What is Turmeric?
Turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant—a member of the ginger family. Known as “Indian Saffron,” the root has a peppery, warm, bitter flavor with a ginger-orange aroma. Turmeric has been used for centuries as a herb and spice. Today it it is most well-known for flavoring curry and coloring yellow mustard.
Turmeric can be processed in many forms, including cut root, dried or powdered root, commercially prepared curcumin powder or fluid extracts. Its spicy or sweet spice qualities make it a versatile product. Some form of turmeric can be found in numerous canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, sweets, cake icings, cereals, or sauces. Turmeric milk or tea has been rising in popularity. 1
The Curcuma plant has cone shaped spikes, small yellow flowers, and long leaves. Turmeric is derived from the roots, which look very similar to ginger, but are more of an orange-gold color. The plant is native to China and India, where it has been harvested for over 5,000 years. It can be found in some parts of South America as well. The plant is a traditional staple in Eastern cultures. Uses for its roots and leaves range from spice, to dye, to medicinal and herbal remedies.
Turmeric was not introduced to Europe until the 13th century. Recently the root has risen in popularity. Today, India, Indonesia, China, the Philippines, Taiwan, Haiti and Jamaica lead the world in commercial production.
Besides its baking qualities, Turmeric boasts a long list of health benefits. Turmeric’s main active ingredient is a curcumionid compound called curcumin, which serves as a strong anti-inflammatory and antioxidant. The root has been show to help prevent heart disease, treat arthritis or inflammatory bowel disease, and lower cholesterol. However, when Turmeric is used as an herb or spice, the curumin content is low. Still, the root offers high nutritional values, such as iron (517 percent of RDA), manganese (340 percent of RDA), vitamin B-6 (138 percent of RDA) and fiber (53 percent of RDA). 3
In the culinary and baking industry, Turmeric works as a strong coloring agent with a little going a long way. When added to breads or cakes, it creates a color spectrum ranging from yellow to deep orange. The root offers a less-expensive substitute for saffron with similar coloring results.
Turmeric is also a natural preservative. Studies have revealed an extract yellow pigment from powder turmeric in soybean oil reduces the bacteria count, as well as total molds and yeasts. Pastes of the roots are often used to marinate meat and extend shelf life. 2
Ground turmeric should be stored in a cool dark place, as it is vulnerable to moisture and light. Even when stored properly, it can begin to lose potency at around six months.
Turmeric is exempt from certification from a listing of color additives and is declared as spice and coloring. The FDA labels Turmeric as GRAS.
1. Sterling-Rice Group. “Top Nine Natural & Organic Food Trends Meeting Consumer Needs in 2015.” PR Newswire. UBM Plc Company, 20 May 2015. Web.
2. H., Abdeldaiem M.. “Use of Yellow Pigment Extracted from Turmeric (CurcumaLonga) Rhizomes Powder as Natural Food Preservative.” American Journal of Food Science and Technology 2.1 (2014): 36-47.