Turmeric vs Ginger Health Benefits: Is One Better Than The Other?

Written by Angie Arriesgado
featured image for article on turmeric vs ginger

This blog post on turmeric vs ginger will cover the similarities and differences between these two spices. Is one of them better than the other? Do they have the same health benefits? How can you tell them apart? And so on… You’ve got questions, and we’ve got the answers for you. Scroll down to know more! 

Do turmeric and ginger rhizomes look alike?

No, they don’t, but it’s easy to see why some may think they look the same. The rhizomes of turmeric (Curcuma longa) and ginger (Zingiber officinale) look like bulbous, misshapen fingers with bumpy joints. Not surprising since both turmeric and ginger are members of the same Zingiberaceae family of flowering plants. So, technically, they are “cousins”.

But there are noticeable differences when you see them in person. Turmeric’s outer skin is yellowish/orangey whilst ginger is a light brown. Slicing their rhizomes open reveals further differences in flesh color:

  • turmeric is a bright orange (like a carrot), and
  • ginger is yellow/beige (like a potato).  

What are rhizomes exactly?

Rhizomes are the parts that grow underground and are commonly consumed as a spice (see featured image above). Often, they’re mistaken as roots, but they’re actually underground stems. Technically, they are called “modified stems” since “stem” refers to their above-ground counterparts.

Turmeric vs ginger: Are they considered “functional food”?

By definition, functional foods offer health benefits in addition to their basic nutritional value (1). They serve a particular function, such as:

  • enhancing the immune system
  • promoting healthy digestion
  • slowing down the ageing process
  • helping the body recover from disease
  • helping control physical and mental disorders

As you will see in the health benefits sections, both spices do qualify as functional foods!

turmeric vs ginger rhizomes

Turmeric vs ginger health benefits: 5 surprising common benefits

So, before we dive into this section, let’s first describe what makes turmeric “turmeric” and what makes ginger “ginger”.

Well, for turmeric, it is the chemical Curcumin (2). And for ginger, it is Gingerol (3). Other natural compounds are present, but these two are key to making both spices count as “functional food.”

Interestingly, both spices have similar health benefits, as you will see below!

1) Both have anti-inflammatory properties

Short-term inflammation is a healthy immune system response. But when it becomes long-term or chronic, it’s a bad thing. Depending on where the inflammation is, it can make you susceptible to many diseases. This includes diabetes, metabolic syndrome, hypertension, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and more (4, 5).

There are synthetic drugs that treat pain and inflammation. NSAIDs or non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs like ibuprofen and naproxen are examples. But long-term use of these drugs can lead to side effects (6).

Fortunately, a diet rich in ginger and turmeric can help alleviate inflammation. According to Fresno et al., these two spices are included in the list of medicinal plants with proven anti-inflammatory effects (7). Similar to NSAIDs, the anti-inflammatory mechanism of curcumin and gingerol inhibit pro-inflammatory stimuli (8).

That said, when it comes to comparing ginger vs turmeric for inflammation, turmeric may have an edge in this category. Ramadan and colleagues studied the effects of these two spices on rats with arthritis. And turmeric came out on top with a higher percentage of disease recovery than ginger and indomethacin (an NSAID) (9).

2) Antioxidant activity

Antioxidants play an important role in maintaining our health at the molecular level. They fight off free radicals, the unstable molecules that damage our cells. When there are not enough antioxidants in the body, this can lead to oxidative stress, which causes disease and rapid ageing (10).  

There are many different antioxidants out there, with turmeric and ginger being two natural sources. A higher intake of these functional foods/spices is recommended so you can take advantage of their antioxidant benefits (11).

3) Natural pain relievers

Both turmeric and ginger can help relieving various ailments, such as abdominal pain from gastrointestinal discomfort and other digestive disorders (2, 3).

Additionally, both may also provide relief to period-related pains in women, as evidenced by the following studies:

  • Ginger study – ginger powder in 250mg capsules taken 4x daily was as effective as mefenamic acid and ibuprofen in relieving pain from primary dysmenorrhea (12).
  • Turmeric study – 500mg of turmeric extract capsules given 2x daily also showed the same analgesic effect on dysmenorrhea (13).

4) Anti-nausea a.k.a. antiemetic

Ginger is often used as a natural antiemetic or anti-nausea treatment. Whether it be seasickness, motion sickness, or pregnancy-related nausea and vomiting, ginger is at the top of the herbal antiemetic list. It’s even said to be more effective than Dramamine, an over-the-counter drug for nausea and motion sickness (3).

