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How To Cook With Turmeric For Pain Relief

Updated on March 30, 2013
© Redberry Sky
© Redberry Sky

Turmeric may help relieve inflammation and pain in diseases such as:

  • Arthritis
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
  • Lyme Disease
  • Sciatica

…and many others.

It may also slow the progression of Alzheimer's disease and multiple sclerosis, and even some cancers.

But the body doesn't absorb turmeric very well, and to get the full benefit it must be used in cooking in a certain way, with a little black pepper and some oil or fat – both of which increase absorption, and thus increase its effectiveness.

Low Rate of Alzheimer's and MS in India

In India, vast amounts of turmeric are consumed in food, and as statistics became available through large-scale studies, it was remarkably noticeable that rates of certain diseases – Alzheimer's and MS in particular – were very low in the population.

By itself this could have been an interesting coincidence and nothing more, but researchers found that turmeric has several potent actions:

  • Dissolves the plaques that are the major feature of Alzheimer's and prevents new ones from forming;
  • Blocks the production of certain proteins – IL-2 and IL-12 – that are thought to play a key role in the destruction of the myelin sheath surrounding nerves;
  • Increases LDL-cholesterol receptors, which means that more of this bad cholesterol can be cleared from the body;
  • Inhibits the production of certain inflammatory agents within the body.

Turmeric is absorbed better when it is cooked with black pepper.  Chilis also have anti-inflammatory effects, and pain-relief properties, if you can take the heat! Photo © Redberry Sky
Turmeric is absorbed better when it is cooked with black pepper. Chilis also have anti-inflammatory effects, and pain-relief properties, if you can take the heat! Photo © Redberry Sky

Turmeric - Pain Relief and Inflammation

One of the major causes of pain in many diseases and conditions is the body's inflammatory response, and it is turmeric's ability to reduce this response that makes it a powerful ally.

Turmeric's effectiveness has been compared favourably with some anti-inflammatory drugs, like ibuprofen, with the added benefit that turmeric in dietary amounts does not have side effects or risks associated with regular long-term use.

How To Use Turmeric in Cooking for Pain and Inflammation Relief

First of all, turmeric is a bitter spice, and to reduce its bitterness and bring out its warmth instead, it needs to be combined with other flavours. In India, it is used in curries, but there are many other ways to include it in food and drinks for those who don't have a spicy taste.

The key to using turmeric as a natural food-medicine is to enjoy small amounts of it regularly – adding it to meals three or four times a week, or having a warming cup of turmeric tea at bedtime.

Who Should NOT Use Turmeric?

Be aware that if you have diabetes or are taking medicine for excess stomach acid, or blood-thinners, turmeric may interact with any medication you are taking and may not be safe.

Dietary amounts of turmeric are safe for most people, but excessive amounts (such as in supplements) may cause problems. If you have any concerns speak to a doctor or other healthcare provider before radically changing your diet.

Simple Stir-Fry with Turmeric


  • Diced chicken breast (about 150g per person)
  • Onion, chopped (about a quarter of an onion per person)
  • Red bell pepper, chopped (about quarter to half a pepper per person)
  • 2 garlic cloves, crushed or sliced (to taste – I use much more)
  • Freshor dried herbs like coriander, oregano and basil – I find that a few herbs bring out the warmth of turmeric and greatly reduce any bitter taste.
  • 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower or other cooking oil
  • Turmeric (I use a teaspoon or two, but I've acquired a taste for it over time, so you may want to use less at first and just sprinkle some over the other ingredients)
  • Freshly ground black pepper (pepper makes turmeric better absorbed by the body, so to make it more effective include at least a sprinkling in cooking – if your spicy heat tolerance is low just use a little, and your tolerance will increase over time)


Heat the oil first in a wok or frying pan, and then add all of the other ingredients and cook over a medium heat until the chicken is thoroughly cooked through – stirring regularly and often so the ingredients don't stick and burn. It will take about 10-20 minutes depending on how much you're cooking.

Serve with wraps and eat like fajitas, in pita, or with pasta, garlic bread, or even just a side-dish of cooked rice.

Turmeric in Stews, Soups and Saucy Meals

A half or full teaspoon of turmeric can often be added to highly flavoured sauce-based meals without any noticeable change in flavour.

Simple chicken Stew

One of my own favourites is to cook boned, skinned chicken thighs with chopped carrots, parsnips and sweet potatoes in a large wok with 400ml water, adding a teaspoon of turmeric, rosemary, thyme, freshly ground black pepper and crushed/sliced garlic, for 45 minutes on a low heat with a lid placed on top (and adding more water as necessary if the liquid level gets low). The flavour is warm and savoury, without any hint of bitterness.

