Using Turmeric To Make Cooking Meat Safer. An Underappreciated Benefit!

Cooking meat can be a minefield. Not only are there the well-known risks of poorly prepared or cheaply manufactured chicken, but you may also need to be wary of red meat. Recent studies have concluded that red meat is inherently unhealthy, so what can you do to remain safe while still including it in your diet? Or, perhaps more accurately, what can turmeric do?

Satay BBQ

HCAs - What are they, and why should you care?

HCAs - heterocyclic amines - are well known to be produced during the process of grilling meat. These HCAs are well-known to pose health risks to anyone who may eat them, so understandably, avoiding them is wise.

HCAs are formed when amino acids (which make up proteins) react at high temperatures. They can also be found in sugars, creatine, or creatinine (substances found in muscle) when they are heated to a high temperature. Therefore, the grilling of meat is a surefire way to end up with some HCAs on your plate.

In laboratory experiments, HCAs have been found to be mutagenic. That is to say that they can cause changes in DNA, which may increase the risk of cancer. Remember when all of a sudden everyone was saying that charred foods are carcinogenic? Well, HCAs are the cause of that fact.

Turmeric, however, poses a particularly interesting and unique property in that it stops the formation of HCAs on meat when it is an ingredient in a marinade. When the solution containing turmeric is allowing to penetrate deeply into the meat, the formation of HCAs drops considerably.

This experiment was carried out with satay -  a very popular grilled meat dish that typically lists turmeric as an ingredient. The study makes a point of saying that turmeric, in general, will have this effect, but it is most noticeable when the meat has been marinated in a turmeric-containing spice mixture. About one to two teaspoons per three-and-a-half ounces of meat was used to find this outcome in one study, so it’s definitely worth bearing in mind for your next barbecue!

Turmeric the golden spice

Turmeric - Famed Antimicrobial Properties Strike Again!

There has long been a tradition of sprinkling meat with turmeric the night before it’s due to be cooked, supposedly to kill bacteria in it. This is a great example of a tradition that very few people ever really checked out, just carrying on with it because it’s what their parents had done.

That said, it has now been proven to be true! Turmeric has long been known to have anti-microbial properties, and so a piece of dubious meat, after being sprinkled with turmeric, may be healthier to eat.

The chemical doing the heavy lifting in this process is curcumin. It is an active chemical that has powerful antimicrobial properties. In fact, researchers have now put curcumin to work creating a food-safe antibacterial surface! Of course, we do already have sprays and wipes which eliminate bacteria in food preparation areas, but what if the area itself was antibacterial? Researchers have been able to package curcumin into nanosized vesicles attached to the glass. When there, the curcumin kills bacteria on contact! This could lead to cutting boards, knives, and even countertops which are inherently antibacterial thanks to their turmeric content!

As a vaguely interesting aside, the specific mechanisms of curcumin’s activities haven’t yet been explored. While we know that curcumin is capable of a large number of impressive biological and pharmacological activities, there have yet to be any studies investigating exactly how and why it carries them out. The reason for that is that essentially it is relatively unimportant, in the grand scheme of things. As much as it may be nice to know the exact mechanism of a given system, we need only accept that it works in order to use it effectively.

For the antibacterial property alone, sprinkling your meat with turmeric is good to practice. It’s also good to do when you consider the other well-known health benefits of turmeric!

Regularly using turmeric in your food preparation will mean that you’re regularly intaking a good amount of it. Having that high level in your diet can lead to anti-inflammatory effects,  as well as promoting healthy skin and helping to maintain a healthy cardiovascular system.

The main reason that curcumin (the active ingredient in turmeric) has been so extensively studied is thanks to its anti-cancer abilities. There has long been a call for less toxic cancer treatments, and curcumin may hold the answer - at the end of the day, it’s entirely food-safe. Researchers have done extensive studies into the true anticancer properties of turmeric, and they’ve been extremely promising.

The overall consensus is that turmeric halts the development of cancer at multiple different points in the growth cycle of a given tumor, which is understandably impressive. Curcumin alone has shown a number of anti-tumor effects, and its inherent lack of toxicity is a very impressive property. For that reason, scientists believe that curcumin may be particularly worthwhile for use as a therapeutic medicine for head and neck cancers. While conventional therapies are still a better choice - as they have been much more extensively studied - curcumin may be promising when those therapies encounter cancer that is resistant to their effects.

So, to sum up, turmeric has a huge number of health benefits, even ones that we’re still discovering! It truly is impressive to consider that turmeric may be an active ingredient in the manufacturing of self-disinfecting cutting boards, as well as in upcoming cancer treatments! Turmeric has been used for thousands of years, and we’re still discovering new properties that it has. For that reason, make sure you stick around to see if we find out anything else this wonder-spice can do!