As for turmeric, it’s been used to treat vomiting patients since ancient times, so it’s no slouch in this category either. It’s just that there aren’t nearly as many studies done on its antiemetic properties like ginger. So far, an animal study supports this thesis – curcumin improved the appetite of rats undergoing chemotherapy (14).

5) May help provide relief for cancer patients

Chemotherapy can kill cancer cells, but it also does a lot of damage to the body. Studies on both curcumin and ginger show that both may help slow down cancer progression. They work by inhibiting the proliferation of cancer cells and inducing cell death (15, 16).

Using curcumin alongside chemo drugs may also help maximize the desired effects of the drugs and minimize any potential side effects (17). As for ginger, its antiemetic effects may also provide much-needed relief to post-chemotherapy nausea (18).

Are curcumin and gingerol bioavailable?

Unfortunately, both curcumin and gingerol have issues with bioavailability (19, 20). However, scientists continue to work on various formulations to improve the bioavailability of both compounds. For instance, for ginger extract supplements, a krill oil-based delivery system is said to be effective (21).

meriva curcumin is absorbed 29 times better absorbed than ordinary curcumin

For turmeric/curcumin, we believe Meriva’s nano-delivery technology is the best when it comes to boosting curcumin’s absorption rates.

Studies done on Meriva curcumin show that when compared to ordinary or unenhanced curcumin supplements, Meriva is 29 times better absorbed by the body (22)! This means you can take full advantage of curcumin’s health benefits, including the ones we’ve listed above.

For more information about our Intelligent Labs curcumin products, check out these links:

Meriva Curcumin Phytosome 250mg

Meriva Curcumin Phytosome 500mg  

Turmeric vs ginger: Which one’s more flavorful?

Flavor-wise, let’s just say they are both extremely aromatic, especially when cooked in fresh, raw form. 

Turmeric is characterized by a pungent, earthy, and bitter taste. On the other hand, ginger’s flavor profile is more on the peppery, sweet, and spicy side.

Both spices add lots of flavors to many different dishes around the world. Turmeric, in particular, takes it up a notch by also lending its bright yellow-orange hue to any dish it’s added to (curry, anyone?).

Oh, and another interesting fact that’s common between these two “cousins”? It’s not just the rhizomes that are edible. You can also eat/consume their leaves, stems, shoots, and even their flowers! And yes, all these other parts taste great, too!

Can you use turmeric as a substitute for ginger – and vice versa?

Well, if you’re in a pinch, you certainly can. They belong to the same plant family, after all. Just temper your expectations a bit as they’re not exactly a 1:1 substitution, more like an alternative spice to consider.

In addition to the difference in flavors, don’t forget to consider the dish’s appearance if swapping ginger for turmeric. Turmeric is a natural dye, so it will affect the color of your food. On the other hand, if using ginger in lieu of turmeric, you will lose all that lovely color. So, either way, something to keep in mind if swapping ingredients.

If you’re wondering if all turmeric powders are created equal? Well, check out the answer here in our blog post on the best turmeric powder.

Conclusion

Ideally, we should be consuming turmeric and ginger regularly to take advantage of their health benefits. But curcumin and ginger supplements are a good alternative, too. Just make sure you speak with your primary care physician prior to taking any supplement, as these compounds may interfere with medication.  

References

(1) Tur, J. A., and M. M. Bibiloni. “Functional Foods.” Encyclopedia of Food and Health, 2016, pp. 157–61. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/b978-0-12-384947-2.00340-8.

(2) Prasad S, Aggarwal BB. Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 13. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/

(3) Bode AM, Dong Z. The Amazing and Mighty Ginger. In: Benzie IFF, Wachtel-Galor S, editors. Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects. 2nd edition. Boca Raton (FL): CRC Press/Taylor & Francis; 2011. Chapter 7. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92775/

(4) Pahwa R, Goyal A, Bansal P, et al. Chronic Inflammation. [Updated 2020 Nov 20]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan-. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK493173/

(5) Furman, David et al. “Chronic inflammation in the etiology of disease across the life span.” Nature medicine vol. 25,12 (2019): 1822-1832. doi:10.1038/s41591-019-0675-0

(6) Meek, Inger L et al. “Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drugs: An Overview of Cardiovascular Risks.” Pharmaceuticals (Basel, Switzerland) vol. 3,7 2146-2162. 7 Jul. 2010, doi:10.3390/ph3072146

(7) Vázquez-Fresno, Rosa et al. “Herbs and Spices- Biomarkers of Intake Based on Human Intervention Studies – A Systematic Review.” Genes & nutrition vol. 14 18. 22 May. 2019, doi:10.1186/s12263-019-0636-8

(8) Tapsell LC, Hemphill I, Cobiac L, Patch CS, Sullivan DR, Fenech M, Roodenrys S, Keogh JB, Clifton PM, Williams PG, et al. Health benefits of herbs and spices: the past, the present, the future. Med J Aust. 2006;1854(Suppl):S4–24.

