The World Roots for Turmeric, the King of Indian Spices

The World Roots for Turmeric, the King of Indian Spices

Indonesia’s President Joko Widodo (or Jokowi as he is more commonly known) has said in a government press release that he has taken to drinking a mixture of red ginger, lemongrass, turmeric and curcuma, a type of turmeric native to Southeast Asia, three times a day since the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

“I drink the mixture instead of tea now,” Jokowi said in the statement. “I give the drinks to my guests, be it in the morning, afternoon or evening.”

One of the latest studies on the benefits of turmeric was undertaken by researchers in Indonesia in March 2020, when they examined several medicinal plant-derived compounds that may be used to inhibit the COVID-19 infection pathway. They say preliminary findings suggest that curcumin was among the most recommended compounds found in medicinal plants that may act as potential inhibitors of COVID-19 Mpro.

Turmeric or Curcuma longa is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant that belongs to the ginger family, Zingiberaceae. Turmeric is a crop native to Asia, and it requires temperatures between 68°F and 86°F and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. The root of the turmeric plant, also known as rhizome, is valued for its medicinal and culinary properties (Global Turmeric Report 2019).

President Joko Widodo is not the only one who has taken to drinking the brew called Jamu. He says the demand for the brew has risen so much that the prices of red ginger, turmeric and curcuma in Indonesia have jumped five-fold.

IndoIndians, a portal for Indians in Indonesia says Jamu, Indonesia’s traditional herbal drink, is one of the most prominent alternative medicines in Indonesia. “It originated some 1,300 years ago in the Mataram Kingdom in Central Java, and is heavily influenced by Ayurveda, a system of Hindu traditional medicine.”

One of the most common versions of Jamu is Jamu Kudu Laos (Noni and Galangal Jamu) adds IndoIndians, made with the main ingredient being Mengkudu also known as Noni or Indian mulberry. Sales of Jamu juice in local markets has increased.

In Spain, Ellen Hietsch a 25 year-old Pennsylvanian says her life came to a standstill when lockdown was announced. To pass the time, she meditates, does yoga, and chats with her three American roommates. She would run up and down the building’s stairs for exercise, till her neighbours asked her to stop. Her new normal is making turmeric lattes for her roommates.

In Italy, Dileep Kumar a railway engineer and a resident of Bologna, where the virus turned nasty, has started taking turmeric water laced with milk and pepper on his mother’s and grandmother’s advice from India.

For some time now, Singapore’s EGA Juice Clinic is making life easy for the health conscious. Founder Sumit Nanda is an Ayurveda aficionado and is very conscious about what he fills in the bottles that people rave about.

Sumit Nanda’s tells CSP his personal favourite juice is the Natural Immune-booster Power Shot which is a potent dosage of turmeric (anti-inflammatory), lemon (metabolism), ginger (digestion), amla (anti-oxidants) on a daily basis.

“Drinking vegetable and fruit juices is an Ayurvedic practice of giving a high dosage of raw enzymes and nutrients and used to be generally given during sickness because of weak digestion. In old days, we used to work in the fields and walk in the sun. However, today all of us have weak digestion because of a sedentary lifestyle. We are mostly moving from air-conditioned homes to cars to offices and have a sitting job throughout the day. Since our digestion is generally poor, it is better to consume nutrients as juices,” says Nanda. This is even more imperative during these times of being homebound.

Drinking turmeric requires a whole new shift in thinking. How is it better than putting it in food? Says Nanda: “We all need to consume about 5-10 grams of turmeric on a daily basis, it has the best anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial, anti-viral effect on our body.

It improves our liver function helping our digestion and cleans the blood. We use fresh turmeric juice as it is relatively easier to digest and can be consumed by people of all backgrounds who are not used to the taste of turmeric and are not consuming turmeric in food.”

Jucies by Sumit Nanda's EGA Juice in Singapore

Nanda adds that Indian cooking uses a lot of turmeric powder so Indians usually get their daily dosage of turmeric from food. “Powdered turmeric has very low absorption in the body and has to be mixed with some natural fat and penetrating spices like black pepper to increase absorption which is the reason it is consumed as curry.”

As per Ayurveda, turmeric should never be exposed to any heat to retain its medicinal properties. It has to be harvested at night to avoid exposure to heat from sunlight and should be dried in the shade, adds Nanda.

In Manhattan, Divya Alter runs a restaurant and the only Ayurvedic rule she breaks is not going to bed before 10 pm, as that is when her restaurant closes. She started Divya’s Kitchen in October 2016 along with her husband Prentiss and it was an expansion of the culinary education ( and Ayurvedic meal subscription service they had been doing in New York for 10 years. It is a vegetarian-vegan restaurant, and the menu incorporates the Ayurvedic principles of food compatibility and digestion.

Divya Alter

Divya says turmeric is the king, the chief, the champion among spices because its properties can support some of the most important functions of our physiology. “Until the last decade or so, most people in Europe or the USA did not keep turmeric on their spice rack. Today, a growing number of positive scientific studies have made turmeric so desirable that it’s available in every grocery store; every health food store now carries turmeric or curcumin capsules; every juice place offers fresh turmeric drinks.

"Nutritionists and health cooks add raw turmeric to their smoothies, cooking adventurists just play with it until the food tastes good. It is exciting that science is validating turmeric’s benefits, known to Ayurvedic practitioners for thousands of years. Modern research, however, still lacks the complete understanding of how to properly use turmeric. Some people think that if an herb is good for you, then you can mix it with anything, and the more the better. As any spice that is so potent, turmeric’s improper use can lead to negative results.”

Divya says she can easily find almost all specialty herbs and ingredients used at their restaurant and cooking classes in New York. “Ayurveda is becoming more and more popular in the USA, so much so that large companies like Unilever and Pepsi reached out to me to consult them on Ayurveda in relation to food. The interest and appreciation of Ayurveda is only growing.”

In India, turmeric sales to Europe and West Asia have shot up over the last weeks. Kaushal Khakhar, chief executive officer at Kay Bee Exports says turmeric exports have jumped up by 300 percent over the last few weeks with an increased demand in the UK and Germany, according to an Economic Times report.

Another exporter from Mumbai has said that in November which is the harvest season for turmeric he would export 3-4 tonnes a day and this demand would dip in March. In fact, being a heating substance according to Ayurveda, North India usually omits turmeric in its cooking during summer. However, due to COVID-19, he says that from exporting 300 kgs a day in the end February, the demand now is for 3-4 tonnes a day.

The Global Turmeric Market Report of 2019 says the strong demand for turmeric in European market due to changing health perception is the fuelling factor for the turmeric market in Europe. “European consumer are adopting healthier lifestyle. European countries are having a population with obesity issues. An increasing aging population is also triggering the risk of developing joint related health conditions. This is further escalating demand for curcuma longa as an important ingredient in their diet.”

Known as manjal in South India, meaning both yellow and turmeric, this small herb represents everything that is healing and auspicious. The whole world is rooting for it now.

(Cover pic courtesy Divya Alter)