Turmeric: The Golden Spice

What comes to your mind when you read the word ‘turmeric’?

The colour gold? But why else does it called the golden spice?

Turmeric Rhizome (Source: popsugar.com.au)

Overview

An Illustration of Turmeric Plant (by Paul Mirocha, paulmirocha.com)

Turmeric (Curcuma longa L.) is a rhizomatic, perennial, herbaceous plant. That means that turmeric has rhizome, relatively has a longer life, and has no woody-like material on the stem. You will found turmeric in the height of 0–1500 m above sea level, and has a temperature of 25–30°C. These requirements are met mainly in Asia, like India, Indonesia, China, and Sri Lanka, but it is also found in Africa. To this day, India is still the biggest producer of turmeric, with 78% of total world production, followed by China with 8%, Myanmar with 4%, Nigeria with 3%, and Indonesia and Sri Lanka add up to 4%.

Turmeric, especially its rhizome, has a wide range of usage, including food colourant, medicine, spice and flavour for food. Another golden quality of turmeric is its phytochemical compounds that responsible for tons of medicinal benefits. In fact, it has been assessed that turmeric possesses an anti-HIV activity. Turmeric was used extensively in the traditional Ayurvedic healing system.

Phytochemical Contents

There are at least 76 compounds that have been isolated successfully from turmeric, which can be grouped into three main groups, namely diphenylalkanoid, phenylpropene derivatives from cinnamic acid, and terpenoid. Common phytochemical products from turmeric include curcuminoids, essential oil, and oleoresin.

Curcuminoids

Commercial Curcumin Powder (Source: Turmeric USA)

Curcuminoid is a group of pigment found in turmeric. It is the main cause of the yellow-gold colour in turmeric. Curcuminoid consists of mainly three main pigment, i. e. curcumin, demethoxycurcumin (DMC), and bisdemethoxycurcumin (BDMC). DMC and BDMC are curcumin that lost one and two methoxy group, respectively, hence their names. Turmeric rhizome consists of 3–15% curcuminoids, and curcuminoid consists of 52–88% curcumin, 11–27% DMC, and 1–28% BDMC. These value depend strongly on many factors, such as microclimate, and soil mineral contents.

Chemical Structure of Curcuminoids (Source: Wang & Qiu, 2013)

Oleoresin

Turmeric Oleoresin from Laboratory-Scale Extraction (curcumin-factory.com)

According to U.S. Code of Federal Regulation (CFR), turmeric oleoresin is a combination of flavour and colour that can be got from turmeric by the means of solvent extractions. Turmeric oleoresin consists of volatile essential oil, and non-volatile resin fraction that contain flavours, antioxidants, pigments, fixatives, and essential oil. Oleoresin is the commonest form of turmeric extractive used in food and beverage industries.

Essential Oil

Turmeric Oil (Source: femina.in)

Essential oil is generally defined as a mixture of monoterpenes and sesquiterpenes that gives plants their distinctive smell. Some famous example of essential oil are rose oil, citrus oil, cajuput oil, and lavender oil. You might have contacted these oils when you use your perfumes. In addition to their smell, essential oils have a great deal of medicinal benefits, especially antioxidant activity.

Turmeric rhizome has about 5–6% essential oil, while the leaves have 1–1.5%. Turmeric oil has a yellow-orangish colour, and has a concentrated, strong turmeric odour. It has at least 31 compounds, with ar-turmerone and α-turmeron usually being the main components.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

A rough transciption from “Bioactivity of Turmeric” by Sarker & Nahar, and other sources.

In Traditional Healing

It has been known that turmeric was used in numerous traditional healing system. Asia was in fact the main user of turmeric for healing. It could be used as both external and internal medicine. Externally, it can be used to treat wounds, cuts, bruises, inflammation, swelling, measles, worm-caused skin problems, scabies, leprosy, snakebites, scorpion sting. Internally used, it is able to treat fevers, stomach problems, allergies, diarrhoea, chronic cough, heartburn, wind, bloating, colic, bronchial asthma, flatulence, jaundice, worm problems, hepatic disorders, rheumatism, sinusitis, and other problems that I surely can’t write all of them here.

Bioactivity

The beneficial bioactivities can be obtained in various form of turmeric. The two main extractive responsible for its various pharmacological activities are curcuminoids and essential oil.

Curcuminoid (specifically curcumin) has undergone a large amount of research on its ability to increase human’s health. The results show us that it possesses countless health advantages, including the activities of antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antidiabetic, anticancer, anti-HIV, anti-cataract, antimicrobial. It can be used to treat and prevent gallstone formation, Alzheimer’s disease, asthma, hypercholesterolaemia, cardiovascular disorders, and eye diseases. Neurons and kidneys could also gain numerous benefits from curcumin. Curcumin can even help you to gain muscle faster. The list is still going on and on.

Curcumin Medicinal Benefits (Source: Aggarwal et al., 2007)

Turmeric oil has been used as additives in cosmetics, including mask, lip balm, and other types of beauty products. Some of the best benefits of turmeric oil can be likened to those of curcuminoid, including antioxidant, antibacterial, antifungal, antivenom, anticancer, anti-fibrosis, and antitumour activities. IT also show neuroprotective and cytoprotective activity in higher doses. In addition, it has anti-insect activity — thorough researches have been done on mosquitoes. it is the turmerones — ar-turmerone, α-turmerone — that contribute the most for the said activities.

Conclusion

Turmeric is a gold is various way. It is a golden spice. We can get so much more benefits from turmeric, besides its major usage in food and beverage. It is the latent health benefits of turmeric that make it the real golden spice.

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