Indian cuisine is famous around the world for its rich aromatic taste (no doubt!). Its mouth watering flavor and combination of exotic spices make it delightful. In addition to the taste, they are bestowed with vital health benefits. Turmeric is a ubiquitous spice in the Indian cuisine that has been in use for more than 2500 years.
PLACE OF ORIGIN
Turmeric (Curcuma Longa) is a perennial plant belonging to the Ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropical South Asia. It requires a temperature between 20 degree Celsius to 30 degree Celsius and a considerable amount of rainfall to thrive. It is grounded to a yellow orange powder that has a slightly bitter and slightly hot peppery flavor and mustard smell.
It is called ‘Indian Saffron’ or ‘Indian Spice Gold’ in Europe as it is used as an alternative to the far more expensive spice, Saffron. Turmeric is called ‘Manjal’ in Tamil, ‘Pasupu’ in Telugu and ‘Haldi’ in Hindi/Sanskrit.
Ancient Indian Siddha medicine realized turmeric’s medicinal value thousands of years ago, much of which is now being researched and understood in the modern day. The most active component of turmeric is ‘Curcumin’ which makes up 2% to 5% of the spice. This component has ample biological and medicinal properties.
1. Anti – Inflammatory –. Curcumin has good anti-inflammatory property. Turmeric powder is used in capsules which are consumed by people suffering from arthritis (inflammation of bone joints)
2. Anti – Angiogenic – Turmeric is anti-angiogenic, a property that inhibits the growth of new blood vessels, which is useful in treating tumors, especially of the breast and pancreas. It is also useful in reducing macular degeneration which is an age related disorder where the blood vessels of the retina become overgrown and damage vision. Curcumin also helps in curing Alzheimer’s disease and resists cataract formation in the eyes.
3. Cosmetic – Turmeric powder is applied by Indian women to keep them free from superfluous hair. It helps improve the texture, tone and tan of skin and touted as an anti-aging agent. It figures prominently in bride beautification ceremonies of India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan. Recently, it is also used in the formulation of sunscreen lotions.
4. Wound Healing – Anti –microbial and anti-bacterial properties in turmeric make it a good anti-septic. Turmeric powder is made into a paste and applied on open wounds and cuts. It fights the germs present on the open wounds. Turmeric is used by band-aid companies like ‘Hansa-plast’. as it heals wounds faster.
5. Liver Detoxifier – Liver removes toxins from blood-stream and chemically changes them into risk-free substances that could be washed away. If this function is not properly done, it results in cholesterol related problems, constipation and allergies. Turmeric is a good liver detoxifier. Curcumin boosts the production of Bile juice in the liver that is necessary for digestion and treats the above mentioned problems. It also treats gall bladder stones.
In addition to health benefits, turmeric also plays an important role in the cultural ceremonies in India, especially in Tamilnadu. It is used in holy rituals performed to the Hindu God, Ganesha. Turmeric powder is mixed with water and formed into a cone-like shape which is kept in plates during the ritual. During Pongal, the harvest festival in Tamilnadu, an entire turmeric plant is given as offering to Sun God, Surya. It is tied around the Pongal pot in which rice and ghee pongal are prepared. In South Indian marriages, a turmeric tuber tied with a string is used to replace the Mangalsutra (holy marriage necklace) temporarily or permanently.
Nizamabad, a city in the South Indian state of Andhra Pradesh is the world’s largest producer and the most important trading center for turmeric. In Tamilnadu, Erode is called ‘Turmeric City’ and it trades turmeric not only from Tamilnadu but also from Karnataka.
Turmeric is a pungent multi – beneficial spice of Tamilnadu and is celebrated for its uses everyday.
One can only wonder how our ancestors were able to figure out these spices and their benefits so many years ago!