Turmeric or saffron from the Indies (Curcuma Longa L., 1753) is a herbaceous, perennial, rhizomatous plant from which the famous spice is obtained.
Origins and History –
The name turmeric derives from the Sanskrit kunkuma through the Arabic كركم, kurkum and is the spice normally obtained from Curcuma longa, although there are numerous other species attributed to the botanical genus Curcuma.
In English it is called turmeric, in Hindi it is called haldi, in Bengali holud.
The name of saffron from the Indies derives from the color of the spices, which resembles saffron.
Turmeric is a spice known for at least 4000 years, as the Indians already made extensive use of this plant, considered a fundamental spice, linked to Hindu religious rituals for its yellow coloring power, related to the sun. Certain hand-dyed fabrics (robes of Buddhist monks), cosmetics used for weddings and holidays (brides’ hair), curry, are just a few examples of the use of its strong coloring power.
In the ancient oriental tradition, this tropical root was considered very important also for its therapeutic virtues useful for curing all the organs of the body.
According to traditional medicine, its principle, curcumin, would solve heart, liver and lung problems, as well as being effective against memory lapses.
In the kitchen, turmeric, also called Indian saffron or yellow ginger, gives the dishes a spicy aroma, slightly reminiscent of ginger, but more bitter. It is used in practically all Indian meat and vegetable dishes, both in spice blends. It is particularly used in Indonesia and North Africa, which particularly appreciate its pilaf rice colored and flavored with turmeric, as its aroma is reduced in cooking and does not create particular bonds with meat or fish. In Bali, the powder is mixed with coconut milk and lemon grass to season rice.
In our tables turmeric appears camouflaged, it is in fact used industrially as a mustard dye, as well as for certain cheeses and liqueurs.
It may happen to buy it on trips to the East, where it is often passed off as the most expensive saffron, as was the case in the Middle Ages, when it was called “Indian saffron”.
Curcuma Longa is a plant of the Zingiberaceae family native to Southeast Asia and widely used as spices especially in Indian, Middle Eastern, Thai and other areas of Asia.
The spice of this plant is obtained from the root which is a large cylindrical rhizome, branched, yellow or orange, strongly aromatic, which constitutes the part of greatest commercial interest of the plant.
As with other plants of agricultural interest, different varieties of this species have been developed over time.
Active principles –
The main constituents of the drug are curcuminoids (3-5%), i.e. mixtures of cinnamoylmethane derivatives, such as curcumin, demethoxy curcumin and bis-demethoxicuricurcumin (which is contained only in C. longa). Quantitatively important (3-5%) is the volatile fraction, which mainly contains characteristic terpene compounds such as zingiberene, curcumol and β-turmerone. Also present in the drug, but in smaller quantities, are the Arabic galactans acidic ukonan A up to ukonan D.
As for calories and nutritional values, 100 grams of turmeric contain on average: Calories 354 Kcal, Fat 10 g, Cholesterol 0 mg, Sodium 38 mg, Potassium 2,525 mg, Carbohydrates 65 g, Dietary fiber 21 g, Sugar 3,2 g, Protein 8 g, Vitamin C 25.9 mg, Calcium 183 mg, Iron 41.4 mg, Vitamin B6 1.8 mg and Magnesium 193 mg.
Properties and Uses –
Turmeric is a plant that grows in a very abundant and inexpensive way, cultivated in India (first producer in the world), China, Indonesia, Costa Rica and Hawaii and whose characteristic yellow heaps give color to the spice and bazaar spice markets.
The name saffron of the Indies refers to the yellow color, the only similarity between turmeric and saffron.
As said from the yellow rhizome of turmeric, turmeric powder is obtained, a spice widely used in Indian and Asian gastronomy in general, and a yellow substance used in dry cleaners.
The rhizomes are boiled and dried in the sun or in the oven, and are then crushed into an orange-yellow powder. Its active ingredient is curcumin which has an earthy, bitter, spicy and extremely volatile flavor, while the color is preserved over time.
Turmeric powder is one of the ingredients of masala (which roughly coincides with what is called curry in the West), to which it gives the intense and characteristic yellow color. In addition to many other Indian recipes, turmeric is a fundamental ingredient of many Asian recipes, such as the Nepalese dish called momos (Nepalese meat dumplings) or the Thai dish called kaeng tai pla (curry with shrimp and fish).
