Turmeric For Health, Happiness & Good Food
In Britain, it can be very easy to overlook the importance of turmeric. Some might know it as one of the oldest natural food dyes in the world but occasionally it can end up an unloved and unused addition to a spice rack, where its great potential goes overlooked. This could not be more different in India, where it is sometimes referred to as the “spice of life”, with an extensive list of uses beyond a commonly used ingredient for Indian cuisine.
Curcuma Longa is a perennial herb native to India, which bears many underground rhizomes (root stalks) with tough brown skin and bright orange flesh. These rhizomes, when not used fresh, are boiled, dried and ground into an orange-yellow powder called turmeric (or haldi in Hindi). Turmeric is mildly aromatic with a pungent and bitter flavour.
As an indigenous plant, turmeric is one of the oldest known spices and is understood to have been used in India for at least 5000 years, originally cultivated as a clothing dye, later for cosmetic, medicinal and culinary uses. Turmeric has become very highly regarded for its role in Hindu spiritualism and Buddhist ceremonies, too. As turmeric is associated with purity, prosperity and fertility, the spice is used extensively during the haldi ceremony at Hindu weddings (where it is applied as a paste to the bride and groom’s face and body), to dye the robes of Hindu monks and used in the worship of the Goddess Durga.
Turmeric has also been used for its medicinal properties for thousands of years by Ayurvedic and Unani practitioners, who recognised the benefits of it. Not only has it been used as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, it is well known as an anti-inflammatory, antibacterial, antiseptic, antioxidant and diuretic agent. As a paste, it is used as a skin elixir and mixed with milk to treat coughs and colds.
Modern medicine has discovered other benefits too; to heal wounds faster and reduce scarring, to relieve morning sickness, lower cholesterol, prevent liver disease, moderate insulin levels in diabetics, relieving the pain of arthritis, destroying some cancer cells and even in helping prevent Alzheimer’s.
Of course, turmeric is an indispensable ingredient for Indian recipes and features in almost all vegetable dishes. In some regions, particularly Maharashtra, Goa and Konkan, Curcuma longa leaves are used to wrap and cook food and it is also used with ginger for pickles and chutneys. Some such recipes include:
Bhajani Thalipeeth – this Maharashtrian pancake or flat bread is made with Bhajani flour and mixed spices, including turmeric. They taste best served hot with pickle, riata or plain yoghurt.
Aloo Phujia – Spicy tomatoes and potatoes given a spicy kick with cumin, cayenne pepper and ground turmeric.
Tava Chana – Great as a snack, these Indian spicy garbanzo beans (chickpeas) were made popular by Indian food writer and chef Tarla Dalal and are mixed with ingredients including chillies, coriander, mango powder, tandoori masala, chaat masala and turmeric power.
Maharashtrian Kalvan Bhaat –A fish curry, frequently made with cod or orange roughy, marinated in garlic, chili powder, turmeric and tamarind paste.
If you want to sample some contemporary Indian cuisine that is rooted in traditional uses of turmeric, visit one of London’s exciting fine-dining Indian restaurants.