Fermented turmeric: Pop for pain relief

Fermented turmeric: Pop for pain relief

Some things are a bit hippie, even for even me. This is one of them. But when ibuprofen becomes known as “vitamin I” in your house, it’s time to look at other ways to calm the joints and muscles we’ve been habitually riling up 3-5 times per week through our various athletic pursuits. ‘Cause old-ish + determined = ouch, and we don’t rally like we used to. So follow with me here if you’re in the same, slow-moving boat.

Looks like beer, tastes like tropical pop.

Looks like beer, tastes like tropical pop.

Short, unscientific story you can validate on your own: Turmeric, the ground root resembling ginger that makes curry yellow, has been used for its anti-inflammatory properties across cultures for centuries. Two problems, though: 1) Not everyone is going to take down a bowl of curried-whatever every day (although take a look at the nimble old folks in cultures that do), and 2) The beneficial element of turmeric, curcumin, isn’t readily absorbed by the body by itself. I had heard this, wrote off the idea of integrating turmeric into my diet for a while, then found this piece by Sarah Wilson. It explained that fermenting turmeric with whey, a protein-rich dairy by-product, made it easier for the body to process the part that helps calm inflammation and prevent cancer. Since I already love to leave crocks and jars of things, like sauerkraut and lacto-pickles, laying around my house to ferment and develop their pro-biotic goodness, I had to give it a go.

The result is a carbonated pop-like drink that was much better than I expected. It was sweet with its own distinct flavor – tropical, citrusy, with a banana-mango thing going on. We drank it in 4-5oz portions in the evening, after the gym, and it was lovely. Did it take away the aches and pains? Not entirely, but I was in the midst of prepping for the CrossFit Open and kicking the hell out of myself in a way that was beyond the reach of even the heavy drugs. Further experimentation at more reasonable workloads is on tap.

Here’s her method for making this drink, with a few added notes and observations.

  • 1 cup thinly sliced turmeric, unpeeled (if you come up a little short, a bit of ginger in the mix is fine, too). In Buffalo, your best bet for price and quality is to hit up an ethnic market on the West Side like Vineeta International Foods. You can find it in a clamshell at Wegmans sometimes, but it’s hit-or-miss and can be shriveled and pricey. A 4oz clamshell yields about a cup of sliced turmeric.
  • 3/4 cup rice malt syrup (brown rice syrup). This was hard to find in Buffalo, and studies have said that it may contain high levels of arsenic like other rice products. Maybe opt instead for another low-glycemic sugar like maple, honey, or agave (the latter two let the turmeric flavor come through a little more).
  • 2 lemons or limes, or a combo of both (zest and juice); I used lemon
  • 6 cups water
  • 1/2 cup whey (leftover from another kitchen escapade, like making your own yogurt or cultured cream cheese or strained from store-bought yogurt)

    Whey strained from yogurt. This stuff freezes well, so do it once and portion it out for later.

    Whey strained from yogurt. This stuff freezes well, so do it once and portion it out for later.

Bring water, syrup and sliced turmeric to a boil in a medium pot. Simmer for 20 minutes. Cool to body temperature then add the lemon zest and juice. Transfer to a large 2L mason jar (or between two smaller ones). Add whey.

Stir, drape with a cloth so air can get to it, and sit on the counter for 4-5 days in hot weather, 6-7 in winter, or until slightly bubbly. Stir or shake a little occasionally. Strain the turmeric-ade into bottles or smaller ball jars and screw the lids on. Allow to carbonate for another 2-3 days at room temperature, and then put in the fridge. The original recipe said that it will last a week in the fridge before it goes vinegary, but I kept mine for two and it was fine.





  1. Kari
    August 3, 2015

    I am thinking of bottling some of this for our shop –any suggestions?

    • Devon
      August 28, 2015

      It’s definitely something with a short shelf life – 2 weeks at most – and carbonated, so bottles that can handle the pressure and can be clearly labeled with a “use by” date would be ideal. I’ve never seen anything like it for sale, but I bet there would be interest!


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