Moroccan coconut chicken and learn about curcumin

Moroccan coconut chickenSpicy, coconutty and creamy. That is how I would describe this Moroccan coconut chicken and salad with an Orange coconut dressing. I seem to add coconut milk/cream to everything. I like the sweetness it adds without adding too many extra carbohydrates. Garlic, ginger, cumin, paprika, cinnamon and turmeric were used for the Moroccan spice blend. I knew that turmeric contained curcumin and I had heard that curcumin has anti-inflammatory properties but I had not conducted my own research on this. A search on ‘curcumin’ in PubMed, a comprehensive database of biomedical literature, revealed that 7586 articles have been published on this compound! That is a lot of studies, so I will only provide a very brief snapshot.

The biological effects of curcumin

Turmeric or Curcuma longa contains the polyphenol curcumin, which is responsible for the yellow colour of turmeric. Curcumin is reported to have been used as a spice and a pigment since 1900 B.C, predominantly in ancient China and India. It was also used in ancient Indian holistic medicine for the treatment of eye infections, burns, acne, wound dressing, sprains and swelling (1). Studies have shown that curcumin has potential anti-inflammatory, hypoglycemic, antioxidant, anti-microbial, anti-proliferative (prevents cell growth) and pro-apoptotic (enhances cell death) properties (2–7). The first study published on the effects of curcumin was in 1949 in the top scientific journal Nature entitled ‘Antibacterial action of curcumin and related compounds’ (8).

How this one molecule can exert such a range of effects has puzzled scientists and clinicians for years. Results from studies involving human participants suggest that curcumin can interfere with multiple cell signalling molecules including pro-inflammatory molecules, known as cytokines, apototoic proteins (proteins that control cell death) and enzymes involved in the inflammatory response (9, 10).

Curcumin and Alzheimer’s disease

Interestingly, curumin has been investigated for its potential to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. The accumulation in the brain of amyloid-β protein in the form of plaques is a characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Curcumin has a high affinity for amyloid-β and it has been shown that curcumin can reduce soluble amyloid-β and reduce plaque burden (11-13).

Chronic inflammation in the brain is another characteristic of Alzheimer’s disease. Nuclear factor (NF) κB is a transcription factor (a protein that binds to DNA to control the transcription of genetic information) that plays a role in inflammation and studies have shown that curcumin can inhibit NFκB (14, 15).

The limitations of curcumin

Although curcumin clearly has a range of promising biological properties, it has some major limitations. Curcumin has a very low bioavailability. Multiple studies in humans and animals have shown that curcumin has low absorption, high metabolizing rate and is rapidly cleared from the system (16-18).

This low bioavailability of curcumin is due to its instability and its susceptibility to degradation (breaking down). It is also has low solubility in aqueous solutions (19). This has led to further research into improving the bioavailability of curcumin (20).

This made me think that it must be impossible to obtain any sort of significant amount of curcumin from eating turmeric, however, what is interesting is that the incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in India is lower than the average rates reported in Europe and North America and turmeric has been consumed in this part of the world for thousands of years (21). This was enough to convince me to put some extra turmeric on my vegetables for lunch today.

Hopefully I have not bored you to death with all this information about curcumin. Now for the recipe.

 Moroccan coconut chicken and Orange coconut dressing

Makes 2 serves


1 chicken breast, cut into strips

1 vegetable stock cube

½ teaspoon fresh ginger, finely grated

1 clove garlic, minced

1 teaspoon cumin

1 teaspoon paprika

½ teaspoon cinnamon

½ teaspoon turmeric

Salt, to taste

Pepper, to taste

½ cup coconut milk or reduced fat coconut cream

Orange coconut dressing

3 tablespoons Greek yoghurt

2 tablespoons coconut cream

1 tablespoon fresh orange juice

Sprinkle of cumin, ground ginger and cinnamon



Salad to serve – lettuce, tomato, carrot, red capsicum, 1 cup of frozen peas


  • Crumble the vegetable stock cube into a non-stick pan along with half a cup of water, the garlic and ginger. Add the spices and chicken and stir frequently until the chicken is cooked, adding more water as necessary to prevent sticking.
  • Once the chicken is cooked, turn down the heat and add the coconut milk or cream. Lightly simmer for about 15 minutes to allow the sauce to thicken, stirring frequently.
  • While the chicken is cooking, prepare the Orange coconut salad dressing by mixing all the ingredients together in a small bowl until well combined.
  • Chop the ingredients for the salad and thaw the frozen peas for 2 minutes in the microwave with a small amount of water.
  • Place the Moroccan coconut chicken on two plates along with the salad ingredients and drizzle the salad dressing all over.

Total cost = $6.50 based on all groceries purchased at Aldi.

Sorry about the long list of references but I try to thoroughly research these articles and use reputable journals.

