05 October 2008

Turmeric | Meet the "Queen" of Spices

Turmeric (Curcuma longa), a botanical relative of Ginger, has long been valued in almost all parts of Asia as the “Queen of all Spices” due to its various food and industrial uses as well as for its powerful healing properties.

It has been used for over 4000 years in India, where it was most likely first utilized as a natural coloring for foods and dye for fabrics. Locals and villagers concocted turmeric with other plant pigments and made paint for various folk painting traditions. They also used the paste in painting their doorways to ward off insects.

Turmeric has also wide applicability in cosmetics. Traditionally, Indian women rub turmeric on their cheeks and other parts of their skin to produce a natural golden glow. They do this in many celebrations but most especially as an aesthetic ritual prior to their wedding. Washing in turmeric improves skin complexion and reduces hair growth on body. For this reason, turmeric is considered as a natural depilatory. The oil and extract of turmeric leaf is used as sunscreen while turmeric powder combined with milk is an effective cosmetic combination that acts as pure cleanser for stubborn acne and in restoring or maintaining youth by controlling wrinkle formation.

As spice, turmeric, finds its application in cooking by adding distinctive yellow color and a warm, mild flavor to foods. It is most familiar in Indian and other Asian curries and found in American prepared mustard. The mellow flavor and stunning color that primarily characterize turmeric make it an absolute substitute to the most rare and expensive saffron. Although many discriminating experts maintain that it may not impart the same distinct taste, it is often used as the appropriate alternative to enhance or mask the blunt character of food when the very dear saffron is out of reach.

But, why do I know this? Let me cut the story of the “Queen” for a while and pull in a short tale on how I first learned about turmeric’s utility in cooking.

My first encounter with turmeric was when my late mother introduced to me her famous biringhe (Pampangueño’s version of Spanish paella and sometimes fondly called aroz a la valenciana). It is an “all-in-one” rice recipe made of savory sticky rice cooked with coconut cream, chicken and liver topped with slices of boiled or salted eggs and raisins. According to her, the dish can be made delectable and appetizing even in the absence of the very dear saffron. With turmeric around, she emphasized while I interestingly watched her prepare the popular local delicacy,there is no reason you can’t make the best biringhe in town. I took her word and whenever we have the chance to cook her specialty we don’t panic if saffron would not make it as an ingredient.

OK, back to where we were before I intentionally changed my gear. The story about the “Queen” of the spices, right?

Moving on, we will now discuss the medicinal properties of turmeric.

Turmeric, with the flavonoid curcumin as active component, is an amazing spice. It is well recognized to possess many potential medicinal properties.

Scientific investigations suggest that curcumin is a potent antioxidant that may help prevent breast cancer as well as prostate, lung and colon cancers. Turmeric is likewise useful for all inflammatory disorders and for autoimmune conditions. Some forms of arthritis are caused or exacerbated by inflammation and free radicals, so turmeric may help. This is perhaps the reason why some villagers in Asia are recommending turmeric to help alleviate pain attributed to arthritis. It also may have a role in the prevention and treatment of Alzheimer's disease. A number of animal studies have shown that curcumin blocked the formation and accumulation of amyloid plaque that characterizes Alzheimer's. Indians appear to have the lowest rate of Alzheimer's in the world, possibly because they eat turmeric with almost every meal.

Recent research has shown that dietary turmeric may combat underlying cause of obesity, help with some complications of diabetes, help lower blood cholesterol levels and has shown promise in slowing the progression of multiple sclerosis.

Although these exciting revelations are starting to surface, we can’t simply discount the many traditional uses of turmeric that were long adored by our forefathers.

Turmeric purifies the blood, aids digestion of protein and promotes proper metabolism. It is used in the treatment of fever, mild stomach upset & ulcers, infection, dysentery, jaundice and other liver & gallbladder problems. Ancient Chinese physicians used turmeric to treat chest congestion, menstrual discomforts, depression and many more ailments. Indians used it as a readily available antiseptic for cuts and burns. For thousands of years, Ayurvedic doctors have recognized turmeric as a key balancing and detoxifying herb. In fact, the Ayurvedic text recommends a daily dose of turmeric to boost the body’s immune system. The inhalation of smoke from burning turmeric is also said to relieve hysterical fits.

Aside from these many healing attributes, turmeric is also very rich and an excellent source of alkaloids, B vitamins, essential minerals (iron, manganese and potassium), dietary fiber and protein.

Overall, turmeric appears to be not only useful in cooking curries and perhaps my mother’s biringhe, as you have learned from these compiled notes. It is collectively a wonder spice more than deserving to be hailed as the “Queen of all Spices”.

What do you think? Do you have other interesting stories to share on turmeric?

Feel free to leave your comments and share this information to your friends and family.

Photo credits: Turmeric

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5 comments:

  1. Wow, I have some Tumeric hidden in my cupboard, I'd better pull it out. Thanks for this info.

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  2. You are welcome, Jacqueline. Don't forget to share your new discoveries about this wonder spice.

    Cheers!

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  3. We're working on one of the active principles of turmeric (curcumin) right now in the lab and it has some anti-growth properties to some of our prostate cultures. This has been shown before in other labs too. It has also some anti-inflammatory properties. I've used it to alleviate swelling of my joints due to arthritis and it worked almost overnight (in conjunction with virgin coconut oil). It was incredible. The only problem was when I withdrew from it (I was feeling so well that I forgot to take the daily dose), the arthritis went back even worse. And when I went back to it, it didn't work as much as the first time I took it. The bottom line is, while it is a very promising compound for a lot of conditions, more research has to be done to really refine how much you need to consume.

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  4. There were reports elsewhere at doses in the order of 1,500 mgs per day. At this level, the US FDA considers it to be relatively safe. They are not vouching for it if you take a pound a day, however.

    Being a natural product, we must be aware that the levels of various helpful compounds will vary widely, which makes it difficult to determine the difference between an effective dose and an overdose.

    My preference is for whole turmeric rather than isolated curcumin, because I believe in the synergy of all active elements in natural product medicines.

    As with other forms of oral medication, we should take it generally in increasing amount until a desired effect is reached. We should do the reverse process when intending to get away with it so as not to sustain potential withdrawal syndrome.

    Thanks much for droppin’ by.

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  5. Great article, its very informative, been looking for something like this for a while. I'll be following along with more posts, I look forward to studding more posts.

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