‘Poor Man’s Saffron’ Hits the U.S.
Everything’s coming up golden. Turmeric golden, that is.
These days, the deep-yellow spice is popping up all over the United States. Spice marketers report increasing sales, juice bars are taking pains to secure supply and turmeric-infused products are gaining shelf space. Barrels of turmeric fingers — the whole, raw form — have even turned up in grocery stores. They look like little roots of ginger, which is a close relation.
Credit an odd confluence of conditions, including the mainstreaming of natural foods, the cold-press juice craze and yoga. Credit, too, a ready supply from India, which grows most of the world’s turmeric. U.S. imports of the stuff more than doubled in value since 2007, to $11.5 million, according to data from the United Nations.
But the main engine of the turmeric craze is the idea that it’s a superfood, with curative properties that seem to verge on the magical. Pop-docs like Mehmet Oz and Andrew Weil nearly fawn over the root — and much of their audience does, too.
“Our sales have been increasing because of all the health benefits,” says Olivia Dillon, owner of Spice Ace, an épicerie in San Francisco. “People are constantly coming in and asking for turmeric.” She says she began noticing the trend last year, and estimates sales of the powdered stuff have grown 25 percent since then. A growing number of Americans are seeking it out in pill form, too. Sales of turmeric-based supplements grew almost 31 percent in 2012, to $108 million, according to the Nutrition Business Journal.
Devotees liken turmeric to a miracle root. They say it’s a powerful anti-inflammatory that fights cancer and Alzheimer’s and (it must be said) nearly everything in between. Arthritis. Crohn’s disease. Cuts and burns. Dr. Oz endorses turmeric’s active phytochemical, curcumin, for fighting depression.
The National Institutes of Health is wary of most claims, citing a lack of clinical-trial evidence. (It does say turmeric could be effective for upset stomach and pain relief.) And sellers of turmeric products are wary of making specific health claims, too, because the FDA would not approve. “People come in every day for [medicinal spices],” says Dona Abramson, operations manager at New York’s spice mecca Kalustyan’s. “A spoonful of something and they’ll be cured.”
But that might not matter to the ranks of the root-heads buying up turmeric juice, lotion and soap, or sprinkling ground turmeric on their scrambled eggs. To them, what matters is a more general notion of well-being that turmeric is said to promote. It’s an all-around wonder drug.
“I really believe in my heart there’s something for everyone in turmeric,” says Daniel Sullivan, owner of TumericALIVE, a young beverage company that has made serious headway over the past few years. “If you have this in your life, you’ll feel better, clearer; you’ll have more energy and a more enriched lifestyle.”
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