Three in One: Turmeric as Medicine, Food Additive and Preservative

The photo above was taken at the turmeric farm, Temanggung regency in Central Java during the dry season at the end of July 2019. Turmeric plant is a perennial, rhizomatous, herbaceous plant native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia including Indonesia. Turmeric root or rhizome has been long used in old Ayurvedic medicine and its main constituent curcumin has been reported in modern medicine as an essential medicinal therapy with some clinical evidence.

Curcumin and other chemicals in turmeric rhizomes might decrease inflammation (swelling), infection, and might slow blood clotting as a blood thinner agent. Most recent available research shows that taking curcumin reduces depression symptoms in people already using an antidepressant. Curcumin also can be used to reduce memory loss, although there is insufficient evidence for Alzheimer’s disease and mental function.

Turmeric is a spice commonly used in Asian food. Most people may know that turmeric is the main spice in curry that makes a warm and bitter healthy taste. Turmeric is also used to flavor or color mustard, butters, and cheeses. Curcumin, the main constituent of the turmeric, is sold as an herbal supplement, cosmetics ingredient, food flavoring, food coloring, and as a natural food preservative.

The appearance of curcumin E100 with bright yellow-orange powder is permitted to be used as a food additive for use within the European Union (EU) and European Free Trade Association (EFTA). E100 is commonly found in food labels, their safety assessment and approval are the responsibility of the EU. Unfortunately, the bright yellow color has a close relation with the heavy metal contamination (Cadmium) during poor processing of the curcumin powder.

Turmeric plant (Curcuma longa or Curcuma domesticus) is a flowering plant the member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae). As the other members of ginger family, commercial turmeric plants propagate through their rhizomes not from the seed. Turmeric plants are harvested each year for their rhizomes, some for propagation in the following season and some for consumption.

Volcanic soil with the warm temperature (20 – 30°C) and moderate to considerable amount of annual rainfall (1000 – 2000mm), also the addition of rich organic matter in compost are the keys for the turmeric plant to thrive. As their property is easy to be used and useful in nature, turmeric plants are easy growing plants with high density in optimum conditions.

There is an old proverb originally from Austronesian languages, that a huge group of various peoples in Southeast Asia, Taiwan, Oceania and Madagascar mentioned that “as turmeric with lime”. The meaning is in any positive and proactive relationship, hopefully it is easy and intimate to blend, combine, and agree.

-Bintoro Gunadi


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