  1. Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H (2007) Curcumin: The Indian solid gold. Adv Exp Med Biol 595:1–75.
  2. Gupta, S.C., Patchva, S., Koh, W., and Aggarwal, B.B. (2012). Discovery of curcumin, a component of golden spice, and its miraculous biological activities. Clin. Exp. Pharmacol. Physiol., 39: 283- 299.
  3. Pandey, A., Gupta, R.K., Bhargava, A., and Agrawal, B.(2011). Antibacterial activities of curcumin bioconjugates. Int. J. Pharmacol., 2011, 7, 874-879.
  4. Kim, S.R., Park, H.J., Bae, Y.H., Ahn, S.C., Wee, H.J., Yun, I., Jang, H.O., Bae, M.K., and Bae, S.K. (2012). Curcumin down-regulates visfatin expression and inhibits breast cancer cell invasion. Endocrinology. 153: 554-563.
  5. Shehzad, A., Khan, S., and Lee, Y.S. (2012). Curcumin molecular targets in obesity and obesity-related cancers. Future Oncol., 2012, 8, 179-190.
  6. Brinkevich, S.D., Ostrovskaya, N.I., Parkhach, M.E., Samovich, S.N., and Shadyro, O.I. (2012). Effects of curcumin and related compounds on processes involving alpha-hydroxyethyl radicals. Free Radical Res. 46: 295-302.
  7. Moon, H.J., Ko, W.K., Han, S.W., Kim, D.S., Hwang, Y.S., Park,H.K., and Kwon, I.K. (2012). Antioxidants, like coenzyme Q10, selenite, and curcumin, inhibited osteoclast differentiation by suppressing reactive oxygen species generation. Biochem. Biophys. Res. Commun. 418: 247-253.
  8. Schraufstatter E, Bernt H. Antibacterial action of curcumin and related compounds. Nature. 1949;164(4167):456.
  9. Jeenger, M., Shrivastava, S., Yerra, V., Naidu, V., Ramakrishna, S. and Kumar, A. (2015). Curcumin: A pleiotrophic phytonutrient in diabetic complications. Nutrition. 31: 276-282.
  10. Gupta, S., Patchva, S. and Aggarwal, B. (2013). Therapeutic Roles of Curcumin: Lessons Learned from Clinical Trial. The AAPS Journal. 15: 195 – 218.
  11. Ono, K., Hasegawa, K., Naiki, H., Yamada, M. (2004). Curcumin has potent anti-amyloidogenic effects for Alzheimer’s beta-amyloid fibrils in vitro. J. Neurosci. Res. 75: 742-750.
  12. Shytle, R.D.; Bickford, P.C.; Rezai-zadeh, K.; Hou, L.; Zeng, J.; Tan, J.; Sanberg, P.R.; Sanberg, C.D.; Roschek, B., Jr.; Fink, R.C.; Alberte, R.S. (2009). Optimized turmeric extracts have potent antiamyloidogenic effects. Curr. Alzheimer Res. 6: 564-571.
  13. Yang, F.; Lim, G.P.; Begum, A.N.; Ubeda, O.J.; Simmons, M.R.; Ambegaokar, S.S.; Chen, P.P.; Kayed, R.; Glabe, C.G.; Frautschy, S.A.; Cole, G.M. (2005). Curcumin inhibits formation of amyloid beta oligomers and fibrils, binds plaques, and reduces amyloid in vivo. J. Biol. Chem. 280: 5892-5901.
  14. Ray, B.; Lahiri, D.K. (2009). Neuroinflammation in Alzheimer’s disease: different molecular targets and potential therapeutic agents including curcumin. Curr. Opin. Pharmacol. 9: 434-444.
  15. Singh, S.; Aggarwal, B.B. (1995). Activation of transcription factor NFkappaB is suppressed by curcumin (diferuloylmethane) [corrected]. J. Biol. Chem. 270: 24995-25000.
  16. Wahlstrom, B., and Blennow, G. (1978). Study on fate of curcumin in rat. Acta Pharmacol. Tox. 43: 86-92.
  17. Ravindranath, V., and Chandrasekhara, N. (1980). Absorption and Ttissue distribution of curcumin in rats. Toxicology. 16: 259-265.
  18. Cheng, A.L., Hsu, C.H., Lin, J.K., Hsu, M.M., Ho, Y.F., Shen, T.S., Ko, J.Y., Lin, J.T., Lin, B.R., Wu, M.S., Yu, H.S., Jee, S.H., Chen, G.S., Chen, T.M., Chen, C.A., Lai, M.K., Pu, Y.S., Pan, M.H., Wang, Y.J., Tsai, C.C., and Hsieh, C.Y. (2001). Phase I clinical trial of curcumin, a chemopreventive agent, in patients with high-risk or pre-malignant lesions. Anticancer Res. 21: 2895-2900.
  19. Tønnesen HH, Másson M, Loftsson T. (2002). Studies of curcumin and curcuminoids. XXVII. Cyclodextrin complexation: solubility, chemical and photochemical stability. Int J Pharm. 244:127e35.
  20. Naksuriya, O., Okonogi, S., Schiffelers, R. and Hennink, W. (2014). Curcumin nanoformulations: A review of pharmaceutical properties and preclinical studies and clinical data related to cancer treatment. Biomaterials. 35: 3365-3383.
  21. Mathuranath, P. S., George, A., Ranjith, N., Justus, S., Kumar, M. S., Menon, R., Sarma, S. and Verghese, J. (2012). Incidence of Alzheimer’s disease in India: A 10 yearsfollow-up study. Neurology India, 60(6), 625–630.

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