Chicken Soup

  • Remove any meat from the remains of a chicken carcass of a Sunday lunch and set it to one side in a dish.
  • Then break up the carcass and simmer it (lid on) in 500ml water for about half an hour (add more water as necessary – you want to have enough for the soup stock) – and strain the liquid into a container, making sure no small bones remain in the stock;
  • Separately simmer some chopped root vegetables – carrots and parsnips or your own favourites – until soft;
  • Fry some onions and a little garlic separately.
  • Then put the meat, vegetables and chicken stock into your wok (or other large pan), add turmeric, black pepper, and any other herbs and spices you like, and simmer on a very low heat for about twenty minutes, and serve with thick crusty bread.

A nice touch is when you cook a whole chicken, drain the fat from the roasting pan and once it's cooled skim off the solid white fat from the top, and add the jelly-like substance that's left to the soup in the final stage of cooking – it will keep in the fridge for a few days, so your soup doesn't have to be made the same day as your roast chicken.

For a thicker soup, add a spoonful or two of fresh double cream a few minutes before the end of cooking.

Breakfast/Lunch with turmeric

Stir-fry, in a small amount of cooking oil, some thinly-sliced mushrooms, baby tomatoes, and finely-chopped onion, with a dash of turmeric and pepper, and serve on hot buttered toast.

Omelette for One Person

Mix two medium eggs in a cup with a little turmeric and pepper; heat a little cooking oil in a frying pan, and then pour the egg mixture in, add finely chopped vegetables like mushrooms and bell pepper, and cook on a low-medium heat for a few minutes – flip it half-way through cooking, or else keep the heat low and place a lid over the top so that both sides are cooked.

Spicy Saucy Meals – Turmeric's Natural Home

With Indian meals like Madras, Jalfrezi, Rogan Josh and all the other wonderful Indian dishes that are rapidly gaining popularity in the West, jars of store-bought sauces will often contain some turmeric, and adding a little more won't adversely affect the flavour since the sauces are quite strong and aromatic anyway. I also add turmeric and some black pepper to chilis and fajita fillings – and if you aren't a spicy food fan, having some plain yoghurt or sour cream to cool things down, and looking for the sauces labelled as 'mild' will give you a nicely warming meal rather than a tongue-searingly hot one!

If you prefer to make your own sauces from scratch, the BBC Good Food Online has lots of fantastic Indian recipes that either contain turmeric as an ingredient, or are flavourful enough to add this spice

Adding a dash of turmeric to a fruit smoothie won't noticeably alter the sweet, sharp taste, if you want an easy way to add a little turmeric to your diet. Photo © Redberry Sky.
Adding a dash of turmeric to a fruit smoothie won't noticeably alter the sweet, sharp taste, if you want an easy way to add a little turmeric to your diet. Photo © Redberry Sky.

Turmeric Drinks

Adding Turmeric to Fruit Smoothies

Turmeric doesn't tend to taste fantastic in fruit smoothies in large amounts (and I've never added pepper to my own smoothies!), but adding the smallest sprinkle before you blend the fruits won't noticeably change the taste, and can be a good way of getting a morning shot of turmeric.

Turmeric Tea

There are a few ways of making turmeric in a hot drink, but simply adding a spoonful will just make the drink 'bitty' and most of the spice will just sink to the bottom!

A better way to make a turmeric drink is to add a teaspoon or two to 500ml water in a pan, simmer for 5-10 minutes, and then drain the liquid through a filter – paper coffee filters are good for this, and then either drink the liquid or mix it with milk and heat it.

For a more flavoursome drink, add a cinnamon stick and a sprinkle of nutmeg when you simmer the turmeric in water, and even add a couple of teaspoons of black tea as well to make a chai-like drink (and, again, filter the liquid through a paper filter before drinking). A little honey is a nice way to add some healthy sweetness to the drink.

Links to Further in-depth Information on Turmeric and Health Research

PubMed Research Abstracts - these are just a small sample of the ones available on that site, but their database is fully searchable if none of these deal with your own area of interest.

Curcumin and inflammatory diseases

Clinical Inquiry – Does Turmeric Relieve Inflammatory Conditions

Therapeutic Potential of Curcumin in Gastrointestinal Diseases

Possible therapy for autoimmune diseases – an investigation of heat-solubilized Curcumin

WHFoods - Highlights from Research in Layman's Terms

WHFoods on Turmeric – Lists and Explains the Ongoing Research in several important areas of health

WHFoods on Turmeric and Multiple Sclerosis


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    • RTalloni profile image


      5 years ago from the short journey

      Thanks for this look at the benefits of turmeric with info ib using it. I continue to look for ways to add it to recipes and this is helpful. Glad to see the warning on using the supplements--it's important. Pinning to Ways w/ Food: Herbs/Spices board.

    • tamron profile image


      5 years ago

      I never heard of Turmeric but I like stir fries. Maybe I will try Turmeric one time. I am always looking for a different taste! Nice Hub

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 

      5 years ago from Olympia, WA

      My goodness, what a helpful and interesting hub. Thank you for this information. Passing it on to Bev so we don't forget about it. :)

      I hope you are having a wonderful weekend.



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