Turmeric and Curcumin: What’s the Difference?

This beautiful, golden spice has had everyone talking – from health experts to scientists. The humble turmeric sits quietly in the corner of our kitchen and is often sprinkled on curries to impart a splash of bright yellow colour. A very popular curry spice in India, it is now being touted as a powerful superfood that can help in at fighting and potentially reversing several ailments. Ayurveda regards it as prized medicinal spice. This very versatile condiment helps with digestion, relieves arthritis pain, treats burns, boosts your immunity and has even success in cancer treatment according to some studies.

These impressive health benefits of turmeric are due to the presence of a compound called curcumin. But before we tell you more about this compound, it helps to know – what’s the difference between turmeric and curcumin?


Curcumin Versus Turmeric

Curcumin is a naturally-occurring chemical compound found in the spice turmeric.  Turmeric, on the other hand, is the root of a plant which is scientifically known as Curcuma Longa and that’s probably where curcumin gets its name from. Raw turmeric is often uses in South Asian countries, although in India the powdered spice is more common.  After the turmeric root is harvested it is cleaned, cured and then dried. Later, the dried root may be sold as it or ground into a fine powder. In India, it is often referred to as Indian saffron, yellow ginger, yellow root or kacha haldi.

Just like spinach is rich in iron and lemons are full of Vitamin C, turmeric is a great source of curcumin. A turmeric root typically contains about 2 to 5% of curcumin. Curcumin belongs to a family of chemicals that are known as curcuminoid and which have a bright yellow colour. It is this compounds that lends the distinctive colour to the spice. Curcumin was first identified as a compound back in 1815. Since then, there have been several studies conducted to learn more about its abilities. It is believed that curcumin works on multiple functions and processes at the same time which is why it has been touted to cure everything from pain and inflammation to fighting tumours and promoting brain health.


Among the top-selling supplements of the past few years, turmeric powder and curcumin come from the same plant, so it’s easy to get them confused. Here’s the difference:

Turmeric is a plant. Its root is ground into a powder to make “the golden spice” that imbues many Indian dishes with a yellow color. In India, where there is a much lower incidence of most lifestyle diseases than in the United States, turmeric is traditionally consumed in most meals, starting in childhood.

Curcumin is the chief health-promoting component of the turmeric plant, making up no more than about 3 percent of the root. Curcumin in supplements is a concentrated extract designed to work more quickly than the whole turmeric root.

“I have yet to find a single disease of any type for which curcumin has not been studied,” says Ajay Goel, PhD, professor at Baylor Research Institute in Dallas, who has been researching natural substances for about 25 years. And, he adds, more than 10,000 studies document the benefits of curcumin.

Goel recommends routinely eating turmeric as a spice to enhance overall, long-term health. However, he says, “If you’re intending to find a cure or to get relief from something immediate, then you have to take curcumin.” Otherwise, the concentration of curcumin in turmeric may not be sufficient to deliver quick results. In India, he says, these are some traditional Ayurvedic remedies:

  • Mix 1 teaspoon of turmeric powder in a cup of full-fat milk and drink it to relieve an upset stomach, a headache, an oncoming cold, or other ailments. They key is to mix turmeric with a fatty liquid, to aid absorption.
  • For cuts and scrapes, put turmeric powder under a bandage, to prevent infection and speed healing.
  • Turmeric powder can be added to smoothies or any other food

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