Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perrenial plant of the ginger family. It is native to southeast India. When not used fresh the rhizomes are boiled for about 30 - 45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens. They are then gound into a deep orange-yellow powder commomly used in Indian cuisine including curries, for dyeing, and to color mustard condiments. The most important chemical component in turmeric is a group of compounds called curcuminold. Its major active ingredient is cucumin.
Known as "manjal", turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years, and is a major part of Siddha medicine. Turmeric was originally called "Indian saffron" due to its similar yellow-orange color. Turmeric comes from the root "Curcuma longa" and has a tough brown skin and a deep orange flesh. Its flavor is peppery warm and bitter, while its fragrance is mild yet slightly reminiscent of orange and ginger, to which it is related.
My first exposure to turmeric was the first time I had curry. Tumeric is a major ingredient of curry. I was in my twenties and on vacation on the island of Bermuda. I had recently been diagnosed with gall bladder disease and was trying not to eat spicy foods. Well, we were in this restaurant and I didn't know what to order. One item on the menu was "curried chicken". I thought you can't go wrong with chicken, right? Well, when the plate came to the table, it occurred to me that this chicken is full of some kind of spice I've never had. I was hungry, so I ate it but just didn't finish. Of course, it didn't bother me. In fact the turmeric in the curry is a powerful anti-inflammatory.
Turmeric has long beem used in the Chinese and Indian systems of medicine as an anti-inflammatory agent to treat a wide variety of conditions including flatulence, jaundice, menstrual difficulties, bloody urine, hemmorage, toothaches, bruises, chest pain and colic.
Curcumin, the active ingredient in turmeric, may provide an inexpensive, well tolerated, and effective treatment for inflammatory bowel disease such as "Crohn's" and "ulcerative colitis". As an antioxidant, cucumin is able to neutralize free radicals. This is important in many diseases, such as arthritis, when free radicals are responsible for the painful joint inflammation and eventual damage to the joints. Curcumin in turmeric and quercitin, an antioxidant in onions, reduced the size and number of precancerous lesions in the human intestinal tract.
Prostate cancer, the second leading cause of cancer death in American men is a rare occurence among men in India, attributed to a diet rich in cruciferous vegetables and turmeric.
Turmeric also has cholesterol lowering properties and helps protect against Alzheimer's disease. Curcumin has shown some promise in treating depression. In a small study participants were placed in 3 groups. One group was given "prozac" and another group was given curcumin, the third group was given prozac and curcumin. After 6 weeks the cucumin group showed improvement similar to that of the prozac group. The group that took both prozac and curcumin did the best. So, according to this small study, curcumin is as effective as an antidepressant.
Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes. Outside South Asia turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich custard like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages and baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cake, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, sweets, cake icing, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. Turmeric is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.
Here are some ways to enjoy turmeric;
- Add turmeric to egg salad for a bolder color
- Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews, and season with turmeric
- Add turmeric to lentil recipes as a complement
- Give salad dressings an orange-yellow tint by adding turmeric powder
- Saute' cut cauliflower with a spoonful of turmeric for about 5 minutes and add olive oil and salt and pepper to taste
- Be careful when using turmeric since its deep color can easily stain