As well as giving flavor, turmeric is, like saffron, a food coloring. In addition to various recipes, it has applications in drinks, baked goods, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, biscuits, popcorn, sweets, cereals, sauces, jellies, etc. Among the food additives codified by the European Union, curcumin, for a number of circumstances, occupies the first place: E100.
In addition, turmeric has been used since ancient times as a dye also for fabrics. From this point of view, however, it is not very valuable because it tends to discolor in the sun. In any case, a very particular use of turmeric as a dye is found in the folklore of some Indian regions, where it is used for the body. The most famous case is the Bengali ceremony of the gaee holud (or gaye holud) during the wedding preparations, where red, or dark orange powder called sindur, derived from turmeric is used.
Finally, traditional medicine and partly also modern medicine attribute medicinal properties to turmeric.
Recently, it has been the subject of studies in relation to its anti-aging virtues: laboratory tests conducted by Italian researchers of the CNR of Catania, University of Catania and University of Pavia and US researchers of the New York Chemical College have confirmed the ability of its antioxidants in to counter the development of neurodegenerative disorders related to brain aging, such as cancer and Alzheimer’s.
Some studies have hypothesized that a substance contained in turmeric, called curcumin, has anti-inflammatory activity accompanied by low toxicity.
In addition, turmeric seems to contain countless active substances, such as curcumin itself, with choleretic action (i.e. stimulating bile production), but also vitamin C (the same that lemon is rich in) and other antioxidants.
The active agents present in turmeric also seem to have cholagogic (stimulating the gallbladder contraction), hepatoprotective and antiseptic properties.
Thanks to these properties, turmeric could be useful in disorders affecting the liver, gastric mucosa and digestive processes in general, also acting as an appetite stimulant.
According to science, these properties are not distinct, but closely related to each other. For example, the antioxidant action of this spice would be responsible for both its anticancer properties and the anti-inflammatory effect.
From a chemical point of view, curcumin can be classified among polyphenols and is responsible for the golden yellow color typical of turmeric and the curries that contain it.
The pharmacopoeia involves the preparation of mother tinctures (alcoholic extracts), oily extracts (essential oils) and aqueous extracts (in the form of herbal teas), but above all of dry extracts titrated in turmeric.
For example, just 1 teaspoon in 80 ml of cold-pressed sesame oil is enough to prepare one of the simplest turmeric-based beauty recipes, that of the oleolite.
In reality, however, turmeric also comes in the form of ready-to-use tablets or capsules.
Traditionally used for its anti-inflammatory and hepatoprotective properties, turmeric appears to be useful for treating biliary colic, but also conditions such as cholecystitis, cholelithiasis (gallbladder stones), stomach ulcer, gastritis and jaundice.
In Ayurvedic medicine and in traditional Chinese medicine this spice has long been used as an aid to promote digestion and well-being of the intestine and promote the proper functioning of the liver and pancreas, but not only: in these medicines also the pain typically associated with arthritis and menstrual irregularities are fought with turmeric.
In addition, Ayurveda recommends turmeric for the treatment of asthma, cough, diabetes, heart and circulation diseases, anorexia. Again, there is no scientific confirmation.
It would also seem that the active ingredient in turmeric has a positive effect on brain health, but studies are still lacking that can prove it scientifically. In particular, it would improve memory, to the full advantage of an aging in well-being, would counteract depression and would be useful against states of stress and anxiety.
In addition, according to research conducted in Germany, turmeric has a compound called tumerone, capable of promoting the proliferation and differentiation of brain stem cells. According to the researchers, this could make it a candidate in the treatment of neurodegenerative diseases such as Alzheimer’s. However, these are studies that need to be deepened by further research.
As far as wound healing is concerned, turmeric seems to be associated with various activities involved in this phenomenon: antioxidant, anti-free radicals, antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory. Taken together, these properties could give curcumin an important healing action.
It has in fact been hypothesized that curcumin reduces the body’s natural responses to skin wounds, for example inflammation and oxidation.
Furthermore, this molecule seems to promote the formation of granulation tissue – an alteration of the connective tissue in response to inflammation – the deposition of collagen, the remodeling of tissues and the contraction of the wound.
Unfortunately, in the face of many possible uses, the development of a drug based on the active principles of turmeric, and in particular curcumin, is hampered by the poor solubility of this molecule in water, by its poor absorption, by its distribution within the organism and the speed with which it is metabolized and eliminated.
For this reason, over the years, researchers have developed curcumin analogues that are more bioavailable than the original molecule, whose efficacy and safety is being studied.
