Turmeric or Curcuma longa is a rhizomatous perennial plant of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). Since it needs the warm temperatures and great amount of rain, it is mostly cultivated in Southern Asia.
After turmeric rhizomes are harvested, they are boiled, dried in large ovens and then ground into powder of characteristic yellow-orange color. This powder is used in South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine as a spice added to curries and other dishes. It is also used as a dye.
Because of its main ingredient, curcumin, turmeric has a distinct bitter, earthly and slightly hot flavor and a mustardy smell.
Turmeric was used in Medieval Europe as a much cheaper substitute for saffron. Today, it is produced mostly in India, ad the town of Erode is the world’s larges producer of turmeric, followed by Sangli, another Indian town.
Culinary uses of turmeric
Turmeric is one of the essential ingredients in Indian, Thai, Persian and Malay dishes, especially in curries, in masak lemak, rendang and others.
This condiment is mostly used in form of a powder, but in some areas, for example in Maharashtra in India, where turmeric grows locally, its leaves are picked fresh and used to wrap and cook food. The leaves are also used in Indonesia, especially for dishes called rending and sate padang.
In non-Southern Asian countries, aside from ethnic restaurants, turmeric is mostly used as an additive which gives an intensive, mustard-like color. It is an ingredient of many canned and packaged products, ice cream, yogurt, cakes, snacks sweets, popcorn, sauces, cake icings and similar. It is also a main ingredient of most ready-made curry powders.
Turmeric is also used integrally, much like ginger.
Uses in folk medicine
Turmeric has a special place in Ayurvedic medicine. It is used as an antibacterial agent and as antiseptic for cuts, scrapes and small wounds. It is also added to many cosmetic products.
In Okinawa, Japan, they drink turmeric tea, and in many Asian countries it is used as a remedy against stomach ailments.
In Pakistan, turmeric is used as an anti-inflammatory agent and as a remedy for gastrointestinal disturbances.
Turmeric is currently widely used as an ingredient in sunscreen products. Indian women apply turmeric paste to prevent unwanted hair growth. They also use it to improve the appearance of their skin.
Turmeric is widely used for making dye. It is commonly used to dye clothes in India, especially saris, although it is not very lightfast. It can also be used to deter ants.
This condiment has many ceremonial uses and it is present in marriage rituals and festivals.