bowl. Add the tahini, lemon juice, garlic, salt and pepper (if using) and cooled turmeric oil and blend. Add the ice-water (a Yotam Ottolenghi trick!) one tablespoon at a time while blending to smooth out the hummus. 

Serving suggestions
Serve as a dip with chopped veggies, whole wheat breadsticks or pita bread for toddlers and adults or as a puree for babies. Slather on bread and top with chopped avocado (or other veggies) for a nutritious and tasty sandwich meal. 

Turmeric Lemon Quinoa
12 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult

An idea from our previous SpiceMama of the Month Priya Giri Desai (guest post here)

As discussed in a previous post here, quinoa is a true superfood containing essential vitamins like Riboflavin (B2) which helps energy production in the brain and muscle cells, important minerals like iron, magnesium and manganese, twice the fiber of most grains and protein. Rare for plant-based protein, quinoa contains ‘complete’ protein encompassing all 9 essential amino acids making it a truly perfect, balanced grain for kids. With its vibrant color, aroma and flavor from the turmeric and lemon in this recipe, it is a livelier healthier substitute for white rice. 

3 cups

1 tablespoon neutral oil like rapeseed or canola
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds (optional)
1/8 - 1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 cup quinoa
2.5 cups water
1 tablespoon lemon juice

Rinse the quinoa well to remove the bitter outer saponin coating, drain and set aside. Warm the oil in a pot for which you have a lid over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, stirring the pot now and then until the seeds begin to pop but don't burn, about 1-2 minutes. Add the turmeric, letting it open up and infuse the oil, about a minute. Add the quinoa and sauté until the seeds are well coated with the oil, about 30 seconds. Add the water slowly, mix and cover with a lid. Once the mixture is boiling, reduce the heat to low and allow the quinoa to simmer until dry, about 10 minutes. Fluff up with a fork, stir in the lemon juice and serve. 

Serving Suggestions
Serve as a lighter, more nutritious substitute for rice with curries or stews. Stir in some veggies like carrots and peas while cooking and serve with some plain yoghurt on the side for a complete meal. You can also add in chopped raw veggies (tomatoes, carrots, fennel), nuts or seeds (pine nuts, pumpkin seeds) or raisins. Drizzle with some olive oil and more lemon, salt and pepper and top with fresh parsley or cilantro for a beyond healthy salad. 






Digestive Health
Liver & Gallbladder




Paprika Part I

This summer my parents invited us to join them on a family holiday on the Spanish island of Mallorca so we embraced the 'joys' of a 12+ hr flight with a toddler and went. Having never been to Spain before, I soaked in the culture, the wine (literally) and the FOOD! Ohhhh the food. Patatas bravas, Octopus a la plancha, Padron peppers, Croquettes of every kind that my son Ilhan inhaled, I could go on and on. I quickly saw that aside from being simple yet delicious, most Spanish dishes had one other thing in common - the spice paprika. 

Research revealed that paprika is in fact native to Central and South America and the West Indies and was only introduced to the New World by Portugal and Spain. Paprika is made from grinding dried peppers - sweet bell peppers, hot green peppers and everything in between - of the Capsicum anuum family. It is now used worldwide but particularly dominates the spice racks in Hungary, Spain, Portugal, Morocco and Latin America. Sweet paprika is the norm in the West these days though you can find moderately spicy and very spicy versions if you look hard enough. Ultimately however, the king of all the paprikas and the most revered in culinary circles is smoked paprika. Known as pimenton in Spain, it is prepared by smoking peppers over an oak fire unlike the conventional air drying method.  It can also be found as sweet, moderately spicy and spicy versions. 

Smoked paprika is my favorite and I have to restrain myself from adding it to all that I eat but it doesn't actually work with everything. It is smoky and robust which is why it's amazing but it can consequently  overpower delicate ingredients. Sweet paprika is more mild and versatile. It lends a lovely flavor reminiscent of its parent peppers not to mention the gorgeous reddish-orange hue that makes it so pretty as a garnish on things like deviled eggs. It can liven up mashed potatoes, scrambled eggs, roast chicken and fish, popcorn - the list is long! I suggest having one sweet (Spanish or Hungarian) and one smoked (Spanish) jar in your pantry. We will work with both in this series. The sweet kind is definitely the best way to introduce the spice to babies and kids and you can work your way up the smokiness ladder from there. I would recommend staying away from spicy or picante versions of paprika for the kids unless yours are the uberadventurous kind. 

