The first documented use of turmeric dates back to Ancient India. An essential healing herb within several traditional medicinal systems, turmeric would soon take on innumerable new uses, developing a shroud of mysticism as it spread throughout southern Asia and the rest of the world.
Most Common Turmeric Uses
Turmeric has been around since time immemorial. Today, the most common turmeric uses include its role in foods, dietary supplements, and other manufactured goods.
Although turmeric has become a popular medicinal herb in Western societies, the question of what turmeric is good for in the kitchen is fairly common, especially among those who are not quite familiar with Asian culinary traditions.
Even though its leaves and flowers are also edible, the turmeric rhizome or root is the most important part of the plant for culinary use. Closely resembling the brown, stubbly fingers of a ginger root, the turmeric rhizome is dried and ground for turmeric-based powdered seasonings, or used fresh. In fact, one of the most common and best-known uses for turmeric is as an ingredient in curry powders.
TURMERIC IS AN ESSENTIAL INGREDIENT IN INDIAN CURRIES AS WELL AS IN OTHER DISHES, SUCH AS THE INDONESIAN RENDANG DAGING AND THE BALINESE BEBEK BETUTU.
Producing a woodsy and gingery essence with warm, slightly bitter undertones, turmeric is commonly used to give flavor and color to hearty meats, stews, poultries, casseroles, and rice dishes.
A vital component of several of the major traditional systems of China, India, and the Middle East, turmeric uses for health and well-being are vast. Ancient practitioners used turmeric as a cure for leprosy and jaundice, applying it directly to the affected areas of the skin. Meanwhile, using turmeric internally was thought to dispel worms, cure diabetes, treat anorexia, remove ulcers, prevent eye disease, and even quiet the woes of infertility.
Nowadays, the descendants of these ancient peoples have developed a host of medicinal uses of turmeric, many of which have been backed by modern science. Numerous turmeric studies highlight its efficacy for improving blood circulation, reducing gas and bloating, eliminating pain and inflammation, stabilizing blood sugar levels, and lowering cholesterol.1,2,3
Though the use of turmeric powder is not uncommon for the food industry, turmeric oleoresin is by far the most important product for widespread industrial use. Obtained via the solvent extraction of ground turmeric, the oleoresin contains pigments, flavor compounds, and fats. It is perhaps most commonly used as a food dye, and it is the ingredient from which various mustards, jams, and gummy candies derive their distinctive yellow coloring. However, turmeric use in mayonnaise, salad dressings, pickles, pates, and other manufactured goods is also common.4
On the Indian subcontinent, where this herb has the greatest significance, many women have been using turmeric to improve complexion and smooth the appearance of the skin for years. Now, having isolated antioxidant and anti-aging components in turmeric, researchers have validated the practice, demonstrating how turmeric uses its store of phytonutrients to protect the skin from cellular damage.5
Besides simply ingesting turmeric for skin health, many homemade skin preparations use turmeric powder for fashioning a golden paste that is later slathered on as a rich facial mask or body scrub. Meanwhile, numerous commercial brands have developed turmeric-based fragrances, creams, sunscreens, night serums, and healing elixirs.
Less Known Uses of Turmeric
The following uses of turmeric are those which are not as widely practiced or discussed in the Western world.
Because of their long history, turmeric uses have become inextricably linked with many cultural practices of the Indian subcontinent. The most important of these are Hindu wedding ceremonies involving the use of turmeric as a beautifying, soul-cleansing paste applied to the couple's skin to prepare them for their new life as husband and wife. The turmeric, or haldi ceremony also solidifies familial relations as both families come together to celebrate their impending union.
In Indonesia, turmeric's golden color signifies royal festivity. Instead of cake, many weddings will offer rice that has been cooked and dyed yellow using turmeric.
Of the many different ways to use turmeric, its role in agricultural work is a little-known practice. However, turmeric is good for eliminating pests known for plaguing crops. In several recent studies, extracted turmerone, a major compound found in turmeric, has been shown to reduce egg hatching of several pests, namely grain borers, red flour beetles, and rice weevils. It also effectively lowers termite population.
In addition, turmeric is sometimes used for repelling biting bugs and preventing powdery mildew disease in crops.
Thanks to a diverse list of turmeric uses, the cultural importance of turmeric has withstood the test of time. From ancient history to present day, turmeric is good for cooking, preparing cosmetic applications, and for general health and well-being. Try out this delicious and magical herb for yourself to start discovering what using turmeric can do for you.
- An Introduction to Ayurveda, pp. 29 - 31
- Food Colorants: Chemical and Functional Properties, pp. 331 - 333
- Herbal Medicine: Biomolecular and Clinical Aspects, Chapter 13: Turmeric, the golden spice
- Indian Journal of Pharmaceutical Sciences, Evaluation of skin coloring properties of Curcuma Longa Extract, 2014
- Industrial Exploitation of Microorganisms, p. 409
- Journal of Economic Entomology, Toxicity of turmeric extracts to the termite reticulitermes flavipes (blattodea: rhinotermitidae), 2015 | Bioactivities of the leaf essential oil of curcuma longa on three species of stored product beetles, 2002
- Marriage Customs of the World, pp. 41 - 42
- Natural Crop Protection in the Tropics
- Turmeric: The wonder spice
- Wedding Traditions from Around the World, p. 17
- Phytotherapy Research, Effects of Turmeric (curcuma long) on skin health: a systematic review of the clinical evidence, 2016
- Phytotherapy Research. (2012). A randomized, pilot study to assess the efficacy and safety of curcumin in patients with active rheumatoid arthritis. Retrieved September 16, 2016, from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22407780/
- Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry. (2005). Curcuminoids and sesquiterpenoids in turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) suppress an increase in blood glucose level in type 2 diabetic KK-Ay mice. Retrieved September 23, 2021, from: https://pubs.acs.org/doi/10.1021/jf0483873
- Journal of Food Science. (2016). Choleretic activity of turmeric and its active ingredients. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/27228476/
- Medicina (Kaunas). (2020). Properties, Extraction Methods, and Delivery Systems for Curcumin as a Natural Source of Beneficial Health Effects. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7404808/
- Chemical and Pharmaceutical Bulletin of Tokyo. (1985). Natural Antioxidants. III. Antioxidative components isolated from rhizome of Curcuma longa L. Retrieved October 26, 2016, from: https://www.jstage.jst.go.jp/article/cpb1958/33/4/33_4_1725/_pdf