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Indian Turmeric
Curcuma longa
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Monocots
(unranked): Commelinids
Order: Zingiberales
Family: Zingiberaceae
Genus: Curcuma
Species: C. longa
Binomial name
Curcuma longa

Curcurma domestica Valeton

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.[2] It is native in southeast India, and needs temperatures between 20 °C and 30 °C (68 °F and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive.[3] Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes, and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.

When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens,[4] after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Indian cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments. One active ingredient in it is curcumin. It has a distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell.

Botanical view of Curcuma longa.
Turmeric field in an Indian village.

India is a significant producer of turmeric[5] which has regional names based on language and country.

History and etymology

Known as Kasturi Manjal or just Manjal, turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of Siddha medicine.[6] It was first used as a dye and then later for its medicinal properties.[7]

The name appears to derive from Middle English/early modern English as turmeryte or tarmaret having uncertain origin. There may be Latin origin, terra merita (merited earth).[8]

The name of the genus, Curcuma is from an Arabic name of both saffron and turmeric (see Crocus).

Botanical description


Turmeric is a perennial herbaceous plant, which reaches a stature of up to 1 meter. There are highly branched, yellow to orange, cylindrical, aromatic rhizomes . The leaves are alternate and arranged in two rows . They are divided into leaf sheath, petiole and leaf blade.[9] From the leaf sheaths, a false stem is formed. The petiole is 50 to 115 cm long. The simple leaf blades are usually of a length of 76 to 115 cm and rarely up to 230 cm. They have a width of 38 to 45 cm and are oblong to elliptic narrowing at the tip .

Inflorescence, flower and fruit

Native Turmeric in the bush near Cooktown, Queensland, Australia

In China, the flowering time is usually in August. Terminally on the false stem there is a 12 to 20 cm long inflorescence stem containing many flowers. The bracts are light green and ovate with a length of 3 to 5 centimeters to oblong with a blunt upper end.

At the top of the inflorescence stem bracts are present on which there are no flowers, these are, white to green and sometimes tinged reddish-purple and its upper end is tapered.[10]

The hermaphrodite flowers are zygomorphic and threefold. The three 0.8 to 1.2 centimeters long, 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 3 centimeters long. The three corolla lobes have a length of 1 to 1.5 cm, triangular with soft-spiny upper end. 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 1.2 to 2 cm. Three carpels are under a constant, trilobed ovary adherent, which is sparsely hairy.

The fruit capsule opens with three compartments.

Biochemical composition

Curcumin keto form
Curcumin enol form

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.[11] In addition there are other important volatile oils such as turmerone, atlantone, and zingiberene. Some general constituents are sugars, proteins, and resins.[12]



Turmeric powder is used extensively in South Asian cuisine.

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, and 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 and 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 that is used is 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 Far Eastern 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 fried dishes consist of oil, onions, and turmeric followed by any other ingredients that are to be included.

In India and Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and extensively used in many vegetable and meat dishes for its color, and is also used for its supposed value in traditional medicine.

In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden color.

In Vietnam, 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 also used in many other Vietnamese stir fried and soup dishes.

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 (แกงเหลือง) and turmeric soup (ต้มขมิ้น).

In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.[13]

Folk medicine and traditional uses

In India, turmeric has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as topically to heal sores, basically for its supposed antimicrobial property.[14] In the Siddha system (since c. 1900 BCE) turmeric was a medicine for a range of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. A fresh juice is commonly used in many skin conditions, including eczema, chicken pox, shingles, allergy, and scabies.[15]

The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, antitumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.[16]

Preliminary medical research

Turmeric rhizome and powder.

According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, "there is little reliable evidence to support the use of turmeric for any health condition because few clinical trials have been conducted."[7]

Although trials are ongoing for the use of turmeric to treat cancer, doses needed for any effect are difficult to establish in humans.[17]

Some research shows compounds in turmeric to have anti-fungal and antibacterial properties; however, curcumin is not one of them.[18]

As of December 2013, turmeric is being evaluated for its potential efficacy against several human diseases in clinical trials, including kidney and cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, several types of cancer and irritable bowel disease.[19] Turmeric is also being investigated for potential treatment of Alzheimer's disease,[20] diabetes,[21] and other clinical disorders.[22][23]


Turmeric makes a poor fabric dye, as it is not very light fast. However, turmeric is commonly used in Indian and Bangladeshi clothing, such as saris and Buddhist monks' robes.[24] Turmeric (coded as E100 when used as a food additive)[25] 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).