We've talked ad nauseam about spices being a potent component of nature's pharmacy and we won't stop now. Paprika's claimed health benefits include:

1) Anti-inflammatory effects from capsaicin (found in spicy cayenne pepper in larger amounts). Topical application of capsaicin containing compounds is suggested to relieve arthritic pain. 

2) Stimulation of salivary glands to aid digestion.

3) Antioxidant effects from the 4 carotenoids found in paprika - beta-carotene, beta-cryptoxanthine, lutein and zeaxanthin. 

4) Anti-cancer effects due to its high antioxidant content. 

5) Anti-bacterial effects.

6) Vitamin A from 2 of the 4 carotenoids - beta-carotene and beta-cryptoxanthine - which is pivotal for good eye and vision development in children. One teaspoon provides a substantial 37% of the daily requirement of vitamin A based on a 2000 calorie diet. 

7) Vitamins E, B-6 and Iron 

Typical of our format at Spice Spice Baby, our next post will look at these claims from a scientist's lens to explore which have been tested and validated by modern medicine. Until then, let's eat! 


Paprika was the first spice I introduced my son to when he was 7 months old.  While he has now progressed to loving and devouring smoked paprika combinations, I started him off with the sweet version which is what we'll do for our first recipe in the series. I would discourage the use of smoked paprika here as it may overpower the delicate flavors of the fennel and leeks. We'll have loads of opportunities to play with the smoked version in subsequent recipes. 

6 months+, Toddler, Kid, Adult


All too often, potatoes are thought of as fattening comfort food and not much else but that's absolutely not the case. They are a source of vitamins and minerals especially Vitamin B6 that is indispensable in the synthesis of amino acids which are building blocks for protein in the body. They are also starchy and superb for the energy demands of growing babies and toddlers. Cauliflower like all cruciferous veggies, is brimming with phytonutrients which help detoxify the body. It's also a great source of Vitamin C and is being studied extensively for its anti-cancer effects. It can be a bit hard to digest for some folks which is why we combine it with fennel which aids digestion and also packs a Vitamin C punch. Leeks are milder and sweeter than onions and my absolute favorite especially with other delicate ingredients like fennel and potato. They provide folate and phytonutrients making this potage (essentially a thick soup) truly nutritious comfort food for babies and everyone else. The Gruyere cheese and paprika elevate the dish to a yummy place. In the textured / adult bruschetta variation, the goat cheese addition is creamy and fabulous especially paired with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.


5 5oz baby portions
2 adult or 2-3 toddler portions


1/2 leek white and light green parts sliced
1/2 cauliflower head coarsely chopped
1 Russet or Yukon Gold potato chopped
1/2 fennel bulb chopped
1/2 teaspoon sweet paprika
1 tablespoon olive oil
3/4 - 1 cup water or chicken stock
1/4 cup grated Gruyere cheese 
Salt and pepper to taste (optional)


Heat the oil in a pressure cooker or medium pot until warm but not smoking. Add the paprika into the oil and sauté for 10 seconds to activate the flavors. Add the leeks and sauté for 2 minutes until softened. Add the potatoes, fennel, cauliflower and water or chicken stock (3/4 cup if using a pressure cooker otherwise 1 cup or until the veggies are just covered) and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook with lid partially on until the potatoes are cooked through, about 10 minutes in the pressure cooker or 20 minutes in the pot. Puree the mixture, stir in the grated cheese and add salt and pepper if you like. 

Textured Bruschetta Variation
Kids, Adults

Add the above ingredients except for the potatoes, cheese and water to a roasting pan increasing the olive oil to 2 tablespoons and the paprika to 1 teaspoon. Add some salt to taste. Roast at 400F / 200C for 30 minutes or until the cauliflower has softened to your liking. Be sure to give the mixture a good stir every now and then to prevent burning. 

Serving Suggestions

Serve the potage as a soup with some crusty bread or as a baby meal. You can skip the cheese if you haven't introduced dairy to your little one yet. I also serve it as a 'gravy' for grilled chicken to my toddler who is a tad picky about the texture of dry pieces of meat.

The roasted vegetables can be served as a side dish with a piece of meat or fish but I especially love them on a slice of baguette with dollops of goat cheese, chopped tarragon and a drizzle of olive oil pictured here. As you can see I could barely manage a photo before I dove in. 

Happy healthy eating!

With Love & Spice, 

Your ChiefSpiceMama

Download the potage recipe here. 

Download the bruschetta recipe here. 
















Weight Loss
Digestion aid
Vitamin A