Curcuma longa L (Zingiberaceae)


Turmeric is a spice that is valued in the international market more for its bright yellow color than for its flavoring properties. Nevertheless, in India, since ancient times, it has been considered important for its flavoring, coloring, and therapeutic uses. Because of this, it is regarded as an auspicious material and is even used in Hindu religious ceremonies. Turmeric acquired more significance when the Ayurveda, the ancient Indian system of medical practice, was systematically developed by masters such as Charaka and Sashruta.

Like other spices, turmeric also traveled from the Eastern to the Western world, perhaps through the Mediterranean countries. Turmeric is present in the Assyrian list of herbs in 600 bc. An entry was also found in the De Materia Medica compiled by Dioscorides. In the thirteenth century, Marco Polo mentioned turmeric as growing in the Fukien region of China. He noted its similarity to the color of saffron; hence, in Medieval times, turmeric was known as Indian saffron. Although turmeric is considered inferior to saffron as a food color, it is valuable for its therapeutic qualities.

It is believed that the turmeric plant originated in the hills of the Western Ghats of southwest India and spread to other regions of India and Southeast Asia. It is probable that from there it spread to China, the Caribbean region, and South America, by the Spanish. Later, through the colonial powers, it probably spread to some regions of Africa.

For some time, both in the East and in the West, turmeric was important as a dye for coloring cotton and silk. The dye can be applied without a mordant, although the color soon fades, especially on exposure to the sun. Development of synthetic fast dyes sounded the death knell to the use of turmeric as a fabric dye.

Although many South and Southeast Asian countries, as well as other tropical regions, grow turmeric, India remains the major producer. Several cultivars are grown in South India. Some of the major trade types are Alleppey, Erode, Sangli, Rajapuri, and Nizamabad.

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