However, it is possible to try to exploit the benefits of turmeric also by simply introducing it into the diet or increasing its consumption. This spice is for example listed among the natural remedies recommended against meteorism and to be introduced in diets for weight loss because it would seem to have an effect on the metabolism.
Obviously for an improvement of body and health balances it is sufficient to insert turmeric as an ingredient in the daily diet. An ideal dose may be a couple of coffee spoons a day. As a condiment, it can be added at the end of cooking for many foods, but it can also be used in yogurt or make a sauce.
Furthermore, if taken together with other spices, such as black pepper, absorption is greatly enhanced.
Side effects include that for people in good health, turmeric is safe and without particular contraindications. For this reason, its intake is considered risk-free for most adult individuals.
However, in the case of diseases or disorders, such as occlusion of the biliary tract, turmeric should only be taken after consulting the doctor.
In fact, in case of gallbladder problems this spice could aggravate the situation; therefore those who suffer from it should avoid taking it in the form of food supplements.
Also for the anticoagulant effects of turmeric, care must be taken to administer it to people with problems related to blood clotting.
Similar advice also applies to pregnant and breastfeeding women.
In addition, despite gastroprotective effects, excessive doses of turmeric can cause gastric disorders. In particular, taking large quantities of this spice or continuing to use it in the long term can trigger indigestion, nausea or diarrhea.
In the event of this kind of ailments, it is advisable to reduce the doses or stop taking.
As with all spices, it would be preferable not to buy turmeric already ground into powder, because over time it becomes bitter and earthy, also losing its bright color.
Turmeric can be found on sale in the form of a root, or in powder form.
The root should be kept in a cool pantry, in a dark glass jar to prevent it from being damaged by light. Once cut, it is necessary to keep it in the refrigerator, in the vegetable drawer or in the egg area, in a food bag.
The powder, on the other hand, can be kept in the original packaging, if already packaged, or in a dark glass jar if purchased in bulk. A refrigerator is not necessary: the pantry or a cool place is fine.
In the kitchen, all first courses lend themselves very well to the union with turmeric. The very thin cut white onions, stewed in a pan and blended with a little white wine, completed with turmeric powder, pepper and a pinch of salt, can be a tasty condiment for foods such as gnocchi, short pasta and rice.
Together with peas and aromatic herbs, turmeric can complete a plate of whole grains such as barley, while with a pinch of cardamom, it can be inserted in a legume-based recipe, such as a soup. At the end of cooking, flavor the minestrone and in general soups and vegetable soups.
Turmeric is also used to flavor meat and fish dishes. The classic dish is chicken. It should be diluted in a cup of vegetable broth with a pinch of black pepper and gradually added during cooking.
It can also complement desserts: the full-bodied flavor makes the use of sugars superfluous. In particular, it is indicated with fruit, especially with apples. Peel and dice them and cook over low heat with a little water. Then add turmeric, black pepper and cinnamon. It is an appetizing recipe, with digestive properties and that even those with high levels of bad cholesterol can eat.
As for the uses for health purposes, according to Ayurvedic medicine, a natural anti-inflammatory and powerful antioxidant is golden milk. You must first prepare a dough by mixing boiling water, turmeric powder and a little black pepper. The final result must be a homogeneous compound with a consistency similar to that of very dense sauces. It should be kept in the refrigerator. Half a teaspoon is added to a cup of milk, or even better than a vegetable drink, together with a pinch of pepper and half a teaspoon of almond oil, to be drunk once a day, preferably in the evening before going to bed so as to ensure that the body can benefit from the many curative properties of turmeric during the hours of sleep, which are already regenerating for the body.
Equally effective is the herbal tea. It is necessary to boil 5 grams of turmeric root in a cup of water for 3-4 minutes. Leave to rest for 10 minutes, strain, sweeten with honey and drink a few times a day. Turmeric herbal tea is a remedy that seems to help in the case of joint pain. In combination with dandelion, it has a purifying effect that seems to stimulate the activity of the kidneys.
Turmeric tea is added to the range of solutions to treat colds. Mix two teaspoons of turmeric powder with a teaspoon of honey, a pinch of black pepper and a teaspoon of lemon juice, add everything to a liter of boiling water and sip the tea throughout the day.
Turmeric tea is also useful for those who play sports, to replenish the minerals lost with sweat during sports.
Warning: The information shown is not medical advice and may not be accurate. The contents are for illustrative purposes only and do not replace medical advice.