Ceremonial uses

Turmeric is considered highly auspicious and holy in India and has been used extensively in various Hindu ceremonies for centuries. Even today it is used in every part of India during wedding ceremonies and religious ceremonies.

Turmeric has played an important role in Hindu spiritualism. The robes of the Hindu monks were traditionally colored with a yellow dye made of turmeric. Because of its yellow-orange coloring, turmeric was associated with the sun or the Thirumal in the mythology of ancient Tamil religion. Yellow is the color of the solar plexus chakra, which in traditional Tamil Siddha medicine is the energy center relating to the metabolic and digestive systems. Orange is the color of the sacral chakra, and tied to the reproductive system.

The plant is used in poosai to represent a form of Kottravai who is said to reside on this plant as herself. The plant is used as a component of navapatrika along with plantain (Banana), Kachvi or Kacci or kochu or Taro, jayanti/ Barley, wood apple (Bilva), pomegranate (darimba), Asoka, manaka or Manakochu and rice paddy or Dhanya.

It is used in poosai to make a form of Ganesha. Yaanaimugathaan, the remover of obstacles, is invoked at the beginning of almost any ceremony and a form of Yaanaimugathaan for this purpose is made by mixing turmeric with water and forming it into a cone-like shape.

Gaye holud (literally "yellow on the body") is a ceremony observed mostly in the region of Bengal (comprising Bangladesh and Indian West Bengal). The gaye holud takes place one or two days before the religious and legal Bengali wedding ceremonies. The turmeric paste is applied by friends to the bodies of the couple. This is said to soften the skin, but also colors them with the distinctive yellow hue that gives its name to this ceremony. It may be a joint event for the bride and groom's families, or it may consist of separate events for the bride's family and the groom's family.

During the Tamil festival Pongal, a whole turmeric plant with fresh rhizomes is offered as a thanksgiving offering to Suryan, the Sun god. Also, the fresh plant sometimes is tied around the sacred Pongal pot in which an offering of pongal is prepared.

Turmeric Flower in Maharashtra, India.

In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, as a part of the Tamil/Telugu marriage ritual, dried turmeric tuber tied with string is used temporarily or permanently as opposed to the Mangalasutra of Hindus in India . The Tamil Marriage act recognizes this custom. Thali necklace is the equivalent of marriage rings in western cultures. In western and coastal India, during weddings of the Marathi and Konkani people, Kannada Brahmins turmeric tubers are tied with strings by the couple to their wrists during a ceremony called Kankanabandhana.[26]

Friedrich Ratzel in The History of Mankind reported in 1896 that in Micronesia the preparation of turmeric powder for embellishment of body, clothing and utensils had a highly ceremonial character.[27] He quotes an example of the roots being ground by four to six women in special public buildings and then allowed to stand in water. The following morning, three young coconuts and three old soma nuts are offered by a priestess with prayer, after which the dye which has settled down in the water is collected, baked into cakes in coconut molds, wrapped in banana leaves, and hung up in the huts till required for use.

Possibility of lead contamination

As turmeric and other spices are commonly sold by weight, there is potential in modern times for cutting with powders of toxic agents having similar color, such as lead oxide, giving turmeric an orange-red color instead of its native gold-yellow.[28][29]

