Updated: May 6

This humble staple from an Indian kitchen has gained quite a bit of traction around the world. It's not the same old Haldi anymore. It is Turmeric- the golden spice! While a few spices like cloves and nutmeg are 'foreign' to the Indian subcontinent, turmeric is indigenous to India. Even today if you get scuffs, wounds, cuts or bleeding, an affectionate Indian mother or grandmother instinctively rushes to the kitchen to grab a pinch of this supreme healing spice. Or a bad cough or throat infection would be counteracted by a glass of warm turmeric milk. So not just a kitchen stable, but turmeric also is a 'first aid' in the sense thanks to it antiseptic and antibacterial properties.

Turmeric has a long history of being used as a natural fabric and paper dye. It can stain anything it comes in contact with- clothes, books, skin, counter-tops, cutting boards, plastic containers to name a few. There’s the reason why I ALWAYS store turmeric in a glass container with a metal lid. Turmeric can also stain your nails. That reminds me of this funny yet pitiful incident. I had gotten a french manicure, and was quite proud of it. The accent finger was painted glittery silver with intricate nail art (which I paid extra for). The same evening my mother prepared my favourite chicken curry meal with rice. I started the meal with a spoon, and a few bites later I was in a whole different world. As if I was meditating on those flavours, I was one with the food. The real world meant nothing to me anymore, and my basic instinct kicked in. I put the spoon aside and started eating with my fingers- which is the norm with eating Indian food. After the meal was done, I snapped out of my meditative state only to find my right-hand nails now had yellow french tips with a GOLDEN accent finger! I was so sad I made a note to myself- ‘Never ever get a French manicure.’ If you thought I was going to give up eating chicken curry and rice with my fingers, you are mistaken. Indian food is for life! Turmeric is a part of traditional Hindu rituals on a large scale. The most prominent example would be Lord Khandoba of Jejuri, Maharashtra, India. A while ago, we as a family decided to visit the Hindu temple of Khandoba in Jejuri. While I was looking up Google Maps the night before to figure out our route there, I accidentally clicked on ‘satellite view’. I noticed how the temple area had, what looked like, a yellow carpet all around. The Lord is worshipped with turmeric and the devotees customarily throw fistfuls of turmeric in the air to express their devotion towards the Lord. And around festive times, one can notice a ‘golden cloud’ in the air from a distance. When we visited the temple, the air wore a gentle golden hue the entire time. We were given strict instructions not to wear white. No prizes here to guess why! Turmeric or Curcuma longa grows in a hot, humid climate. This is why today, it grows not only in India but also in some parts of Africa, South America and on a few tropical islands. Just within India, turmeric is produced in over 20 states. Curcumin is a compound that adds medicinal qualities and colour to turmeric. Its composition varies from place to place depending on the soil, mineral content and climate. Higher the curcumin, brighter is the colour, better is the quality, and higher is the price point. Good quality turmeric will boast a strong musty-earthy kind of flavour. Though some believe that turmeric does not have a distinct flavour of its own, excess of it will definitely ruin a dish or drink for you. You will not miss that peculiar pungent aroma tied in with almost a bitter aftertaste when used excessively. It definitely is one of those spices that you need to know how much to add and when to stop.

Like ginger, turmeric is also a root and belongs to the same family. It can be used as a fresh spice or dried up and ground. Fresh turmeric root is typically shredded or fine diced and pickled, the traditional Indian way. Rich in vitamin C and anti-inflammatory properties, this pickle is a perfect side to your homemade chapatis, puris, parathas or any homemade bread. If not used fresh, turmeric is dried up and powdered to be used in sauces, marinades, pickles, preserves and also as a medicine or cosmetic ingredient. The ‘fingers’ are separated from the main body of the rhizome and are dried separately. This helps them dry quicker without sprouting further or growing mould.

Whenever we bought fresh seafood or chicken home, the first thing my mother would do without losing a second is, marinate chicken with salt and turmeric. The former is a preservative while the latter is antibacterial. And not just poultry or meat, certain vegetables also received the treatment. A vegetable like cauliflower (which has too many nooks and awkward spaces that dwell tiny farm bugs or insects), or a foraged vegetable that grows wild out in nature needs to be soaked in water with a pinch of turmeric. Any insects or their eggs or bacterial cultures would be taken care of by turmeric and its anti-fungal/ anti-bacterial properties. What intrigues me is, though it's antibacterial, turmeric perfectly preserves the healthy and essential bacteria in/on food and our body. Unlike allopathic antibiotics, turmeric actually helps the good bugs sustain. It is not a surprise that today turmeric has so many forms from pills, tablets to essential oils.

From a personal perspective, I love using turmeric in its most natural form possible- fresh roots or powder. Adding a pinch daily to your breakfast or hot milk or stew will probably show far richer effects than popping pills. My favourite is what I called The Strep Bomb. An absolute remedy for throat and sinus infections. All you need is grated turmeric or a pinch of turmeric powder, freshly grated ginger, and honey. Mix them in a bowl in equal amounts to make this spicy strep throat killer. Alternately, you may juice turmeric and ginger and mix in some honey. Adjust the quantity of honey depending on your tolerance for heat from ginger and turmeric. Lick a spoonful of this mixture 3 times a day and 20 minutes later, drink a glass of warm water for best results. I prefer buying my spices from a trustworthy source like our local spice shop in India or organic sources. The reason being this product is often adulterated with lead oxide. This toxic chemical gives turmeric an orange-ish tinge versus bright golden yellow.

Turmeric has been an intrinsic part of Indian cuisine for centuries. No wonder it is present in most curry blends you can find today. Not just the root, some cultures in India use the leaves of this plant for steaming fish or rice cakes. However, not just Indian but many other cuisines like Moroccan, Indonesian, Persian, Nepali and the Caribbean use this spice to flavour their food. Some use this spice not for its flavour or medicinal properties, but as a natural colouring for their preserves, mustards, and cheeses. Lately, there are juices, smoothies, coffee mates, soups, bone broths, butter, dips and so much more enhanced with this amazing root.

Ayurvedic texts like Charak Samhita and Sushruta Samhita talk a great deal about turmeric as a cooking ingredient and as a medicine. In the past few years, as the world is moving towards natural medicine, inherent healing and intuitive practices, this spice has been widely used in anything and everything- right from popcorn seasoning to cake frosting and makeup removers to shaving creams. Traditionally, in India, a turmeric pack is applied to the bride and groom the day before the wedding. It signifies purity, holistic living and auspiciousness. Turmeric helps brighten up the skin, heal bacterial infections and give a beautiful glow on your big day. Today, we see leading cosmetic brands to use turmeric extract as an ingredient in makeup removers, night creams, face serums, scrubs, foundations, toners, concealers and so much more. Turmeric definitely is not confined to the same old kitchen cabinets. It truly defines its value through a wide range of applications. Be like turmeric- rise, shine and let the world sing your glory.

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