Turmeric, a rich, golden spice, has been used in Indian cuisine for centuries. It is used in everything from authentic dishes to household remedies. You won’t find an Indian kitchen without this particular spice.
Turmeric is used all over India and is commonly known as haldi. It also goes by as hald in Hindi and Konkani, halad in Marathi, haldhar or haldar in Punjabi, holud in Bengali, arishia in Kannada, manjal in Malayalam and Tamil, harita in Sanskrit, pasupu in Telugu, haldil in Odia and haldhar in Gujarati.
Oftentimes Indian dishes are adorned with turmeric — the scientific name is Curcuma longa — not because it gives the food a vibrant yellow/golden color but mainly because it holds numerous medicinal and therapeutic values.
Turmeric is a plant part of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. The roots of this plant are utilized in cooking and medicine. It is a herbaceous perennial native plant of India and Asia where it has been produced for more than 5,000 years. The roots of the turmeric plant are commonly used either fresh or after they have dried under the sun’s heat. The dried roots are then ground to make a powder that can be used in food.
Although the powder itself has a warm, bitter taste, it adds a beautiful color and aroma to food. Once it becomes rancid, however, it begins to lose its aroma and flavor. Therefore, to maximize its usage, it should be used when it is fresh, in a short period of time, and kept in an airtight sealed container.
The brilliance of this spice is its versatility. Due to its rich color, the use of turmeric has spread from food and medicine to fabrics as well; the plant is often used to dye textiles a beautiful golden hue. Turmeric has been a big part of Indian Hindu weddings too. The day before the marriage, the family and friends of the bride and groom lovingly put fresh haldi paste on their face, arms, and legs. The ritual may sound absurd, but turmeric has medicinal, soothing, antiseptic and anti-inflammatory properties that give the skin a nice, even tone and glow. Additionally, in many parts of India, it is tradition to put a turmeric root in a cloth and tie it either around the neck or hand of the groom and bride. They believe it protects them and keeps them levelheaded.
India is a country known for its festivals, and we use haldi in most of our festivals. In Maharashtra, for Haldi Kumkum, women call friends and relatives to their home and give haldi (turmeric) and kumkum (vermillion) along with some gift.
Indian/Asian cooking has always used a lot of turmeric to enhance our dishes. It is not only added to our sabzis (cooked vegetables) and curries but also in tea, milk, pickles, and even ice cream. Not too surprising, given that Starbucks has a turmeric latte.
Adding turmeric to beverages is something that is done on a daily basis at an Indian household. Every Indian mother would have given her child turmeric in hot milk to avoid or cure minor illnesses. Turmeric milk has great medicinal properties, with the ability to ease recovery from a normal cold or cough, or reduce inflammation from a minor injury through its antiseptic properties.
Turmeric gets its beautiful vibrant color from curcumin. Curcumin is a primary coloring agent in Curcuma longa. It is a polyphenolic, hydrophobic compound also diferuloylmethane. According to one study, it has anti-inflammatory properties and the ability to increase the number of antioxidants that the body produces. According to one report, this powerful antioxidant neutralizes free radicals (organic molecules responsible for tissue damage, aging, and some diseases) produced by normal metabolic processes and is picked up by the body in an ideal environment.
Turmeric has always been a part of the ancient Indian science of Ayurveda. It is used to make many alternative medicines to treat cholesterol, arthritis, stomach issues, and diabetes. Because of its known medicinal properties’ scientists have been trying to test its benefits on cancer.
Indian Institute of Technology Madras researchers have also shown curcumin may enhance cancer-cell death. Also, researchers at the biotechnology department of Jawaharlal Nehru University in New Delhi found that curcumin can be used in stomach cancer treatment.
Scientists and medical professionals have begun to recognize the medicinal and health benefits that turmeric holds. The popularity of this spice as a herbal supplement is increasing tremendously. People are investing in this once unknown spice to a majority of the world, in hopes of gaining its many health benefits.
The American botanical council’s herb market report also indicated a ~10% increase in total year-over-year US sales, which is the strongest sales growth for herbal supplements in decades. And most importantly, this is one of the most selling herbal products in the USA.
Although making turmeric a regular part of your diet is very important, it is especially important in this time as we all endure the Covid-19 pandemic. Haldi is one of the most important herbs for boosting your immunity.
You should drink turmeric milk or tea every night. You can also try this drink that is good for immunity. Mix half a spoon (tsp or tbsp?) haldi and a half-inch ginger in a glass of water and boil it for five minutes. Let it cool for some time and then add one-fourth of a lemon and one teaspoon of honey. Try to drink this daily, either in the morning or night.
Stay healthy and safe!
[Urmi Kandapal is a California-based yoga teacher/therapist. The views expressed are her own.]