Turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani, and the animistic rituals of Austronesian peoples. It was first used as a dye, and then later for its supposed properties in folk medicine.
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Turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes, imparting a mustard-like, earthy aroma and pungent, slightly bitter flavor to foods. It is used mostly in savory dishes, but also is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake sfouf. In India, turmeric leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes, patoleo, by layering rice flour and coconut-jaggery mixture on the leaf, then closing and steaming it in a special utensil (chondrõ). Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder to impart a golden yellow color. It is used in many products such as canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, and gelatin. It is a principal ingredient in curry powders. Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric also is used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in East Asian recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric.
Turmeric is used widely as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Various Iranian khoresh dishes are started using onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, followed by other ingredients. The Moroccan spice mix ras el hanout typically includes turmeric. In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden color, known as geelrys (yellow rice) traditionally served with bobotie. In Vietnamese cuisine, turmeric powder is used to color and enhance the flavors of certain dishes, such as bánh xèo, bánh khọt, and mi quang. The staple Cambodian curry paste, kroeung, used in many dishes including amok, typically contains fresh turmeric. In Indonesia, turmeric leaves are used for Minang or Padang curry base of Sumatra, such as rendang, sate padang, and many other varieties. In Thailand, fresh turmeric rhizomes are used widely in many dishes, in particular in the southern Thai cuisine, such as yellow curry and turmeric soup. Turmeric is used in a hot drink called "turmeric latte" or "golden milk" that is made with milk, frequently coconut milk. The turmeric milk drink known as haldi doodh (haldi means turmeric in Hindi) is a South Asian recipe. Sold in the US and UK, the drink known as "golden mylk" uses nondairy milk and sweetener, and sometimes black pepper after the traditional recipe (which may also use ghee).
The bright yellow color of turmeric is due to curcumin. It also contains an orange-colored volatile oil. Turmeric makes a poor fabric dye, as it is not very light fast, but is commonly used in Indian clothing, such as saris and Buddhist monks's robes. It is used to protect food products from sunlight (coded as E100 when used as a food additive). The oleoresin is used for oil-containing products. A curcumin and polysorbate solution or curcumin powder dissolved in alcohol is used for water-containing products. Overcoloring, such as in pickles, relishes, and mustard, is sometimes used to compensate for fading.
In combination with annatto (E160b), turmeric has been used to color cheeses, yogurt, dry mixes, salad dressings, winter butter, and margarine. Turmeric also is used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards, canned chicken broths, and other foods (often as a much cheaper replacement for saffron).
Turmeric paper, also called curcuma paper or in German literature, Curcumapapier, is paper steeped in a tincture of turmeric and allowed to dry. It is used in chemical analysis as an indicator for acidity and alkalinity. The paper is yellow in acidic and neutral solutions and turns brown to reddish-brown in alkaline solutions, with transition between pH of 7.4 and 9.2.
Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia, where it is collected for use in Indian traditional medicine (Siddha or Ayurveda).
In Eastern India, the plant is used as one of the nine components of navapatrika along with young plantain or banana plant, taro leaves, barley (jayanti), wood apple(bilva), pomegranate (darimba), asoka, manaka (Arum), or manakochu, and rice paddy. The Haldi ceremony (called gaye holud in Bengal) (literally "yellow on the body") is a ceremony observed during Hindu and South Asian Muslim wedding celebrations in many parts of India, including Bengal, Punjab, Maharashtra, and Gujarat, and in Pakistan.
In Tamil Nadu and Andhra Pradesh, as a part of the Tamil–Telugu marriage ritual, dried turmeric tuber tied with string is used to create a Thali necklace, the equivalent of marriage rings in western cultures. In western and coastal India, during weddings of the Marathi and Konkani people, Kannada Brahmins, turmeric tubers are tied with strings by the couple to their wrists during a ceremony, Kankanabandhana.
Friedrich Ratzel reported in The History of Mankind during 1896, that in Micronesia, turmeric powder was applied for embellishment of body, clothing, utensils, and ceremonial uses.
As turmeric and other spices are commonly sold by weight, the potential exists for powders of toxic, cheaper agents with a similar color to be added, such as lead(II,IV) oxide, giving turmeric an orange-red color instead of its native gold-yellow. Another common adulterant in turmeric, metanil yellow (also known as acid yellow 36), is considered an illegal dye for use in foods by the British Food Standards Agency.
See also: Curcumin
Turmeric and curcumin, one of its constituents, have been studied in numerous clinical trials for various human diseases and conditions, but the conclusions have either been uncertain or negative. Claims that curcumin in turmeric may help to reduce inflammation remain unproven as of 2017.
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