Turmeric a common spice in Indian cooking is actually a root from the ginger family. While this ancient spice plays a very important role in Indian cooking, that’s not all there is to this Root and plant. It has numerous uses in Indian medicine called Ayurveda because of it’s medicinal properties and is even used in cosmetics and in the beauty regime of countless Indian women. Turmeric has religious significance in Hindu culture. In this guide I hope to explore Turmeric as a plant and it’s many uses and benefits.
The Turmeric Plant
Turmeric is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant, in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), and is also known as Curcuma longa. The herb is native to tropical South Asia, mainly India, Bangladesh and China. The plant is a relative of the Ginger plant, and grows to a height of 5 feet. The plant is characteristic in having a sharp, bitter taste and it cultivated for it’s rhizomes. The Turmeric roots are dried and boiled to make the familiar yellow powder most commonly used in food preparations. Its active ingredient is curcumin and it has an earthy, bitter, peppery flavor and has a mustardy smell.
The name derives from the Latin terra merita “meritorious earth” referring to the colour of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment. In many languages turmeric is simply named as “yellow root”. It is also known as kunyit in Indonesia and Malaysia or haldi or pasupu in some other Asian countries. In medieval Europe, turmeric has became to be known as Indian Saffron, since it is widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
The Use of Turmeric in Food
Turmeric is an essential spice in Indian cuisine and is mostly used in ground powdered form. This warm and aromatic spice with bitter undertones is also used extensively in Southeast Asian and Middle-Eastern cuisines as well. It is widely used in Moroccan cuisine to spice meat, particularly lamb, and vegetables. It is also used in spice blends in the Caribbean, North Africa, the Middle East, and Indonesia. Turmeric is also used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards; it gives ballpark mustard its bright yellow color.
In Indian cuisine turmeric is added to nearly every dish, be it non- vegetarian or vegetarian. Its bright yellow color imparts an orange yellow hue to curries. It is also used to tint many sweet dishes in India to lend a pale yellow color to the dish. It is added in small quantities mainly as a coloring agent, but has some added health benefits as well. Turmeric is a mild digestive which allegedly helps with stomach problems and other ailments. In southern India buttermilk spiced with turmeric is considered a digestive aid that helps curtail stomach ailments.
Sometimes in pickles and mustard, turmeric is used to compensate for fading. It is used in many fish curries, possibly because it successfully masks fishy odors. When used in curry powders, it is usually one of the main ingredients, providing the associated yellow color. Turmeric is also used for coloring cheeses, salad dressings, margarine, yoghurt’s, cakes, biscuits, popcorn, cereals, sauces, etc.
Medicinal Benefits and Uses of Turmeric
As mentioned earlier turmeric is used in food and cooking not only for coloring and flavor, but also because it aids digestion by helping to break down fats during the digestion process. It also has been proven useful for stomach problems ranging from gastritis to stomach problems caused by stress or alcohol. Raw Turmeric juice is used to treat hyper acidity and indigestion.
Turmeric is said to have antiseptic properties making it commonly used to heal cuts, burns and bruises. A puree of turmeric and Asian basil is sometimes applied as an antiseptic against insect bites.
Curcumin – an active component of turmeric, is said to have anti-oxidant properties and so turmeric is used in alternative medicine. Curcumin also has an anti-inflammatory effect by reducing histamine(hormone) levels.
According to a 2005 article in the Wall Street Journal titled, “Common Indian Spice Stirs Hope,” research activity into curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, is exploding. Anti-tumoral effects against melanoma cells have been demonstrated.
Other Studies have shown that turmeric slows the spread of breast cancer into lungs and other body parts. Turmeric also enhances the effect of taxol in reducing metastasis of breast cancer.
Curcumin is thought to be a powerful antinociceptive (pain-relieving) agent. In the November 2006 issue of Arthritis & Rheumatism, a study was published that showed the effectiveness of turmeric in the reduction of joint inflammation, and recommended clinical trials as a possible treatment for the alleviation of arthritis symptoms.
Bodies responding to seasonal changes with the flu, coughs, and running noses, are immediately administered with honey mixed with turmeric, or turmeric mixed in milk by Indian housewives and mothers to soothe and cure. The roots are pounded and pressed to extract a juice that, when mixed with water, is helpful in earaches and to clear the sinuses through nasal application. The astringent qualities of turmeric are also useful in cases of consumption, tuberculosis, bronchitis, colds and asthma, the root being lightly cooked and eaten.
So right from home remedies and wives tales to internationally researched studies, Turmeric has proven to be more than just a spice and colorant making it very popular and sought after in the West nowadays.
Beauty, Cosmetics and Turmeric
The juice of raw turmeric is applied to the skin as a paste, kept for around thirty minutes and then washed off. It is said to add a glow to the skin. Regular use of turmeric is said to make the skin fair, soft and smooth. In many Indian traditional wedding ceremonies, haldi or turmeric is applied to both, the groom and the bride, not only to make them look good with fresh glowing skins, but to ward off the evil eye. It is considered by the Hindus as a symbol of prosperity and as a cleansing herb for the whole body.
It is believed that regular bathing in water containing turmeric reduces growth of body hair. The Friday oil bath routines with the application of Haldi is almost sacrosanct with the South Indian women, resulting in beautiful skin, and hairless bodies!
Turmeric is also used for spots caused due to pigmentation or blotches and also for diseases like eczema. The healing properties and anti-oxidant properties of turmeric have made it a most sought after ingredient in cosmetics and drugs, as the leaf oil and extract can is also used in sunscreens and bio-pesticides.
Now is that a Yellow Wonder or what?
Indian are no strangers to the multiple uses of Turmeric (Curcuma longa). It is well recognized as the best anti-oxidant, hypoglycemic, colorant, antiseptic and wound healer. Used in cooking as a spice for over 2,500 years, turmeric has a bitter, musty flavor similar to mustard. It is this spice that gives Indian curries their characteristic bright yellow-orange color.
But with more research and studies being carried out on the wonder rhizome is only revealing more and more medicinal and other properties of this ancient plant.
Turmeric is extremely safe and has been used in large quantities as a food, with no adverse reactions. However, persons with symptoms from gallstones should avoid turmeric. Turmeric’s potential anti-clotting effect might cause problems for those with clotting disorders. Unusually large amounts of turmeric consumption, may result in an upset stomach. Turmeric is best avoided during pregnancy, obstructive jaundice, hepatitis and acute bilious colic and should not be administered to people who suffer from stomach ulcers or hyper-acidity.
So though it may not be advisable in large quantities….nothing really is, turmeric does more than just color your food and now you know why! If you have any more uses, benefits or experiences of this Wonder Yellow Root do share it in your comments.