Botanical Name: Curcuma longa

Family: Zingiberaceae

Hindi Name: Haldi

Turmeric is native to China and India. It is cultivated extensively in India, Sri Lanka, China, Pakistan, Haiti, Peru, Jamaica, Bangladesh, EI-Salvador, Taiwan, Thailand and Indo-china.

The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4,000 years to the Vedic culture in India, when turmeric was the principal spice, and also of religious significance. India alone produces nearly the whole world's crop of turmeric, and uses 80 per cent of it. Turmeric is sometimes called 'Indian saffron' because of its brilliant yellow colour. Indian turmeric is considered the best in the world. Turmeric is sometimes confused with saffron because of similar staining capabilities, although saffron gives a more orange colour and has a fascinating aroma.

Turmeric root is very similar in appearance to ginger root, except that, once peeled, is bright yellow in colour. It has a warm and peppery flavour. In fresh state, the rootstock has an aromatic and spicy fragrance, which, by drying, gives way to a medicinal aroma. On storing, the smell rather quickly changes to earthy and unpleasant.

Similarly the colour of ground turmeric tends to fade if the spice is stored too long. Turmeric's staining capability may seen a nuisance to everybody who must clean cooking utensils and cutting boards that are particularly hard to clean with brush and soap alone.

The plant is a herbaceous perennial that grows to a height of 60-90 cm, with a short stem and tufted leaves. The main turmeric growing areas in India are Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Karnataka and Kerala.

The composition of turmeric is as follows:

  • Moisture: 5.8 %
  • Protein: 8.6 %
  • Fat: 8.9 %
  • Carbohydrates: 63 %
  • Fibre: 6.9 %
  • Minerals: 6.8 %
  • Calcium: 0.2 %
  • Phosphorus: 0.26 %
  • Iron: 0.05 %
  • Sodium: 0.01 %
  • Potassium: 2.5 %
  • Vit A: 175 IU/100g
  • Vit B1: 0.09 mg/100g
  • Vit B2: 0.19 mg/100g
  • Vit C: 49.8 mg/100g
  • Niacin: 4.8 mg/100g

The volatile oil extracted from the rhizomes is an orange­ yellow liquid.

Oleoresin is an important property of turmeric that is in great demand by the food and pharmaceutical industries abroad. In Indian cooking, turmeric is added to nearly every dish, vegetarian or non-vegetarian. It forms a part of the Indian curry powders, and due to its influence, turmeric has made its way to the cuisine of Ethiopia. In Southeast Asian cuisines, the fresh spice is preferred to the dried.

Turmeric is most often used in curries, and is also used in chutneys, rice and vegetable dishes. Fresh turmeric leaves are used in some regions of Indonesia as a flavouting agent. In Thailand, the fresh rhizome is grated and added to curry dishes, and also forms part of the yellow curry paste.

Yellow rice is popular in the eastern island of Indonesia. In Bali, the tasty nasi kuning is prepared from rice, turmeric, coconut milk and aromatic leaves. Indonesians also frequently add dried turmeric to their stews and curries. The boiled lentils and all vegetables have a dash of turmeric added while being cooked.

Turmeric appears in pulaos, pickles, savouries, fruit drinks, cakes and jellies. Western cuisine does not use turmeric directly, but it forms part of several spice mixtures and sauces. It is also used to impart a bright yellow colour to mustard paste. Turmeric is employed as colouring material in pharmacy, confectionery, rice-milling, food industries, and paints and varnishes industry.

The rhizome is aromatic, stimulant and a tonic. It is useful in relieving flatulence, intestinal disorders, coughs and colds, and swellings caused by sprains. It is an effective household remedy for bronchial asthma.

Being rich in iron, turmeric juice mixed with honey is valuable in anaemia. It is beneficial in the treatment of measles, worms, boils, and skin disorders.

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