See also


  1. ^ "Curcuma longa information from NPGS/GRIN". Retrieved 2008-03-04. 
  2. ^ Chan, E.W.C. et al.; Lim, Y.Y.; Wong, S.K.; Lim, K.K.; Tan, S.P.; Lianto, F.S.; Yong, M.Y. (2009). "Effects of different drying methods on the antioxidant properties of leaves and tea of ginger species". Food Chemistry 113 (1): 166–172.  
  3. ^ Prasad, S; Aggarwal, B. B.; Benzie, I. F. F.; Wachtel-Galor, S (2011). "Turmeric, the Golden Spice: From Traditional Medicine to Modern Medicine".  
  4. ^ Indian Spices. "Turmeric processing". Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  5. ^ Tahira JJ et al (2010). "Weed flora of Curcuma longa". Pakistan J Weed Sci Res 16 (2): 241–6. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  6. ^ Chattopadhyay, Ishita; Kaushik Biswas; Uday Bandyopadhyay; Ranajit K. Banerjee (10 July 2004). "Turmeric and curcumin: Biological actions and medicinal applications". Current Science (Indian Academy of Sciences) 87 (1): 44–53.  
  7. ^ a b "Herbs at a Glance: Turmeric, Science & Safety". National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine (NCCAM), National Institutes of Health. 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  8. ^ Unabridged based on the Random House Dictionary, © Random House, Inc. 2013. "Turmeric". 2012. Retrieved 11 October 2012. 
  9. ^ Curcuma longa A Modern Herbal, M Grieve. Accessed November 2013
  10. ^ Curcuma longa Linn. Description from Flora of China , South China Botanical Garden. Accessed November 2013
  11. ^ Tayyem RF, Heath DD, Al-Delaimy WK, Rock CL (2006). "Curcumin content of turmeric and curry powders". Nutr Cancer 55 (2): 126–131.  
  12. ^ Nagpal M, Sood S (2013). "Role of curcumin in systemic and oral health: An overview". J Nat Sci Biol Med 4 (1): 3–7.  
  13. ^ Is it Turmeric or Saffron?
  14. ^ Chaturvedi TP (2009). "Uses of turmeric in dentistry: an update". Indian J Dent Res 20 (1): 107–109.  
  15. ^ Khalsa SVK. "Turmeric, The Golden Healer". Retrieved 2013-07-07. 
  16. ^ Aggarwal BB, Sundaram C, Malani N, Ichikawa H (2007). "Curcumin: the Indian solid gold". Adv Exp Med Biol 595 (1): 1–75.  
  17. ^ "Turmeric".  
  18. ^ Ragasa C, Laguardia M, Rideout J (2005). "Curcuma domestica"Antimicrobial sesquiterpenoids and diarylheptanoid from . ACGC Chem Res Comm 18 (1): 21–24. 
  19. ^ "Clinical trials on turmeric". National Institutes of Health, Clinical Trials Registry. December 2013. Retrieved December 29, 2013. 
  20. ^ Mishra S, Palanivelu K (Jan–March 2008). "The effect of curcumin (turmeric) on Alzheimer's disease: An overview". Ann Indian Acad Neurol 11 (1): 13–9.  
  21. ^ Boaz M, Leibovitz E, Bar Dayan Y, Wainstein J (2011). "Functional foods in the treatment of type 2 diabetes: olive leaf extract, turmeric and fenugreek, a qualitative review". Func Foods Health Dis 1 (11): 472–81. 
  22. ^ Henrotin Y, Clutterbuck AL, Allaway D, et al. (February 2010). "Biological actions of curcumin on articular chondrocytes". Osteoarthr. Cartil. 18 (2): 141–9.  
  23. ^ Gregory PJ, Sperry M, Wilson AF (January 2008). "Dietary supplements for osteoarthritis". Am Fam Physician 77 (2): 177–84.  
  24. ^ Brennan, James (15 Oct 2008). "Turmeric". Lifestyle. The National. Retrieved 13 May 2012. 
  25. ^ UK food guide
  26. ^ Singh KS, Bhanu BV (2004). People of India: Maharashtra, Volume 1. Popular Prakashan. pp. 2130 pages(see page:487).  
  27. ^ Ratzel, Friedrich. The History of Mankind. (London: MacMillan, 1896). URL: accessed 28 November 2009.
  28. ^ Kaul, Gitika. "FDA Cracks Down on Imported Spices After Turmeric Tests Positive for Lead". ABC News. ABC News. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 
  29. ^ "Lead Poisoning From Imported Asian Spices". Arizona Department of Health Services. Arizona Department of Health Services. Retrieved 27 September 2014. 

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