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India's special spice
India produces nearly all the world's turmeric, and consumes 80% of that crop. Clearly, Turmeric is rather uniquely Indian, as perhaps no other foodstuff is. If we are to look for the reason that India has such low Alzheimers Disease rates, we must consider everything that is uniquely Indian. Therefore, we must consider Turmeric. In fact, the plentiful scientific research being done on curcumin, an extract of turmeric, in the last few years is exploring myriad aspects of this compound.
Turmeric is a deep yellow-to-orange powder that comes from rhizomes that are of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). The rhizomes are boiled for hours, dried for days or weeks, then powdered. Very complete discussions of the nature, production and benefits of the spice can be found at the Links in the right column of this page, especially the FAO link.
Curry powder, though it varies in its ingredients, always contains turmeric as a major constituent. If one wishes to add turmeric to one's diet, there are many, many recipes that include it --- one has only to search the Internet or one's library for Indian cook books. One of the best all-Asian cookbooks is by Charmaine Solomon, The Complete Asian Cookbook, available from Amazon and other online booksellers.
Though the current research focuses on curcumin, the entire group of spices usually included in curry powder have been touted for centuries as being good for the "braynes". And those "in the know" from India say that it is much better to take whole turmeric than to take the extracted curcumin.
Using Turmeric in the American Home
Indians I speak with, including pharmacists, all say that the natural turmeric, from which health-food-store "curcumin" is a derivative, is far better for the health than "curcumin." I tend to think along those lines myself. The word "curcumin" itself is problematic, as it has many definitions currently in use. It simply means "turmeric" in several languages. As a chemical term, it can indicate several different compounds, though these may or may not be used accurately. In the health food store, it costs about $20 for a small bottle, while turmeric is very inexpensive.
To use powdered turmeric, I put it in a parmesan-cheese shaker (for large holes) and just sprinkle it into foods I'm cooking, especially meat and eggs. Indians mix a teaspoon of it in a glass of milk and drink it --- I've tried this several times, and it tastes fine. This gives me a pervasive good feeling.
Mix turmeric powder and olive oil or cooking oil to make a thick paste. Put on the skin over wounds, bites, bruises, etc. Cover with bandage and leave on several hours. It washes off and color disappears quickly. If you have a toothache, paint this on your face over the toothache, and it goes away, my Indian friends tell me; I haven't tried this, exactly. Don't use this inside the mouth, however. I tried doing it that way, on a sore tooth I had a couple years ago. It really healed the sore tooth very quickly, but caused a reaction in my mouth that lasted several days.
Of course, curry powders almost always have turmeric as the chief ingredient, and this is a great way to get some into you.
You can buy powdered turmeric in American supermarkets. If you get it in a bottle in the spice section of the market, it will cost you some bucks. If you look for the section of spices that are in clear envelopes, it should cost under a dollar. In Indian markets, you get much more for your money, naturally.
If you have an Indian market near you, you can also get the fresh turmeric root, which has brown skin with orange interior, and is a cousin of ginger. Peel a few of the finger-sized pieces of it, cut into 1/2 inch lengths or so, and place in water with some fresh lemon juice to cover the pieces of turmeric root. Keep refrigerated, and eat a piece now and then. Keeps several weeks or months.
Turmeric is truly a versatile food and nutritional supplement as well.
Effects and Benefits of Turmeric
Excerpted from the
Ram Traders Website
To Traditional Ayurvedics, Turmeric is seen as an excellent natural antibiotic, while at the same time it strengthens digestion and helps improve intestinal flora. As such it is a good anti-bacterial for those chronically weak or ill. It's not only purifies the blood, but also warms it and stimulates formation of new blood tissue. Turmeric gives the energy of the divine mother and grants prosperity. It is effective for cleansing the chakras (nadi-shodhana), purifying thechannels of the subtle body. It helps stretch the ligaments and is, therefore, good for the practice of hatha yoga. Turmeric promotes proper metabolism in the body, correcting both excesses and deficiencies. It aids in the digestion of protein. Externally, it can be used with honey for sprains, strains, bruise or itch. It is tonic to the skin, for which purpose it can be taken internally as a milk decoction. Turmeric is aromatic and a stimulant and has many helpful functions. It is bitter, slightly pungent and a good blood purifier, and works as a tonic to aid digestion and relieve congestion. It has a soothing action on respiratory ailments such as cough and asthma. It also is antiarthritic and acts as a natural anti-bacterial. Turmeric may be added to high-protein food to assist digestion and prevent the formation of gas. It is effectively used to maintain the flora of the large intestine.
