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Synonyms: turmeric root, Indian saffron

botanical name: Curcuma longa



For growth the turmeric plant requires a balanced warm, moist climate. Its home is probably the tropics of India, where it has been used for 3000 years. The Arabs brought turmeric to Greece in the first century a.d. and later to Central Europe.


Turmeric was not known in Germany, however, until about 1150, when it was used as a food colouring in place of the considerably more expensive saffron.


In the seventh century, turmeric was also grown in China. Today it is cultivated in many other tropical regions of Asia, in the Caribbean and in Madagascar. India remains the largest producer and exporter of turmeric, however.



Turmeric is sold in Germany chiefly as a dried, finely ground powder. In Asian shops the fresh tuberous roots may also be found now and then.


Appearance, taste, characteristics

The perennial turmeric plant belongs botanically to the ginger family. The large lanceolate leaves of this shrub have sturdy stems and can be up to 1.2 m long. The large calyx-like flowers of the plant are yellow-white or yellow.


The numerous tuberous roots of the shrub, also called rhizomes, are harvested. They are hard like horn, have transverse rings and more or less distinct tubercles. Within, the rhizomes are yellow to orange. The main rhizomes are oval to pear-shaped, while the accessory rhizomes are flatly branched and rather digitate.


Fresh turmeric smells pleasantly citrus-like, spicy and earthy. The taste of the root resembles that of ginger; it is slightly hot and mildly spicy and slightly bitter. The dried spice has a full, woody aroma with citrus and ginger notes and also tastes slightly bitter, sourish and slightly hot.


The intensely yellow-orange rhizomes have a strong colouring property.



The rhizomes contain between 2 and 7% essential oil, which is responsible for the characteristic smell and taste of the spice. The main components of the oil, at 65%, are sesquiterpene ketones, in particular turmerone and curlone. In addition, the oil contains up to 25% zingiberene.


The colour is caused by curcuminoids, which make up 3-6% of the rhizome. These are fat-soluble and heat-stable; the pigment curcumin usually dominates.


A considerable 30-40% of the root consists of starch.


Quality criteria, optimal storage conditions

Alleppey turmeric and Madras turmeric are considered to be of high quality, whereas West Indian turmeric is less prized. A deep-orange colour at a fresh site of breakage is regarded as a sign of quality of the dried rhizome.


Dried turmeric should be kept as cool as possible in an airtight container. It is also important to protect it from light. As with all spices, ground turmeric loses its aroma more quickly than the intact piece of rhizome. In contrast, the capacity of turmeric powder to dye remains practically unlimited when it is protected from light.


Fresh roots will keep for up to 2 weeks in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator or in a cool dry place. They can also be frozen.


Presumed effect on health

Many wholesome effects are attributed to turmeric. It stimulates the appetite and digestion, owing partly to its spicy smell and taste. Turmeric stimulates the production of gastric juices and bile; an increased production of bile has been proven even in the absence of any gustatory appeal.


It is presumed that regular consumption of turmeric reduces the risk of cancers. Apparently, turmeric not only influences the metabolism but also inhibits the formation of harmful substances such as nitrosamines when used in preparing food.


In addition, turmeric contains substances with an antioxidant effect, i.e. they protect cells from oxidative attack by dangerous free-radicals. Turmeric is also assumed to have antibacterial and anti-inflammatory effects.


In natural medicine diluted turmeric oil is traditionally recommended for skin diseases, and infusions or extracts are given for digestive problems. It is also supposed to have been used successfully to treat arthritis. In India and China it is used in addition as a pain-relieving remedy and for fever, liver diseases and vomiting during pregnancies.


Form of consumption, use, processing, practical tips for preparation

After being harvested, the rhizomes are briefly cooked and then dried in the sun for several days. After the outer cork layer has been removed, turmeric comes to the shops either whole or finely ground. In Germany chiefly dried turmeric is sold; fresh rhizomes are rarely found.


In India, the home of turmeric, this spice is used generously. In North Africa and the Mid-East as well, turmeric is used to prepare grains and sauces that are served especially with fish and poultry dishes.


While turmeric is used in the USA and in England as a pure spice, it was known in Central Europe up to a few years ago only as a component of curry mixtures and mustard. Since Asian cuisine has become more popular is Europe, turmeric is now also used here more frequently as a seasoning.

Turmeric is especially delicious in rice dishes, in stews, with poultry, fish and seafood, but also with sauces and vegetables. Fried cauliflower with turmeric is particularly popular. Potatoes, legumes / pulses, egg dishes and chutneys can also be enhanced with this spice.


In Southeast Asia fresh turmeric is often mixed with other spices and made into a spice paste.

In the food industry, turmeric and the curcumin it contains are often used to colour margarine, mustard and instant foods. Curcumin is the substance behind the food colouring E 100.


Seasoning tip

Turmeric should be added to food only 5 minutes before the end of cooking and should be used only sparingly. The spice goes well with anise, coriander, cumin, cloves, paprika and other curry ingredients. It also harmonizes with garlic, ginger and lemon grass.



The dye curcumin from the turmeric root serves as a reagent in the chemical laboratory to indicate borates. Textiles, wood and leather used to be dyed with turmeric extract.





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