Curcuma is a genus of about 100 accepted species in the family Zingiberaceae that contains such species as turmeric and Siam Tulip. They are native to Southeast Asia, southern China, the Indian Subcontinent, New Guinea and northern Australia. Some species are reportedly naturalised in other warm parts of the world such as tropical Africa, Central America, Florida, and various islands of the Pacific, Indian and Atlantic Oceans.
History and etymology
Turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of Siddha medicine. It was first used as a dye, and then later for its medicinal properties. The origin of the name is uncertain, possibly deriving from Middle English/early modern English as turmeryte or tarmaret. There was speculation that it may be of Latin origin, terra merita (merited earth). The name of the genus, Curcuma, is from an Arabic name of both saffron and turmeric.
Turmeric is sometimes pronounced without the earlier “r”. Many people pronounce it as (/juː/ ew or /uː/ oo rather than /ɜːr/ ur), as if it were spelled “Tu-mer-ic”.
Turmeric is a perennial herbaceous plant that reaches up to 39 inch tall. Highly branched, yellow to orange, cylindrical, aromatic rhizomes are found. The leaves are alternate and arranged in two rows. They are divided into leaf sheath, petiole, and leaf blade. From the leaf sheaths, a false stem is formed. The petiole is 19 to 45 inch long. The simple leaf blades are usually 29 to 45 inch long and rarely up to 90 inch. They have a width of 14 to 17 inch and are oblong to elliptic, narrowing at the tip.
Inflorescence, flower and fruit
In China, the flowering time is usually in August. Terminally on the false stem is a 4- to 7.8 inch-long inflorescence stem containing many flowers. The bracts are light green and ovate to oblong with a blunt upper end with a length of 1.1 to 1.9 inch. At the top of the inflorescence, stem bracts are present on which no flowers occur; these are white to green and sometimes tinged reddish-purple and the upper ends are tapered .The hermaphrodite flowers are zygomorphic and threefold. The three sepals are fused, white, have fluffy hairs and the three calyx teeth are unequal. The three bright-yellow petals are fused into a corolla tube up to 1.1 inch long. The three corolla lobes have a length of 0.39 to 0.59 inch, and are triangular with soft-spiny upper ends. While the average corolla lobe is larger than the two lateral, only the median stamen of the inner circle is fertile. The dust bag is spurred at its base. All other stamens are converted to staminodes. The outer staminodes are shorter than the labellum. The labellum is yellowish, with a yellow ribbon in its center and it is obovate, with a length from 0.47 to 0.78 inch. Three carpels are under a constant, trilobed ovary adherent, which is sparsely hairy. The fruit capsule opens with three compartments.
The most important chemical components of turmeric are a group of compounds called curcuminoids, which include curcumin (diferuloylmethane), demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. The best-studied compound is curcumin, which constitutes 3.14% (on average) of powdered turmeric. However, there are big variations in curcumin content in the different lines of the species Curcuma longa (1–3189 mg/100g). In addition, other important volatile oils include turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene. Some general constituents are sugars, proteins, and resins.
Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes. Indian traditional medicine, called Siddha, has recommended turmeric for medicine. Its use as a coloring agent is not of primary value in South Asian cuisine.
Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes but is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake sfouf. In India, turmeric plant leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes, patoleo, by layering rice flour and coconut-jaggery mixture on the leaf, then closing and steaming it in a special copper steamer (goa). In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder. In some regions (especially in Maharashtra, Goa, Konkan and Kanara), turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food. Turmeric leaves are mainly used in this way in areas where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked.
Turmeric leaves impart a distinctive flavor. Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in East Asian recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric. Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient. Almost all Iranian khoresh dishes are started using onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, followed by other ingredients. In India and Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and extensively used in many vegetable and meat dishes for its color; it is also used for its supposed value in traditional medicine. In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden colour.
In Vietnamese cuisine, turmeric powder is used to color and enhance the flavors of certain dishes, such as bánh xèo, bánh khọt, and mi quang. The powder is used in many other Vietnamese stir-fried and soup dishes. The staple Cambodian curry paste kroeung, used in many dishes including amok, typically contains fresh turmeric. In Indonesia, turmeric leaves are used for Minangese or Padangese curry base of Sumatra, such as rendang, sate padang, and many other varieties. In Thailand, fresh turmeric rhizomes are widely used in many dishes, in particular in the southern Thai cuisine, such as the yellow curry and turmeric soup. In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
In Ayurvedic practices, turmeric has been used to treat a variety of internal disorders, such as indigestion, throat infections, common colds or liver ailments, as well as topically to cleanse wounds or treat skin sores..
Basic research shows extracts from turmeric may have antifungal and antibacterial properties. Turmeric is under study for its potential to affect human diseases, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, cancer, irritable bowel disease, Alzheimer’s disease,diabetes, and other clinical disorders.
Turmeric makes a poor fabric dye, as it is not very light fast, but is commonly used in Indian and Bangladeshi clothing, such as saris and Buddhist monks’s robes. Turmeric (coded as E100 when used as a food additive) is used to protect food products from sunlight. The oleoresin is used for oil-containing products. A curcumin and polysorbate solution or curcumin powder dissolved in alcohol is used for water-containing products. Over-coloring, such as in pickles, relishes, and mustard, is sometimes used to compensate for fading. In combination with annatto (E160b), turmeric has been used to color cheeses, yogurt, dry mixes, salad dressings, winter butter and margarine. Turmeric is also used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards, canned chicken broths, and other foods (often as a much cheaper replacement for saffron).
Turmeric paper, also called curcuma paper or (in German literature) “Curcumapapier” is paper steeped in a tincture of turmeric and allowed to dry. It is used in chemical analysis as an indicator for acidity and alkalinity. The paper is yellow in acidic and neutral solutions and turns brown to reddish-brown in alkaline solutions, with transition between pH of 7.4 and 9.2. For pH detection, turmeric paper has been replaced in common use by litmus paper. Turmeric can be used as a substitute for phenolphthalein, as its color change pH range is similar.