Excerpted from the
In animal studies and in one human trial published in 1992, turmeric also showed promise in lowering cholesterol levels and fighting atherosclerosis, a buildup of fatty deposits in the arteries that can lead to heart attack. Preliminary tests even indicate that curcumin can inhibit the replication of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. More research in this area is clearly needed before any specific recommendations can be made.
Today, turmeric is widely recommended for myriad diseases, from stomach ulcers and skin infections to eye conditions (such as chronic anterior uveitis). ... when it's applied as a paste, it may well eliminate scabies, an itchy skin condition caused by parasitic mites.
In laboratory and small animal studies, curcumin has been found to hinder the growth of errant cells associated with cancer of the breast, skin, and colon, as well as lymphoma.
In a small but interesting 1992 clinical trial of 16 cigarette smokers, those taking 1.5 grams of turmeric a day for 30 days had a significantly lower level of mutagens (in the urine) than a control group consisting of six nonsmokers.
Names for Turmeric
From the website
Safran des Indes
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FAO on Turmeric: Most complete and lengthy discussion, including "Description and Colourant Uses", "World Demand and Supply Trends", definition of associated terms, and much more.
Ram Traders: "About Turmeric"
Thorough overview of turmeric and curcumin, with the diseases they help, how much to take, one side effect, many references, and more.
Making turmeric: How to prepare turmeric powder from the fresh root
Full report on research on turmeric and curcumin from WholeHealthMD.com
Buy Turmeric Online:
The Spice House's quick order page from the USA.
Turmeric: A plant of which the root resembles ginger, and is used extensively in India, which produces almost the whole world's supply, as well as consumes 80% of that supply; botanical name is curcuma longa; is native to Southeast Asia, from Vietnam to the humid hilly regions of Southern India; Indian name Haldi; bot. Curcuma domestica Val. (syn. C. longa Koenig non L.; family: Zingiberaceae).
Curcuma: Synonymous with "turmeric"
Turmeric oleoresin: the concentrated extract of turmeric
"Pure Curcumin": the refined oleoresin, free of volatile oil.
Curry: as used in India, this simply means "sauce"; Indian foods made with sauces are thus all "curries"
Curry Powder: a readily-available blend of spices which is a Western approximation of Indian spice blends, and typically contains turmeric, coriander, chillies, cumin, mustard, ginger, fenugreek, garlic, cloves, salt, and any number of other spices
Masala: In India and her neighbors, a blend of powdered spices, of a specific type for a specific type of dish; said to be about 100 kinds of masalas in Indian cooking
Garam masala: A readily-available masala composed of delicate, heat-sensitive spices; thus, it is added at the end of cooking, after the flame has been turned off (see left)
Curcumin: One of three principal pigments in turmeric, which together are called "curcuminoids", the other two being desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin; "Curcumin" is also found in American health food stores as a nutriceutical in capsule form, where it can also be labelled "Turmeric, curcumin-enhanced", costing about $20 for 60 capsules today, 2002.
Curcuminoids: Pigment compounds in turmeric that are being studied for their physiological effects; one source says that a group of curcuminoids comprises a potent yellow-orange volatile oil; FAO lists the three principal curcuminoids as curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin and bis-desmethoxycurcumin
Curcumin Extract: The term used by Indian pharmacists to denote the potent and expensive yellow-orange oil which is the dye substance extracted from turmeric, used both for food coloring and for textile dye; has been used for centuries in India; this oil contains three compounds called turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberone, among other substances
Curry Leaves: A plant with small, dark green leaves (about 1 inch long) that give a mild flavor to Indian food; usually used fresh, not dried; they are sometimes included in Curry Powder, but do not give Curry Powder its name
Cumin: A small, warm-climate annual plant of which the seeds are used; often mistranslated as "caraway" in curry recipes due to similarity of the Indian words for both cumin and caraway, jeera, as well as nearly-identical appearance of the seeds; assume that "caraway" means "cumin" in curry recipes; "Cumin" has nothing to do with "Curcumin"
Chilli: Red chillies, also called Red Pepper or Cayenne Pepper in America
Chilli Powder: In Asia/Europe, the powder of pure red chillies -- this would be called Red Pepper or Cayenne Pepper in America; American "Chilli Powder" is a very different blend of spices, including cumin and with very little red chilli in it, used in Chili con carne, barbecue and "Texas" style cooking
Haldi or Haldie: The Indian name for Turmeric