Turmeric

The first in our posts on spices is focused on turmeric.

Origins & Names 

The name Turmeric derives from the Latin term ‘terra merita’ meaning meritorious earth which refers to the yellow and brown colour of ground turmeric. The botanical name for turmeric is curcuma longa and it belongs to the plant family zingiberaceae which translates to ginger. This family of plants include a wide collection of aromatic herbs and spices including ginger, turmeric and cardamom.

Geography & Cultivation

Turmeric is cultivated in warm humid regions around the world including southern Asia, south-east Asia and the Caribbean islands, hence its widespread use in global cuisine. Despite its cultivation and use in many countries of the world, India still accounts for an estimated 80% of global turmeric spice production.

In order to grow turmeric, roots need to be kept aside from previous harvest and broken into small pieces before being planted a small distance apart. The turmeric plant has dark green leaves which are protected by sheaths and grow up to a height of around 1 metre. The typical harvest time is around 8 to 9 months after the turmeric root has been planted.  

Turmeric root (rhizome) before planting.

Turmeric plants around 5 months after planting.

Young turmeric plant and root after 5 months of growth. 

Food & Medicinal Uses 

In the food industry, turmeric is used both as a flavour and a food colourant and is therefore used widely for home cooking and food manufacturing. Many of the yellow coloured processed foods we buy in supermarkets today from mustard to cereal will often have been coloured using turmeric.

In terms of a flavour in food turmeric is often used in blends, particularly in Asian foods such as curries or in rice dishes. Alone the flavour of turmeric is perhaps best described as earthy, spicy and bitter. That being said, like with all ingredients, flavour properties can vary significantly according to quality and variety that is used. Here at Hill & Vale we stock turmeric from both India and Nepal. The flavour difference between the two is quite astounding with the former much more aromatic and sweet in flavour and the latter more earthy and spicy. Both of the single-origin turmerics we work with are grown organically by farmer co-operatives in their respective countries.       

In recent years there has also been an increasing interest in turmeric and its active component curcumin due to its medicinal properties. Curcumin has long been used in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine but only in recent years has it become more widespread in Western cultures as an ailment. Today curcumin is widely used as an anti-inflammatory to help and guard against cognitive deterioration and arthritis.  

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