Along with yoga, ayurveda, chai and namastes, turmeric (known as haldi in Hindi) is another heritage of Indian culture and tradition which has been recently embraced by the western world. In India, the status of turmeric is far greater than just that of a spice (though if anyone classified me as a spice, I’d be chuffed as anything). This humble root is from the ginger family and its properties have been recognised, revered and used for over four thousand years. It is known as the ‘spice of life’ because of its golden hue, which is associated with the life-giving star - our sun. Despite the diversity in Indian culture, turmeric is found and used throughout India and today we examine its use in four key areas of life, all of which are interconnected; traditional Indian medicine, cuisine, marriages and worship.
Traditional Indian Medicine
Ayurveda refers to the traditional system of medicine which evolved in India. It’s literal translation from the ancient language Sanskrit, is ‘the science of life’. Turmeric has properties which makes it:
- Anti-inflammatory & antiseptic: It can be applied on burns, cuts or wounds. It also provides relief from joint and arthritic pain
- Antibacterial and antiviral: Contains a substance called lipopolysaccharide (you are in good company if you too struggle with pronouncing this word) which helps in stimulating the immune system
- Anti-carcinogenic: The compound curcumin is a cancer-preventative force
- Digestive: Reduces symptoms of bloating and gas
Use it in powdered form, extract its juice, consume it raw, boil it and drink its water and of course in your cooking - Turmeric can be consumed and applied in a multitude of ways in order to benefit from its healing properties. For more about how you can use turmeric as a go-to, natural beauty product, click here.
Turmeric is an indispensable spice in most Indian dishes and is added to pulses, rice dishes, vegetables and meats. It is always added in small amounts because it packs a powerful punch. Its yellow hues tend to overpower the other mellower and subtle spices, with the exception of chilli powder, who can give turmeric a run for her money. Those who frequently eat with their hands (aka most of the Indian population) will often sport faint yellow-stained nails thanks to turmeric’s powerful shade.
Being typical Indians, we don’t just limit the use of spices only to what we eat, but we extend it to what we drink as well! Chai is full of warming spices and is regularly consumed throughout the year in Indian households and beyond (click here to read about India’s love for chai). Another drink which has gained great popularity in western culture and includes our beloved golden spice, is Turmeric Latté (click here for an authentic recipe). This drink warms the soul, boosts immunity and heals any body battering flu-like symptoms. Warm milk infused with haldi, a scraping of nutmeg and a dash of honey soothes many a sore throat and tames the cough as well.
The leaves of the turmeric plant are also used in food preparation. In Goa, the leaves are used to prepare a festive sweet called pattoya - a mixture of cooked rice, fresh coconut and jaggery (sugar cane) which is encased in the turmeric plant and then steamed. The steamed rice absorbs the subtle flavour of the leaf, which is discarded before eating. This sweet is made from the rice of the first harvest.
If you, or anyone you know, experiences pre-wedding jitters or a sudden wave of acne/pimples/oily skin right before the big day (or both at the same time), I have a solution for you; turmeric. That’s right, turmeric, when mixed with rosewater or sandalwood powder and milk, and then made into a paste and externally applied, can do wonders! As you read above, turmeric has anti-inflammatory properties which not only exfoliates skin, giving it a healthy glow, but also reduces pimples and other nasties. It’s main component, curcumin, also acts as a mild antidepressant which helps the the bride and groom to feel a little more relaxed ahead of the big day.
One of the important ceremonies in Hindu weddings is that of the haldi function, where the family and friends of both the bride and groom gather, in separate homes, to apply turmeric on the bride and groom-to-be. It is usually applied to the face, neck, hands and feet, but in the excitement of it all, also tends to get on the dog, the ceiling fan and on the new saree of that stern aunty of whom you were always afraid. The ceremony is as fun as it is auspicious, with relatives and friends sporting turmeric coloured outfits just to make things a little more colourful. The yellow hue of turmeric is also a sign of purity and indicates the state in which couples should be when committing to each other. Haldi is also believed to ward off the evil eye, and once the ceremony is completed, the bride and groom should not leave the home until the next day (or later on in the day), when they tie the knot.
In Hinduism, turmeric is symbolic of multiple values and graces; it represents fertility, prosperity, purity as well as inner pride. In temples, the powder is mixed with lime to make kumkum, a paste applied on the forehead as a religious marking.
Most people may not be aware that Siddhārtha Gautama, or Buddha as he became known, attained enlightenment when he was travelling through India. Turmeric is also significant in Buddhism and its colour is associated with generosity as well as purity and prosperity. Turmeric dye has long been used to colour the robes of the Buddhist monks, giving it a dark saffron shade.
An interesting fact - each and every one of our spice blends (that’s 41 in total) contain turmeric in them! Cooking regularly with No Worries Curries will ensure that you and your loved ones enjoy the different health benefits of an army of spices. Our passion for spices here at No Worries Curries stems from a deep understanding of and respect towards the heritage of our ancestors.
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