Turmeric

Turmeric is named as the ’Golden Spice of Life’.The botanical name  is Curcuma longa and the plant is a member of Zingiberaceae or ginger family.  The spice is a fresh ‘rhizome’ (underground stem) of the plant. It is yellowish – brown in color and has mellow flavor.It has found an important place in Indian kitchen since ancient times. Turmeric has color similar to that of sunlight. Therefore, it is considered to be  sacred in India as in ancient times such natural forces were believed to have supernatural powers.  It is used in auspicious ceremonies and rituals.


India is the largest producer, exporter and consumer of turmeric crop. In India, Tamil Nadu is the main producer of turmeric. The other states contributing in the production are Orissa, West Bengal, Karnataka, Gujarat, Maharashtra and Kerala. There are about 70 species of turmeric of which 30 species occur in India.The harvest season is from December to March. The plant is grown from rhizomes stored as seed from previous year’s harvest. Harvesting is done when the plants are 7-10 months old.

It is used in freshly grated form and dried powdered form. The rhizomes have to be treated to develop their color and aroma. For the purpose, rhizomes are boiled in alkaline solution and then spread out in open for sun drying. The rhizomes are then cleaned and powdered in a rotary drum. Cured and finished turmeric has a striking yellow color. Due to its color, turmeric finds use as a commercial coloring agent for fabric such as cotton and silk, articles made of paper and wood, food color and in cosmetics.

There are 3 varieties of  turmeric which find common use:

  1. Alleppey : This variety comes from Kerala. It has a deep yellow color with 6.5% curcumin. This type is more common in USA.
  2. Madras: It comes from Tamil Nadu. It is of mustard color with 3.5% curcumin.
  3. West Indian: This comes from Carri bean. It is of dull yellowish or brown color.

Few other varieties of turmeric from India are-Duggirala, Tekurpet, Amalapuram and Suvarna.

The US government has set certain standards to ensure the quality of turmeric. These standards are:

Moisture   < 9%, Curcumin  – 5 to 6.6%, Volatile oil < 3.5%, Extraneous matter (% by weight) = 0.5 and mould 3% by weight.

Buying Tips:

a. Fresh rhizome:

  1. The skin of the rhizome should be intact and clean.
  2. Look for signs of infections and rotting
b. Powder form:

  1. It is in smooth powder form.
  2. There should be no cake or lump formation.
  3. The packaging should be intact.
  4. Avoid purchasing in loose form.
  5. Do not buy if the powder is of unnaturally bright yellow color. It may be due to some chemical colorants.

Turmeric sometimes , may be adulterated by chemical to impart the bright yellow color to a substandard powder form. It can be simply tested at home. Put some ground turmeric into a glass of water. If it dissolves in the water and imparts a yellow color to solution it is adulterated. If some powder settles down and some of it floats in water, it is pure turmeric.

Culinary usage:

  1. Turmeric adds color and flavor to all types of curry and vegetable preparations.
  2. It is also used in Indian rice preparations such as ‘Pulao’ and ‘Biryanis’.
  3. In some areas the fresh rhizome is also used to prepare a tasty dish.
  4. The fresh rhizome is used as yellow curry paste in Thailand.
  5. In some parts of Indonesia, yellow rice is prepared. The color comes from fresh or dried turmeric.
  6. Turmeric is an important ingredient of many spice mixtures and sauces in Western cooking. Direct use of the spice is not seen this cuisine.
  7. Due to its anti-bacterial quality, turmeric acts as a preservative in various pickles.

Storage:

  1. Store the powder in a cool, dry place.
  2. Protect from direct heat, moisture, air and light.
  3. Moisture will cause it to cake.
  4. Exposure to heat and light will reduce the aroma.
  5. Fresh rhizomes should be refrigerated.

Medicinal Uses:
The use of turmeric dates back nearly 3000 years to the ancient Vedic culture of India. Various medicinal properties of turmeric have been reported in ‘Ayurveda’ – the ancient Indian Medicinal System. Some of its properties are listed below:

  1. Blood purifier
  2. Detoxifies the liver.
  3. Immunity booster
  4. Helps in digestion.
  5. Controls cholesterol levels.
  6. Fights allergies.
  7. Reduces mucus formation.
  8. Used as an anti-septic for wounds and external ulcers.
  9. It is a strong anti-oxidant.
  10. Prevents and cures various health problems such as urinary infections, gall stones and parasitic infections.
  11. It is also said to be protective against different types of cancers.

The main ingredient of turmeric is ‘curcumin’ which gives it a yellow color. It is a potent antioxidant and the most bioactive component of the spice. The major medicinal effects of turmeric are due to ‘curcumin’. It also consists of 1.5% essential oils. Curcumin is a resinous pigment, so it can be extracted only by spirit of wine or oil.

Home Remedies:

  1. A teaspoon of juice from the fresh rhizome mixed with honey is believed to treat anemia.
  2. 1/4th teaspoon turmeric powder added to a cup of milk is said to accelerate the healing of cuts and wounds.
  3. A paste of turmeric powder with curd or yogurt acts as a wonderful scrub.

Dietary facts:

In Indian kitchen turmeric finds its place in all cooked curries and vegetables. It is mainly a coloring agent in food. It plays an important role in diet for everyone. Use of turmeric is not contraindicated with any disease condition. It is very low in fats and simple sugars. It is a good source of vitamin C , and rich in potassium, calcium and phosphorus. FDA has classified turmeric as GRA.

To obtain the health benefits of turmeric, it should be added in the vegetables or curries, towards the end of the cooking. Prolonged cooking can inhibit its antioxidant and antiseptic properties.

Now a days, capsules of turmeric or curcumin are available in the Western countries also. The pure forms of the spice are more potent. Therefore, they should be taken with proper medical advise. For example, 400 mg of curcumin, 3 times in a day, is advised for arthritic patients. It is suggested that the pure forms should not be consumed by pregnant and lactating women, individuals on anti-coagulant drugs , children below 2 years of age and adults above 65 years of age.

Nutrition Facts
Servings Size 1 tbsp (7 g)
Calories from Fat 6
Calories 24
Total Fat 1%
Total Carbohydrate 1%
Dietary Fiber 6%
Vitamin C 3%
Calcium 1%
Iron 16%
* The Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet, so your values may change depending on your calorie needs. The values here may not be 100% accurate because it has not been professionally evaluated nor have they been evaluated by the U.S. FDA.

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