THE YELLOW OF TURMERIC
In traditional cooking that uses turmeric, it is often the first spice to be added to the pan when starting with a dish. Many cultures use the natural colors of turmeric symbolically in their auspicious rituals and hence, turmeric is often associated with purity and prosperity. There are also a lot of medicinal benefits to applying turmeric on the body and the bioactive compounds with medicinal properties add to the health of a person.
WHAT IS TURMERIC?
Just like ginger, turmeric is a spice that grows as a root below the ground. The outside of the turmeric root is yellow in color but the insides are often orange-red. This bright orange-red color is what is known as turmeric color and is widely used as a yellow food coloring. The turmeric root undergoes processing before it is converted into turmeric powder that is used in food products. The processing starts with boiling or steaming the root, after which it is dried till all but 8-10% of moisture remains. While small quantities of turmeric are sun-dried, food manufacturing units that process large amounts of turmeric do so using industrial machines. The dried turmeric root is polished to remove the outer skin, after which the remaining portion is ground into a powder. The processed turmeric powder has a distinct color, smell and flavor that make it easily recognizable.
WHAT GIVES TURMERIC ITS DISTINCT COLOR?
More than 70% of turmeric is made up of carbohydrates. Another percentage goes towards water, fats, proteins, and some volatile oils. Turmeric contains a group of molecules known as curcuminoids, which form around 6.5% of the turmeric. The most common curcuminoids present in turmeric are curcumin (which forms around half of the total amount of curcuminoids), demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. It is the curcumin in the turmeric that gives it its bright yellow color. In its dry form, curcumin is a stable molecule and can capture and hold light. The aroma of turmeric does not come from curcumin, it comes from turmerone, ar-turmerone, and zingiberene which lose their strength over time. This is why turmeric that has been stored for a long time still retains its bright yellow color but loses its smell and flavor.
Curcumin is known for and widely used for its medicinal properties. It is known to be a natural anti-inflammatory compound and drinking milk with some turmeric added to it is a popular home remedy for soothing inflammation. It is also a great antioxidant, helps to delay ageing, and is shown to be potentially useful against heart diseases, cancer and Alzhemier’s disease.
Curcumin color is also put to a lot of non-food uses. Turmeric is a natural dye that is used to color clothing. Being a natural dye, it loses its strength over time under the influence of sunlight. By adding alkaline slaked lime to turmeric, its color is changed to a dark red. This color is used to manufacture a bright red pigment known as sindoor that is used by married women in some Indian communities as a symbol of being married.