It is a perennial herbaceous plant native to eastern India, the East Indies, Madagascar, and most of the Pacific Islands. Because of ancient trade, the origin of turmeric cannot be accurately reconstructed; probably South East Asia or South Asia. A related species, C. xanthorrhiza, grows on Jawa, where it is called temu lawak; in taste, it is equivalent to C. longa.
It is cultivated in Tabago, Sumatra, Java, Bengal and the best is in China. Turmeric is native to Indonesia and southern India, where it has been harvested for more than 5,000 years.
In most contemporary European languages, the names of turmeric are derived more or less directly from Latin curcuma. English turmeric derives from the (now obsolete) French terre-merite (Latin terra merita, meritorious earth), probably because ground turmeric resembles mineral pigments (ochre). Turmeric is a very important spice in India, which produces nearly the whole world’s crop and uses 80% of it. Turmeric usage dates back nearly 4000 years, to the Vedic culture in India, when turmeric was the principal spice and also of religious significance. Still today, it is employed in some Hindu rituals, where the yellow colour symbolizes the sun. That cultic usage of turmeric is more common in the South than in the North.
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Turmeric has long been used as a powerful anti-inflammatory in both the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine. Turmeric was traditionally called “Indian saffron” because of its deep yellow-orange colour and has been used throughout history as a condiment, healing remedy and textile dye. It was used as a bleach for hair in the nineteenth century too. Added to varnish and cottons with a yellow colour too. Turmeric’s strong yellow tint makes it a common choice for natural food colouring. Additionally, the spice is used in the food industry to add some colour to products such as beverages and cereals.
A relative of ginger, turmeric is a perennial plant that grows 5 – 6 feet high in the tropical regions of Southern Asia, with trumpet-shaped, dull yellow flowers. Its roots are bulbs that also produce rhizomes, which then produce stems and roots similar to ginger for new plants. The pale wrinkled roots spread far, having many knots from which arise 4-5 spear-shaped leaves. The yellowish to reddish flowers grow in loose scaly spikes.
The roots, or rhizomes and bulbs, are used in medicine and food. They are generally boiled and then dried, turning into the familiar yellow powder.
Tumeric has been called “poor man’s saffron,” since it has often been used as a substitute for the similar, but more expensive, saffron, especially during the Medieval period.
There are several varieties of turmeric, and the strains of the plant have differences in their flavour and medicinal profiles. There are also some varieties of turmeric that are slightly different than the traditional yellow turmeric, such as white and black turmeric. While regular turmeric comes from the Curcuma longa plant, white and black varieties actually come from different plants altogether. The Curcuma zedoaria plant produces an herb known as white turmeric, while black turmeric comes from the Curcuma caesia. Both of these plants are part of the larger curcuma family, and so are closely related to turmeric.
Major varieties of Turmeric in India
- ‘Alleppey Finger’ (Kerala)
- ‘Erode and Salem turmeric’ (Tamil Nadu),
- ‘Rajapore’ and ‘Sangli turmeric’ (Maharashtra)
- ‘Nizamabad Bulb’ (Andhra Pradesh)
- In Tamilnadu, the important varieties cultivated are Erode local, BSR-1, PTS-10, Roma, Suguna, Sudarsana and Salem local. Among these varieties, 70-75% is occupied by the local varieties.
- Allepey Finger Turmeric, Rajapuri, Madras and Erode are some of important exported varieties. Turmeric exported in the processed form is dry turmeric, fresh turmeric, turmeric powder and oleoresin. Alleppey finger turmeric is known for its high content of curcumin – a yellow colouring substance. Its bright yellow colour has been preferred by spices importers in Europe and other continents. In Middle East, the UK, USA and Japan, some of the well-accepted varieties are: ‘Alleppey Finger’ and ‘Erode turmeric’, ‘Rajapore’ and ‘Sangli turmeric’ and ‘Nizamabad Bulb’
- India also exports turmeric in powder form and as oleoresin.
There are approximately 30 varieties have been recognized in the type of Curcuma in which turmeric belongs. Amalapuram, Armour, Dindigam, Erode, Krishna, Kodur, Vontimitra, P317, GL Purm I and II, RH2 and RH10 are some popular Indian varieties among them.
Famous varieties of Turmeric
- Local Haldi
- China scented
- Red streaked
This herb has a very interesting taste; the flavour is peppery, warm and bitter, sharp on the tongue.
The fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related.
