Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a spice which is very familiar in Asia. It is usually used powdered and is one of the easiest to identify due to its bright orange-yellow color. However it is often adulterated and then colored with artificial colors. If you have a small garden patch, it is very easy to grow turmeric on your own. It is almost maintenance free and takes care of itself provided the weather is not too cold and there is good rainfall. Back home in Udupi, after harvesting (I’m not sure of the actual planting and harvest time) any turmeric that is accidentally left over in the ground sprouts and reproduces again. For the purpose of this post, I harvested turmeric in the month of December. The harvesting is done after the green leaves start turning yellow or brown. It is best to wet the soil around the plant and then dig carefully and gently pry out the rhizomes.
Turmeric has very good antiseptic properties and is often used as a face pack or mixed with oil and applied to wounds or sores. When used as a face pack, it is often mixed with besan (gram flour) in a 50:50 ratio and milk or yogurt is used instead of water. My cousin sisters’ would use pure turmeric paste by rubbing a whole stick of dried turmeric on a rough sandstone
disc (available in the market for that purpose) with a little water to get a paste which can then be used for various applications. In south India and some other parts as well, turmeric paste (traditionally turmeric, rose water and sandalwood powder) is applied on the to be bride and groom on the evening before the wedding day by friends, relatives and well wishers. Turmeric when mixed with warm milk is touted as being effective for sinusitis and also for curing a bad throat.
I’d long wanted to document how turmeric was processed and had been hearing only snatches of information from my mum and aunts. In Delhi during a certain time of year we see raw turmeric rhizomes on sale along with regular vegetables. It looks a bit like ginger. The next time I see it I’m going to buy it as I hear it can be added like ginger while cooking or can be pickled by itself.
I did buy some organic turmeric and used it to make some turmeric tea and it tasted delicious when chopped fine and added to curries and rice.
We use fresh turmeric leaves for wrapping dough for steaming called gattis’. When turmeric leaves are used, it is called Manjal da gatti. It is called pelakai da gatti when Jack fruit is used in the dough mixture and tekki da gatti when Teak (Tectona grandis) leaves are used for wrapping the dough. Manjal in the Tulu language can mean either yellow (color) or turmeric. In Kannada it is called haladi, which is similar to haldi which is turmeric in Hindi.
How to pick and process Turmeric
I did accidentally dig up some wild ginger and Arrowroot as their leaves resemble turmeric leaves. Put that down to inexperience and more on Arrowroot and wild ginger in separate posts 🙂
Apart from the good usable turmeric, you will also come across two other types of turmeric
The bad ones. These have decomposed as this should have been harvested last year and were accidentally left behind
Traditionally, it was mixed with rice husk and boiled. If turmeric is dried without boiling, its shelf life comes down drastically due to infestation by weevil like boring insects in addition, it turns as hard as wood and becomes difficult to grind to a powder.
You might want to wear gloves from this point on to avoid staining your hands
At this stage, you may choose to dry it as it is. This is useful if you want to use sticks of turmeric for rubbing on the stone (mentioned at the beginning of the post) or for other similar purposes.
If you want to powder turmeric, read on… be warned that the next step will stain your fingers -and your clothes. Turmeric has been used as a dye, although it is not very fast.
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