Sandy’s Garden ... Turmeric

Sandy Simpson
Sandy Simpson

Shopping is not exactly my favourite pastime.

Ever since my wife and I married fifty years ago, I have accompanied her on most of her food shopping excursions; and I am fairly familiar with the layout of most supermarkets within a five mile radius of our home and am known … like many men, apparently … to browse idly through displays of products which we do not normally use or, not infrequently, have never used at all.

So it comes about that I associate turmeric with a suggestion made by Asda: “Why not try sprinkling turmeric into the water when cooking rice to add a vibrant colour. Use to complement vegetable, bean and lentil dishes. Also great in curries, soups and relishes.” There is a jar of turmeric among our selection of spices in the larder: but turmeric comes into the category of seldom used products, for I associate turmeric with curries and we don’t eat many of these. And, of course, I am entirely correct in my association of turmeric with curries, for turmeric is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes, to which it gives a slightly bitter flavour and a pungent aroma. It is extensively used to impart an attractive, golden-yellow colour to many dishes, although the principal use of turmeric is as one of the main constituents of curry powders.

The powdered form of turmeric … the usual way we’ll find it in the United Kingdom … is made from the plant’s roots, boiled, dried in ovens and then ground into the orange-yellow powder which we usually find in small jars in the spices section of the shop. The plant whose roots are used in this way is a member of the ginger family which needs temperatures of between 20°C and 30°C … say, 68°F - 86°F in old money … and a thoroughly wet climate, so it won’t thrive in my garden. It does do extremely well in the Indian subcontinent and Southeast Asia, its native lands, which goes a very long way to explaining its use in Indian cuisine. And so I was surprised to see an advertisement for Opti-Turmeric, describing the product as being high potency easily absorbed liquid turmeric in capsules.

The manufacturer’s website describes the product in these words: ‘Known as “the golden spice of India” (where 80-90% of turmeric is produced), turmeric is gaining popularity for its perceived health properties across the globe. Although clinical research still remains inconclusive, the health benefits of turmeric have been praised for centuries in traditional Indian (Ayurveda) and Chinese medicines.’ So what health benefits are ascribed to turmeric in Ayurvedic, medicine? Well, Chinese and Indian folk-medicine used turmeric to treat a wide variety of diseases and health problems, including heartburn, diarrhoea, stomach bloating, colds, fibromyalgia … a long-term condition that causes pain all over the body … and depression which, when one thinks about it, could well be brought on by fibromyalgia. But I must emphasise that ‘clinical research still remains inconclusive’ and caution that turmeric should not be regarded as a cure-all and that I am neither endorsing claims made for the health benefits of this spice nor recommending its use as a herbal medicine.

There is a certain fascination, nevertheless, to learn from the Boots website, that ‘A small study in Thailand in 2012 found it may help lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. It found that over 9 months a daily dose of a supplement containing curcumin seemed to prevent new cases of type 2 diabetes among certain people at risk. However, more research is needed.’ (Curcumin might be described as the active ingredient in turmeric.) Might the type 2 diabetes, from which I suffer, have been prevented if I had eaten more chicken tikka masala?