Health benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric (Curcuma longa), is a powerful medicine that has long been used in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent. The volatile oil is the yellow or orange pigment of turmeric, which is called curcumin. Curcumin’s anti-inflammatory effects have been shown to be comparable to the potent drugs hydrocortisone and phenylbutazone because it is natural curcumin produces no toxicity. Turmeric treats a wide variety of conditions, including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemorrhage, toothache, bruises, chest pain, and colic. Great to treat digestive symptoms such as bloating and gas in people suffering from indigestion, helps liver problems, skin diseases, and wounds. The roots are powdered and applied to ulcers, much like a poultice. Turmeric is applied to a piece of burnt cloth, and placed over a wound to cleanse and stimulate recovery. Indians, in addition to its Ayurvedic properties, use turmeric in a wide variety of skin creams.
Turmeric is helpful in the fight against the common cold and respiratory problems, and research is currently exploring its use in managing heart disease, diabetes and Alzheimer’s disease.
Curcumin is also a powerful antioxidant. Antioxidants scavenge molecules in the body known as free radicals, which damage cell membranes, tamper with DNA, and even cause cell death. Antioxidants can fight free radicals and may reduce or even help prevent some of the damage they cause.
Turmeric is an excellent source of both iron and manganese. It is also a good source of vitamin B6, dietary fiber and potassium.
Turmeric contains up to 5% essential oil, which consists of a variety of sesquiterpenes, many of which are specific on the genus or species level. Most important for the aroma are turmerone (max. 30%), ar-turmerone (25%) and zingiberene (25%). Conjugated Diarylheptanoids (1,7-diarylhepta-1,6-diene-3,5-diones, e. g. curcumin) are responsible for the orange colour and probably also for the pungent taste (3 to 4%).
The Jawanese species C. xanthorrhiza contains 6-11% essential oil, which is dominated by 1-cycloisoprenemyrcene (up to 85%); it furthermore contains a phenolic sesquiterpene missing from C. longa, xanthorrizol, which makes up max. 20% of the essential oil.
Found in body washes, shampoos, soaps, and makeup, turmeric has become increasingly popular in the body care industry. Used in beauty rituals for Indian, and Bengali weddings, brides are covered in turmeric paste to create a glow like no other. Also applied to cuts, skin infections, acne, and scars turmeric has been known as a useful beauty rescue aid.
Buying and Storage
Even through dried herbs and spices are widely available in supermarkets, explore the local spice stores or ethnic markets in your area; try to select organically grown turmeric since this will give you more assurance that the herb has not been irradiated.
In South East Asia, the fresh spice is much preferred to the dried. In Thailand, the fresh rhizome is grated and added to curry dishes; it is also part of the yellow curry paste.
Turmeric is almost always sold to consumers in ground form. This is reasonable as the dried spice is very difficult to grind; on the other hand, the powder loses its fragrance very quickly: After a few months, only the staining power and an earthy flavour will remain. Thus, it is wise to buy turmeric in small size and use it up quickly; providing good storage conditions (airtight, dark, dry, cool) is more essential than for many other spices. Fresh turmeric rhizome should be kept in the refrigerator.
Turmeric is also available in the following forms:
- Capsules containing powder
- Fluid extract
Cooking Ideas with Turmeric
Turmeric is not only used in curries. This spice is delicious on healthy sauteed apples, steamed cauliflower, green beans and onions. Super yummy dips too, adding turmeric and dried onion to creamy yoghurt is a good example and very healthy for anyone.
Fried noodles are a typical food of the mountains in Northern and North Eastern India; in Nepal, they are usually flavoured with turmeric, while the Indian versions are mostly free of it. All over India and Nepal, fried noodles are called chow mien in Chinese cuisine. Although the flavouring is very much indianized, particularly in Nepal.
Turmeric is part of all curry powders.
Indonesian cooks frequently add dried turmeric to their stews and curries. Turmeric leaves are sometimes used to flavour foods in Indonesia. They may also be used to wrap food for cooking.
Great in a number of rice dishes; mix brown rice with raisins and cashews and season with turmeric, cumin and coriander.
Turmeric is a great spice to compliment recipes that feature lentils.
It is also used in mustard and to colour butter and cheese.
Turmeric can replace dry mustard in recipes. Substitute for the same amount of dry mustard called for. Additionally, turmeric can substitute for saffron. Saffron is an expensive spice. Turmeric is a more affordable option.
Not does it just colour and flavour prepared mustard’s and used in many curry powder mixes, relishes, pickles, spiced butters, and numerous culinary dishes, what is interesting is paper tinged with turmeric turns from yellow to reddish brown when an alkali is added to it, thus providing a test for alkalinity.
If you are cooking with turmeric for the first time, start with a small amount. Turmeric has an intense flavour that increases as you cook it. Follow recipes exactly. Turmeric is pungent and too much can be overwhelming.
It transforms plain, white rice into a colourful and fragrant yellow rice. So if you want to add a bit of colour to those plain dull dishes, turmeric is the answer, with great health benefits too, and flavour.