(9) Ramadan, G., Al-Kahtani, M.A. & El-Sayed, W.M. Anti-inflammatory and Anti-oxidant Properties of Curcuma longa (Turmeric) Versus Zingiber officinale (Ginger) Rhizomes in Rat Adjuvant-Induced Arthritis. Inflammation 34, 291–301 (2011). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10753-010-9278-0

(10) Devasagayam, T P A et al. “Free radicals and antioxidants in human health: current status and future prospects.” The Journal of the Association of Physicians of India vol. 52 (2004): 794-804.

(11) Lobo, V et al. “Free radicals, antioxidants and functional foods: Impact on human health.” Pharmacognosy reviews vol. 4,8 (2010): 118-26. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70902

(12) Ozgoli, Giti et al. “Comparison of effects of ginger, mefenamic acid, and ibuprofen on pain in women with primary dysmenorrhea.” Journal of alternative and complementary medicine (New York, N.Y.) vol. 15,2 (2009): 129-32. doi:10.1089/acm.2008.0311

(13) Tabari, Naghmeh Shahbaz, et al. “An Investigation of the Effect of Curcumin (Turmeric) Capsule on the Severity and Duration of Dysmenorrhea in Students of Iran University of Medical Sciences.” Journal of Evolution of Medical and Dental Sciences, vol. 9, no. 46, 2020, pp. 3444–51. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.14260/jemds/2020/755.

(14) Babaei, Fatemeh et al. “Curcumin (a constituent of turmeric): New treatment option against COVID-19.” Food science & nutrition vol. 8,10 5215-5227. 6 Sep. 2020, doi:10.1002/fsn3.1858

(15) Almatroodi, Saleh A et al. “Potential Therapeutic Targets of Curcumin, Most Abundant Active Compound of Turmeric Spice: Role in the Management of Various Types of Cancer.” Recent patents on anti-cancer drug discovery vol. 16,1 (2021): 3-29. doi:10.2174/1574892815999201102214602

(16) Zadorozhna, Mariia, and Domenica Mangieri. “Mechanisms of Chemopreventive and Therapeutic Proprieties of Ginger Extracts in Cancer.” International journal of molecular sciences vol. 22,12 6599. 20 Jun. 2021, doi:10.3390/ijms22126599

(17) Panda, Abir Kumar et al. “New insights into therapeutic activity and anticancer properties of curcumin.” Journal of experimental pharmacology vol. 9 31-45. 31 Mar. 2017, doi:10.2147/JEP.S70568

(18) Ryan, Julie L et al. “Ginger (Zingiber officinale) reduces acute chemotherapy-induced nausea: a URCC CCOP study of 576 patients.” Supportive care in cancer : official journal of the Multinational Association of Supportive Care in Cancer vol. 20,7 (2012): 1479-89. doi:10.1007/s00520-011-1236-3

(19) Xu, Yang, et al. “Enhanced Oral Bioavailability of [6]-Gingerol-SMEDDS: Preparation, in Vitro and in Vivo Evaluation.” Journal of Functional Foods, vol. 27, 2016, pp. 703–10. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jff.2016.10.007.

(20) Anand, Preetha et al. “Bioavailability of curcumin: problems and promises.” Molecular pharmaceutics vol. 4,6 (2007): 807-18. doi:10.1021/mp700113r

(21) Ogino, Mizuki, et al. “Krill Oil-Based Self-Emulsifying Drug Delivery System to Improve Oral Absorption and Renoprotective Function of Ginger Extract.” PharmaNutrition, vol. 19, 2022, p. 100285. Crossref, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.phanu.2021.100285.

(22) Cuomo, John et al. “Comparative absorption of a standardized curcuminoid mixture and its lecithin formulation.” Journal of natural products vol. 74,4 (2011): 664-9. doi:10.1021/np1007262