What Are Turmeric and Curcumin

Turmeric can be considered a golden root, not just for its color but for its value. Find out why turmeric is one of the most useful spices Southern Asia has to offer.

In most Western countries, turmeric is known as a simple spice that adds flavor and color to dishes. However, in most parts of its native home, Southern Asia, it’s considered one of the most powerful supplements nature has to offer. Turmeric’s natural healing powers have long been popular in many parts of Asia, particularly in China, India, and Indonesia. Its scientific names are Curcuma longa and Curcuma domestica, but it’s more commonly known as Indian saffron, curcumin, jiang huang,  and haridra, depending on which part of the world you are in.

The Turmeric Plant

When you see turmeric in the supermarket, you will probably mistake it for its more popular cousin, the ginger. Like ginger, turmeric is a rhizome. The plant grows 5 - 6 feet high, and has trumpet-shaped, dull yellow flowers. It reproduces through its roots, that produce rhizomes, which in turn, become new plants.  It grows in Southern Asia, most commonly in India, where it’s used for one of their primary spices, the curry.

Although turmeric looks a lot like ginger, it has some distinct qualities. One is its bright yellow-orange color, which is used as coloring agent in food and cosmetics. It also has a sharper and more earthly taste than ginger. Some perfume companies even use turmeric as an essential oil for their scents.

Turmeric and Curcumin

Curcumin and other curcuminoids are the active substances in turmeric (the substances with healing properties). However, they comprise only a small percentage of turmeric powder (2-9%).

That is why it is much more effective to take pure curcumin (in capsule or powder form) than taking just ground turmeric.

Turmeric is formed by 3 kinds of curcuminoids, which are curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. These fat-soluble, polyphenolic compounds comprise only 2-9% of turmeric, but this is already enough to give turmeric its bright yellow-orange color. Some other substances in turmeric are the volatile oils, alpha-turmerone and ar-turmerone, and polysaccharides.

Out of the 3 curcuminoids in turmeric, the most abundant is curcumin (C21H20O6). This substance is a lowmolecular-weight polyphenol, which was discovered in 1910. It provides 75% of the curcuminoids in turmeric.

Turmeric’s Medicinal Uses

Turmeric has so many uses that it can be considered a wonder crop. It’s been a huge part of Asian folk medicine, curing diseases from leech bites to leprosy. Both Chinese and Indian medicine consider turmeric as one of the most useful natural medicines available. Some of the diseases turmeric was used for are:

  • diarrhea
  • fever
  • bronchitis
  • parasitic worms
  • bladder inflammations
  • kidney inflammations
  • dyspepsia
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • lung infections
  • fibromyalgia
  • menstrual problems

Chronic coughs were cured by burning turmeric and inhaling its smoke. On the other hand, common colds were cured by turmeric mixed with hot water and sugar.

Recent studies show that the ancient Indian and Malaysian practice of rubbing turmeric paste onto the skin might actually prevent skin cancer. Aside from this, turmeric can be used to treat a lot of skin conditions, including infected wounds.

Other Uses of Turmeric

Turmeric isn’t just used for medicine. The bright red dot on the forehead of some Hindu women is usually made from turmeric mixed with lime juice. It is also used for cooking because of its rich earthly taste and food coloring properties. In India, it is the primary ingredient of curry. Other foods that surprisingly have turmeric in them are butter, margarine, cheese, and mustard. You might not be able to taste the earthly flavor of turmeric in them, though, because it’s only used as a food colorant. It can also be used as a food preservative and for making pickles. Cotton, silk, paper, wood, and even cosmetics might be tinted using turmeric.

Forms of Turmeric

Turmeric comes in different forms, depending on what you’re using it for. Don’t get confused when you head to the supermarket and find so many kinds of turmeric products. It’s up to you which suits your cooking and health needs best.

Raw turmeric is often used for cooking, and just recently, for juicing. On the other hand, the powdered form can be used to spice up dishes or as a natural health supplement. There is no specific dosage for turmeric, but experts recommend taking at least a teaspoon of its powdered form with every meal. If you don’t like its taste, you can opt for capsule or tablet forms, as long as they’re made from pure turmeric.

For skin diseases, there are some readily available turmeric ointments in health stores, or you can make your own by boiling turmeric powder for 8-10 minutes. You can apply this to your skin to cure a variety of skin diseases, including boils, psoriasis, minor bruises, and skin bumps.

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