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Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.)

Plant family

Zingiberaceae (ginger family)

Botanical synonyms

Curcuma domestica Valet, Curcuma rotunda


Because of ancient trade, the origin of turmeric cannot accurately be reconstructed; probably South East Asia or South Asia - Indonesia and Southern India where it has been harvested for more than 5000 years. A related species, Curcuma xanthorrhiza, grows on Java, where it is called temu lawak In taste, it is equivalent to Curcuma longa.

The name curcuma is derived from the old Arabic name for the kurkum plant better known as saffron .

English turmeric derives from French terre-mérite (Latin terra merita, “Meritorious Earth”), probably because ground turmeric resembles mineral pigments (ochre). More about the colour, see here.

Used plant part

Rhizome. Fresh turmeric leaves are used in some regions of Indonesia as a flavouring, e.g., in Western Sumatra.

Sensoric quality

Turmeric has a peppery, warm, sharp, bitter flavour and a mild fragrance slightly suggestive of orange and ginger.

In fresh state, the rootstock has an aromatic and spicy fragrance, which by drying gives way to a more medicinal aroma. On storing, the smell rather quickly changes to earthy and unpleasant. Similarly, the colour of ground turmeric tends to fade if the spice is stored too long.

Main constituents

Turmeric contains an essential oil (max. 5%), which contains a variety of sesquiterpenes, many of which are specific for the species. Most important for the aroma are turmerone (max. 30%), ar-turmerone (25%) and zingiberene (25%). Conjugated diarylheptanoids (1,7-diaryl-hepta-1,6-diene-3,5-diones, e.g. curcumin) are responsible for the orange colour and probably also for the pungent taste (3 to 4%). Curcumin is about 0.3-5.4% of raw turmeric. Curcumin is also used as a food colour (E100).

Turmeric root and powder


It is a major spice since ancient times. Turmeric is an essential spice in Indian cuisine. It is sacred to Hindus and they commonly use it in their religious ceremonies.

This warm and aromatic spice with bitter undertones is used extensively in South East Asian and Middle-Eastern cuisines. In South East Asia, the fresh turmeric is preferred over dried forms. In Thailand, the fresh rhizome is grated and added to dishes. It is also part of the yellow curry paste. Yellow rice (Nasi Kuning) is popular on the eastern islands of Indonesia. In Moroccan cuisine it is added to spice meat, particularly lamb and vegetables. It is also used in spice blends in Caribbean regions and North Africa and it is popularly being served in form of tea in Okinawa, Japan.

Western cuisine does not use turmeric directly, but it forms part of several spice mixtures (curry powder) and sauces. Its bright yellow colour imparts an orange yellow hue to curries. It is also used to impart a bright yellow colour to mustard paste.

As a food colour it finds application in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice-cream, yoghurts, yellow cakes, biscuits, popcorn-colour, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, direct compression tablets, etc. In combination with annatto (E160b), it is also applied to colour cheeses, salad dressings, fruit drinks, winter butter and margarine. It is also used to colour and flavour prepared mustard, pickles, relish, chutneys, canned chicken broth, rice dishes and other foods.

Source :

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