Many people know turmeric as the bright yellow-orange powder found in stores and used in curries with anti-inflammatory properties. Now more popular than ever in supplements, beauty products, and culinary applications, this once frowned upon root has had its glow up.
A brief history of turmeric
Turmeric has been around for nearly 4,000 years, dating back to India where it was used as a spice in cooking. Around 2,500 years ago, it was recognized in Ayurvedic medicine for relieving the symptoms of food poisoning. For hundreds of years, it was used for its bright golden color and made into dyes for Buddhist robes.
After traveling through the Silk Road to Europe, turmeric jumped across the ocean and landed in the Americas. The first known published recipe using this spice was in 1831 in Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife in a curry recipe. Turmeric stayed mostly under the radar in the United States until it’s resurgence in popularity about 30 years ago.
How turmeric is grown and produced
Turmeric is a root that is a member of the ginger family. It is native to India and thrives in warm, tropical climates. The turmeric plant is a perennial herb that grows throughout the season and is ready for harvest after seven to ten months. The plant will produce bright white and purple flowers that have a pungent fragrance and are also edible. Once the plant flowers, it is ready for harvest.
To get from root to powder, the turmeric root is boiled and then left to dry for up to a week until the root is completely dried out. The skin is removed from the root and the remaining dried flesh ground into a fine powder. This is then bottled and shipped for human consumption. Making it into powder is actually quite easy for the home cook and can produce higher quality turmeric than what can be found at the store.
Health and wellness benefits
The main benefits actually come from the substance that gives it its color. Known as curcumin, this vibrant substance has anti-inflammatory properties and antioxidants. By keeping inflammation down, the body is better able to repair and protect itself. Adding turmeric into one’s diet can help the body fight inflammation without the need of over the counter medicine except in serious cases.
A newer series of studies has found that the curcumin in turmeric may also aid in brain-derived neurotrophic factors (BDNF), a type of hormone that supports neuron formation and connections. Curcumin has been seen to increase brain levels of BDNF, a sign that it could help fight off age-related brain diseases. Curcumin has also been linked to a lower risk of heart disease due to its anti-inflammatory properties.