(Last Updated on : 06/06/2012)
Bearing the Botanical names Curcuma longa Linn, Curcuma domestica Val and, Curcuma aromatica Linn and the Family name Zingiberaceae, turmeric (Curcuma longa) is defined as a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, by the latter name. In India, the plant is used in almost in umpteen and lip-smacking variations, with several names of can be stated as follows - Haldi in Hindi; Halud and Pitarus in Bengali; Haldhar, Haldi in Gujarati; Arishina in Kannada; Halad in Konkani; Manjal in Malayalam; Halad, Halede in Marathi; Yaingang in Meitei; Haladi in Oriya; Haldar, Haldhar, Haldi in Punjabi; Haladi, Haridra, Harita in Sanskrit; Manjal in Tamil; Pasupu in Telugu; Haladi in Urdu.
Turmeric is the boiled, dried, cleaned and polished rhizome version of Curcuma longa. The plant can be described as an herbaceous perennial one, 60-90 cm in height, possessing a short stem and clumped leaf. There exists 7 to 12 leaves in one sheath, the leaf sheaths forming the pseudo-stem. Approximately 30 flowers are produced in one spike. The seeds of turmeric plant are produced in capsules and there definitely is one to numerous sunken capsules in an inflorescence. Turmeric, basically serving as an underground stem, very much resembles a plant of ginger in the raw, unused version. The turmeric powderised variation is most normally available in a ground, mashed, bright yellow fine powder. The whole turmeric resembles a tuberous rhizome, with a rough, sectioned skin. The rhizome is yellowish-brown in colour, with a dull orange inside that appears bright yellow when pulverised. The main rhizome measures 2.5 - 7 cm in length with a diameter of 2.5 cm, with smaller tubers branching off. The fragrance and olfactory property of turmeric is intriguingly earthy and to some extent pungent and bitter. The flavour of both the powder and the whole version is warm and aromatic to some extent, with an acrid undertone.
Turmeric is wholly a native of India in its origin and distribution. In India, it is cultivated in the states of West Bengal, Andhra Pradesh, Maharashtra, Orissa, Tamil Nadu, Karnataka and Kerala. Turmeric serves absolutely as a tropical crop, cultivated from sea level to 1200 metres in mean land level height. It develops best in light black, black clayey loams and red soils under thoroughly irrigated and rain-fed conditions. The crop cannot however stand water logging or alkalinity soil conditions. Turmeric is verily regarded as an ancient spice, a native of South East Asia, brilliantly utilised from time immemorial as a dye and a condiment. It is still used in rituals of the Hindu religion and as a dye for holy robes, being natural, un-synthesised and cheap. Indeed, history of turmeric bears within its portfolio much amalgamation of legends, lores and yet, pragmatic details.
Turmeric is in fact one of the cheapest spices available in India. Although as a dye it is used in similar manners to saffron, the culinary uses of the two spices are never generally fuddled and also never replace saffron in food a la carte menu. The name `turmeric` has been derived from the Latin terra merita (standing as `meritorious earth` in English translation), pertaining to the colour of ground turmeric, which brilliantly resembles a mineral pigment. In many languages turmeric is simply lovingly referred to as "yellow root". The turmeric roots are further dried and boiled to make the much recognisable yellow powder, most commonly used in food preparations. The plant`s most sensed ingredient is curcumin and it owns an earthy, bitter, peppery flavour, accompanied by a `mustardy` smell. Turmeric has always been utilised in its ground and mashed format. The powder is legendarily acknowledged to maintain its colouring properties indefinitely, although its quintessential flavour will ebb with time. As such, one is mostly recommended to buy with moderation and after much thinking. Turmeric needs always be stored in airtight containers, wholly away from harsh to mild sunlight.
Turmeric is one of the most admired and well accepted spices of India. It is also popular for its medicinal values, utilised as part of home remedy. Turmeric is literally added almost in every dish prepared and cooked in India. Further, it is also regarded by the Hindus as something `sacred` for use in ceremonial and religious functions. The spice turmeric or `Haldi` consists of the dried, boiled, cleaned and polished rhizomes (the underground swollen stem of the plant) of the whole turmeric plant. As also acknowledged from historical times, uses of turmeric in India also have charted the domains of good looks and beautification amongst the fair sex.
Under the genus Curcuma, to which turmeric belongs, botanists have so far recognised 30 varieties. Amongst these, Curcuma longa is economically the most crucial, accounting for about 96.4 percent of the total area under turmeric. The remaining 3.6 percent of the total area are cultivated under Curcuma aromatica, which is mostly grown in small areas in Andhra Pradesh and Tamil Nadu.
Caring for raw turmeric rhizomes freshly dug out of earth is essential both for the development of the attractive yellow colour, mostly due to a pigment called curcumin, and characteristic aroma, as without it turmeric lacks demand. The fingers and bulbs are boiled separately in water for half an hour, until froth and white fumes appear. They are then drained and dried in the sun for 10 to 15 days, up to the time till they become dry and hardened. At this stage, the turmeric `fingers` emit a metallic sound, when broken in hand. They are then cleaned and polished mechanically in a drum rotated by hand, or by power. Further advanced and improved method of curing has been developed by CFTRI (Central Food Technological research Institute), Mysore which ensures better quality of end product.
Most of the turmeric produced in India is utilised as condiment, as has been mentioned previously. Only a small fraction is employed in medicine, cosmetics and in dyeing of textile. The quality attributes of the commercial produce are its sheer appearance in colour, maturity, bulk density, length and thickness, intensity of colour of the core and aroma etc. Turmeric produced in different areas is known by various local names. There thus exists 16 such local varieties. Besides, the AGMARK Grades have been framed for (i) Turmeric fingers, (ii) Bulbs and (iii) Powder, separately both for export and for internal trade.
Turmeric possess the following essential composition from within, containing respective properties of a plant:
|Moisture: 5.8 %
||Sodium: 0.01 `%
|Protein: 8.6 %
||Potassium: 2.5 %
|Fat: 8.9 %
||Vitamin A (carotene): 175 I.U./100 gram
|Carbohydrates: 63.0 %
||Vitamin B1: 0.09 mg/100 gram
|Fibre: 6.9 %
||Vitamin B2: 0.19 mg/100 gram
|Total ash: 6.8 %
||Vitamin C (ascorbic acid): 49.8 mg/100 gram
|Calcium: 0.2 %
||Niacin: 4.8 mg/100 gram.
|Phosphorus: 0.26 %
||Calorific value (food energy): 390 calories/100 grams.
|Iron: 0.05 %
A particular volatile oil of orange yellow colour can be smoothly extracted by steam distillation of crushed turmeric tubers. Occasionally, it is found to be slightly fluorescent with an odour, reminiscent of tubers. The dried rhizomes yield 5 to 6 percent, while fresh ones contribute 0.24 percent essential oil. Approximately 58 percent of the oil is composed of turmerones (sesquiterpene ketones) and 9 percent tertiary alcohols. Oleoresin can be distilled from ground turmeric by solvent extraction, followed by vacuum concentration. This very kind of factory process is in great demand by the food and pharmaceutical industries abroad.
Turmeric, as can be comprehended is a unique, colourful and versatile a natural plant product, combining the properties of a spice or flavourant, colorant as brilliant yellow dye, as a cosmetic, as a source of medicine useful in a number of diseases.