Curry powder is a mix of various dried, ground spices. It usually looks bold yellow or orange in color. Although curry powder is most often associated with Indian dishes, it's thought to have originated in England and is rarely used in India.
While "curries" are often used in international Indian cuisine, this term generally means “sauce” and is used to describe many different kinds of sauces. Curries are sauces, and curry dishes are dishes served in sauce. Most of the time, they do not contain curry powder.
Not everyone makes curry powder according to the same recipe. As a result, there are a variety of spices called "curry powder" sold in stores that differ greatly in terms of ingredients and flavors.
Here are the spices most commonly found in curry powder mixes, along with their scientific names:
- Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
- Coriander (Coriandrum sativum)
- Cumin (Cuminum cyminum)
- Ginger (Zingiber officinale)
- Chili powder (Capsicum frutescens)
- Black pepper (Piper nigrum)
Some curry powders also contain cinnamon, clove, mustard, cardamom, or bay leaf. Perhaps surprisingly, curry powder does not typically contain the herb curry leaf (Murraya koenigii). Curry powder can be hot or mild, depending on its chili powder content.
Because curry powder can be made from many different combinations of spices, nutritional content can vary based on the ingredients.
One teaspoon of curry powder contains:
- 6.5 calories
- Less than 1 gram of protein
- Less than 1 gram of fat
- 1 gram of carbohydrates
- 1 gram of fiber
- Less than 1 gram of sugar
Potential Health Benefits of Curry Powder
Many of the spices commonly used in curry powder have their own health benefits. When combined into a mix, the result is a flavorful seasoning that also supports your digestive health, heart health, and more.
Curry powder can:
Control blood sugar. Curry powder might help people maintain healthy blood sugar levels. Although more research is needed, one study found that people who consume more curry powder have healthier blood sugar levels. They are also less likely to develop diabetes. Researchers believe this is due to the curcumin found in turmeric—a spice commonly used in curry powder. Other research has found that turmeric reduces blood sugar levels.
Help prevent and fight cancer. Eating curry powder regularly has the potential to combat cancer cells. This effect is also due to the curcumin in turmeric. Across a variety of studies, curcumin has been found to suppress many types of cancer cells, including breast, ovarian, prostate, lung, colon, and bladder cancer.
Support digestive health. Curry powder promotes digestive health, largely because it contains turmeric and ginger. Turmeric helps strengthen your digestive tract's microbiome, or the healthy bacteria that help you digest food more efficiently. Ginger has been shown to help settle upset stomachs, and it reduces nausea and vomiting in pregnant women.
Improve heart health. Blood pressure is an important factor in heart health. People who have high blood pressure are at an increased risk of heart attack and stroke. One study found that people who eat more curry powder are less likely to have high blood pressure. Another study found that having curry powder in a meal improves circulation immediately after the meal. The turmeric commonly found in curry powder also helps lower cholesterol, which makes heart disease less likely.
Potential Risks of Curry Powder
Research shows that curcumin—the compound in turmeric responsible for many of its health benefits—isn't as effective as a supplement.
Circumin isn’t very easily absorbed on its own and tends to break down too quickly in your body. However, when consumed by eating turmeric, or combined with other compounds (such as those found in black pepper) it’s more readily absorbed and has a bigger health impact.
Speaking of turmeric, there is concern that it can cause bloating and that it could interfere with medicine you might take for blood clots. Experts also suggest that people with gallbladder disease should avoid turmeric.