What is Turmeric?

Turmeric (pronounced /ˈtɜːrmərɪk/, also /ˈtuːmərɪk/ or /ˈtjuːmərɪk/[2]) is a flowering plant, Curcuma longa of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae, the roots of which are used in cooking.[3] The plant is a perennial, rhizomatous, herbaceous plant native to the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, that requires temperatures between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered each year for their rhizomes, some for propagation in the following season and some for consumption.

The rhizomes are used fresh or boiled in water and dried, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a coloring and flavoring agent in many Asian cuisines, especially for curries, as well as for dyeing.[4] Turmeric powder has a warm, bitter, black pepper-like flavor and earthy, mustard-like aroma.[5][6]

Although long used in Ayurvedic medicine, where it is also known as haridra,[7] no high-quality clinical evidence exists for use of turmeric or its constituent, curcumin, as a therapy.[8][9]

Turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of Ayurveda, Siddha medicine, traditional Chinese medicine, Unani,[10] and the animistic rituals of Austronesian peoples.[11][12] It was first used as a dye, and then later for its supposed properties in folk medicine.[13]

The precise origin of turmeric is unknown. The greatest diversity of Curcuma species by number alone is in India, at around 40 to 45 species. Thailand has a comparable 30 to 40 species for example, but is much smaller than India. Other countries in tropical Asia also have numerous wild species of Curcuma. Recent studies have also shown that the taxonomy of Curcuma longa is problematic, with only the specimens from South India being identifiable as C. longa. The phylogeny, relationships, intraspecific and interspecific variation, and even identity of other species and cultivars in other parts of the world still need to be established and validated. Various species currently utilized and sold as “turmeric” in other parts of Asia have been shown to belong to several physically similar taxa, with overlapping local names.[14][15]

Furthermore, there is linguistic and circumstantial evidence of the spread and use of turmeric by the Austronesian peoples into Oceania and Madagascar. The populations in Polynesia and Micronesia, in particular, never came into contact with India, but use turmeric widely for both food and dye. Thus independent domestication events are also likely.[11][12]

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