In my home, turmeric has always been a staple spice. My mom is from Bangladesh and regularly cooks curry which uses turmeric as a main spice. Growing up, I always thought of it as the part of curry that stained our hands or clothes when we ate. I also discovered that it’s used in coloring cheese and butter among other foods.
Native to Southeast Asia, the turmeric plant grows best in temperatures between 20 to 30°C. Curcuma longa L. (Zingiberaceae) is a plant with a flower that grows to be about three feet tall and a rhizome that looks like ginger. The flower is cylindrical and branches out with alternate leaves and many hermaphrodite flowers that are fused into a corolla tube. While some turmeric plants show white to green flowers, others also show a more pink-purple color.
The rhizome is the part of the plant that produces the yellow turmeric spice. To create the turmeric powder that is used for cooking, the rhizomes are boiled, dried in ovens, and then ground into the powder. This can mainly be used as a coloring agent in Asian food. It also gives food a mustardy smell. Curcumin is a chemical in turmeric that has anti-inflammatory affects and antioxidant advantages. This allows turmeric to help with gastrointestinal discomfort to bug bites. With its antibacterial properties, turmeric is used to clean wounds. It has also been used to treat respiratory conditions, arthritis, liver disorders, and sinus problems. Something that I found most interesting is that curcumin can also help the body destroy cancer cells before they spread to other areas.
Its name may be of Latin origin because of the color of ground turmeric, terra merita meaning “meritorious earth”. Turmeric has been used in Southern Asia for over 4,000 years and is important to the culture. In the Hindu religion, turmeric is sacred. In Hindi weddings, the haldi ceremony includes placing turmeric paste on the feet, knees, arms, hands, and face of both the bride and the groom. In the Hindi language Sanskrit, turmeric has 53 different names. This shows the importance of the plant to the culture because of all the difference meanings of the words. Some translations mean, “one that wins over disease”, “holy”, “prosperity”, and “lucky”.
It’s so interesting to see the properties that turmeric possesses. I’ve been using turmeric all my life and it’s great to know how much the spice can actually do for people and how important it really is to cultures.