Turmeric: A Little History
Various spices find mention in Indian cuisine and traditional medicine or Ayurveda, which is something we’ve all grown up with and accustomed to as well. And only as I write this, do I realize how we’ve been living with one such miracle spice all our lives. Historically, turmeric (curcuma longa) has been in use for thousands of years in Asia. Early Polynesians carried the spice with them to Hawaii, where it is known as Olena, even today. Whereas in Europe, it has been used as a substitute for saffron for over seven centuries!
My earliest recollection of this miracle spice is when one of our pet pigeons was hurt. It had a broken wing and I thought it would never make it! Then my father made a poultice with turmeric, ash and mustard oil and tied it around the bird’s wings with a bandage. For the next two weeks we kept the pigeon in a cage, safe from predators. When we took off the bandage, the wound had healed beautifully! But just as an added precaution, we kept the pigeon in the cage for a week more. It was then time to release him from the cage. With trepidation we took out the brave but restless bird and were thrilled to see him fly off the moment we set it on the ground!
Up until then, Turmeric was nothing but “stuff that made my favourite potato fries golden yellow”! And then there’d be the times when my mother would use it to marinate fish before deep frying them. I also recall one of the earliest ads on Indian television was of Vicco Laboratory’s Turmeric cream. When I look back, this wonder spice has been a part of not just my childhood but our culture as well. This is certainly no ordinary spice!
Turmeric Has Been Around and Studied for a Long Time
Scientists in the West first started studying this spice in the early 1800’s and were able to determine its structure. But only in 1910 was curcumin identified for the first time! With more time and research, it became clearer that turmeric had many benefits, thus corroborating what Ayurveda had claimed centuries earlier:
- Verdana sthapana: stimulates and ensures a healthy nervous system
- Sangrahani: enables the human body to absorb vitamins and minerals
- Anulomana: helps the body expel harmful waste and also in blood purification
- Rakta stambhaka: helps maintain a healthy circulatory system
And with newer research, it has been found to be all the more beneficial. It is naturally rich in antioxidants which means that it checks oxidation, a chemical reaction in the body that produces free radicals which leads to cell-damaging chain reaction. But that is not the only benefit of curcumin! It also supports vital blood and liver functionalities, ensures healthy joints and this shows on your skin too! It is no wonder that turmeric has found extensive usage in the cosmetic industry too.
Unfortunately, despite all of its good qualities, this awesome spice suffers at the hand of rampant commercialization. As of 2010, India was the largest exporter at 145 million USD, while Malaysia, Japan and the US are the top three consumers with a total of over 41 million USD in imports. The scale at which it is traded globally has resulted in inevitable adulteration. Chemical based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides are used extensively to accelerate growth and increase yield. So the obvious question that comes to mind is that if the turmeric is being consumed by so many of us so trustingly, is it still healthy or is it full of chemical residues? I do not have a clear answer to this question, but what I am glad about is having a turmeric variety I can trust right here, in Meghalaya!
Enter Lakadong Turmeric
Team Zizira visited farmers growing Lakadong Turmeric to know more about this local variety. Lakadong has not one, but two USPs. First and foremost, the farmers growing Lakadong have been following traditional farming methods for generations, which does NOT include the use of artificial fertilizers, herbicides or pesticides. Secondly, we were also told that this variety has higher than normal curcumin levels. We sent a sample to the Indian Council of Agricultural Research and were dumbfounded by the results! While the ordinary variety contains curcumin levels of about 3% – 4%, the Lakadong sample we provided contained curcumin levels at a whopping 7.94%! Of course we do realize that this is but indicative as readings can vary even between two samples from the same lot! But a level of over 7% can be taken to be correct, which is by itself pretty high. And we knew we should pass this message and let more people know about healthy Lakadong turmeric and carry this product in our online store.
Lakadong Turmeric is grown in the Jaintia Hills district of Meghalaya in Northeast India. The farmers have been practicing traditional farming methods for as long as they can remember and have steadfastly refused to use chemical based fertilizers, herbicides and pesticides.
But we were in for a disappointment too when we learned that owing to its high pricing as compared to other varieties, the farmers of this unique variety of turmeric were cutting down on production. While the ordinary turmeric fetches lower prices, the Lakadong variety is far more expensive. And to the average user who does not know the enhanced value of Lakadong turmeric, they simply opt for the cheaper version. Team Zizira is determined to help these farmers not only sustain their traditional farming methods, but also continue farming Lakadong turmeric! The team has been in touch with researchers, scientists, farmers to understand the dynamics of this crop, as well as with large food manufacturing and food ingredient companies who are in search of pure and unadulterated turmeric.
Join hands with us to raise awareness about Lakadong turmeric. Zizira believes that somewhere in the near future, the farmers of this variety of turmeric will have each and every one of you to thank for their continued livelihood and the propagation of the chemical free future queen of spices – Turmeric or will it be the Lakadong variety of Turmeric?