Why Should We Know How To Use Turmeric or the Indian Haldi?
I have always wondered why Turmeric, which is so ubiquitous in Indian cuisine, is hardly ever used in western dishes. The only occasional use I have seen is its addition in some preparations of American-style Mustard but that too in really tiny quantities. Googling Turmeric indicates its use in canned beverages and baked products, dairy products, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn colour, cereals, sauces, gelatines, etc but I have actually not seen any of these products listing Turmeric as one of the ingredients.
On the other hand, almost any Indian vegetable, meat or lentil dish would be considered incomplete without adding at least half a tea-spoon of raw Turmeric powder. Initially I thought this was just meant to add a little colour to the dishes. From the way handling raw turmeric would stain your hands yellow had to lead me to this obvious conclusion.
Then I heard of using turmeric paste to cure sprains and even bone fractures in Indian villages and thought this was pure superstition. And what would you then term the advice of drinking hot milk with a spoon of turmeric for curing aches and pains—pure mumbo jumbo?
Well, a little research has made me much, much wiser about the usefulness of this common Indian herb. Apparently its active ingredient curcumin was isolated in 1815, and its overall structure was determined in 1910. Since then, all kinds of studies have sought to prove that instead of being the stuff that makes long-lasting old wives’ tales, turmeric or curcumin actually is an antioxidant that:
• Makes your joints healthy
• Helps your skin glow
• Improves your digestion
• Boosts your immune system
• Maintains healthy cholesterol levels
• Promotes healthy blood and liver functions
And so much more…
So, one thing is certain. Asians have been using Turmeric for thousands of years. While in China, Marco Polo in 1280 AD describes Turmeric in his diary as:
“There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron.”
And the ancient Polynesians carried turmeric with them on their incredible voyage across the Pacific Ocean to Hawaii. Today, Hawaiians still use this spice — known to them as Olena.
The antioxidant content within turmeric comes from active compounds called curcuminoids. I believe antioxidants, that you can get from fresh fruits too, are your body’s #1 way to neutralize free radicals and help you potentially slow down the signs of normal aging. But the greatness of the antioxidants that curcuminoids deliver is that these are:
• 5 to 8 times stronger than vitamin E — and vitamin C
• 3 times more powerful than grape seed or pine bark extract
• Strong enough to scavenge the hydroxyl radical — considered by many to be the most reactive of all oxidants.
No wonder, Turmeric has been considered to be ‘skin food’ for thousands of years in India, especially at wedding time for both brides and grooms. It is believed to:
• Cleanse your skin and maintain its elasticity
• Provide nourishment to your skin
• Balance the effects of skin flora
• Helping neutralize substances that can cause cellular stress
Coming back to the question as to why Western dishes don’t use Turmeric to the extent Indians do, I believe the answer is because raw turmeric has a very strong “distinctly earthy, slightly bitter, slightly hot peppery flavor and a mustardy smell” that will overpower the subtle flavours of any European or American preparation. But what will happen if you used a little turmeric while stir-frying your typical western veggie or meat, chicken or fish dishes? I think the flavours and colours would come out a little different but the overall results may not be disappointing at all.
Of course, if you want to use Turmeric the Indian way, you can search for the term “haldi” or “turmeric” on my website and specifically check out my recipes of:
Some people prefer taking a short cut and wish to pop up a pill (containing a turmeric supplement) instead.
To that, I can only say, why bother with pills when you can have the real thing in quantities that your taste buds can relish.
What do you think? Do let me know.
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