26th March 2015
Turmeric root, Curcuma longa, also known as the ‘the ‘Golden Goddess’ in India, has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic traditions as well as an essential ingredient in so many delicious curries. With over 200 phytochemical compounds its the pigments known as curcuminoids that give this radiant-root its characteristic vibrant yellow colour.
Turmeric is a member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae) and shares many similarities to both ginger and galangal, demonstrable from the shape of their bulbous rhizomes (roots). Despite many similarities across these three members of the ginger family, especially in the way they are cultivated and in the appearance of their rhizomes, they all have distinctly different tastes, which combine perfectly to create our rich, spicy and stimulating Three Ginger tea.
The turmeric plant, grows up to about 1m in height with large oblong shaped leaves and incredible white/green flowers. A single turmeric plant can produce over 700g of its distinctive roots in one growing season and has between 2-5% curcuminoids and 5% essential oil.
Origins of Pukka Turmeric
Our organic turmeric is mainly grown in Karnataka and Maharashtra, two neighbouring states in the West of India. Many of our turmeric farmers also grow ginger, and in some regions they grow it as an intercrop with tulsi, sugar cane and kapikacchu (Mucuna pruriens, a therapeutic legume that climbs up the sugarcane).
Cultivation & Processing
With a population of over a billion people, many of whom eat turmeric on a daily basis, large-scale turmeric cultivation is a well-established feature of the Indian landscape. In India alone, approximately 140,000 hectares of land are used for growing turmeric (that’s an area just smaller than the whole of Greater London).
Turmeric is cultivated in a very similar way to its close relative, ginger. Both are perennial plants, but are cultivated as annuals. In other words, although they would survive in the ground for several years, they are sown and harvested every year (a bit like potatoes). They are propagated using ‘seed rhizomes’ that are kept aside for re-planting during each harvest.
Freshly harvested turmeric is always ‘cured’ before being dried and polished. ‘Curing’ is done by boiling the fresh rhizomes for about 45 minutes; this helps gelatinize the starch for a more uniform drying, reduce the microbial load, and remove the fresh earthy aroma. Once cured the rhizomes are dried, and then ‘polished’ in a polishing drum to remove the rough surfaces.
Little bit of chemistry…
The term ‘curcuminoids’ is an abbreviation for three separate compounds known as curcumin, desmethoxycurcumin and bisdesmethoxycurcumin. Turmeric contains over 230 compounds which display biological activity. The curcuminoids and essential oils are considered to be some of the most important.
The availability of curcumin in the body can be significantly increased 200 fold by ensuring the presence of the natural turmeric volatile oils and adding a constituent found in long pepper known as piperine. Its why we add long pepper to our Wholistic Turmeric as well as Nutrigest (with ginger, spirulina and nutritional seaweed) to ensure maximum bioavailability.
Turmeric is one of ten plants that Pukka produce in a unique super-concentrated form known as an 'Wholistic extract' that blends the whole spectrum of the plant with concentrated fat-soluble and water-soluble compounds.
Fat soluble plant constituents such as waxes, resins and volatile oils are not well dissolved in common solvents such as water and alcohol. The most effective and environmentally sustainable method for extracting these compounds is by passing compressed carbon dioxide (CO2) through the plant material, in a process known as supercritical extraction (many non-organic herbal extracts are made using hexane that is good at extracting fats but is toxic to humans and the environment).
Our wholistic extracts are a combination of water and/or alcohol extracts, with the supercritical extract and the pure powdered herb. This ensures that we capture the widest possible range of a plants active constituents in a highly concentrated form. For example, our new Wholistic Turmeric is now 10 times more concentrated in curcuminoids and 1.5 times more in essential oils. Just 2 capsules of Wholistic Turmeric gives you 155mg of curcumin and 55ml of turmeric essential oils.
Look at this diagram below of some chromatography analysis we carry out called High Performance Thin Layer Chromatography. In the first left-hand track you can see the isolated curcumin, the centre track shows the compounds found in pure turmeric root and the right-hand track shows you the denser and thicker bands of curcumin in our Wholistic Turmeric; bigger, brighter and better.
Interesting Facts and Figures:
Another name for turmeric, curcuma, is believed to have come from ‘kurkum’, which is the Persian-Arabic word for saffron. In medieval Europe turmeric was known as Indian Saffron, as it was often used as a more affordable substitute.
Another little gem is that India consumes the highest levels of Turmeric in the world at about 1g per person per day, usually with other spices with food. Interestingly India also has some of the best health outcomes in the world today as well.