How is turmeric grown? The origins of a very popular supplement.

How is turmeric grown? The origins of a very popular supplement.

Ever wondered how produce gets from the ground to your home? Let’s take a look at how turmeric is grown, to shed some light on the cultivation process of a very popular supplement. 

What exactly is Turmeric?

I’m sure it doesn’t need an introduction, but just in case you aren’t already aware, turmeric is a very popular plant that is consumed around the world. It often comes in powdered form, as a spice, but also features in supplements and as an ingredient in many foods.

To be specific, turmeric comes from the Curcuma longa plant, which belongs to the ginger family Zingiberaceae. It is native to tropical South Asia.(1) Like ginger, the turmeric we know and love comes from the root of the plant.(2)

Turmeric is what gives curry its distinct yellow colour and flavour, so it can be found on the back of almost all curry powders and in many curry dishes.(1)

Interestingly, in ancient times it was used as perfume as well as a spice.(3)

So what is Turmeric used for?

Turmeric has had lots of different roles over the centuries. It has been used most frequently in cooking, religious, and medicinal practice.

Culinary

Along with its starring role in curry, turmeric features in both savory and sweet dishes across Asia. It is often an ingredient in Eastern specialties like fresh turmeric pickle.(1)

Religious

In Southeast Asia specifically, turmeric is used as a component in religious ceremonies.(1) This is largely because the Hindu religion sees turmeric as auspicious and sacred.(4)

Medicinal

Turmeric as a plant has a very long history of medicinal use, spanning nearly 4000 years.(1) 

There are Sanskrit texts dating back to the 5th and 6th centuries that describe the uses of turmeric.(5) The plant features heavily within the ancient Indian practise of Ayurveda.

Ayurveda uses mainly plant-based formulations to treat various ailments. It is the practice of traditional folk medicine on the Indian subcontinent.(1)

Some of the ways Ayurveda suggests using turmeric include:(1)

  • to relieve the effects of poisoned food
  • strengthening the overall energy of the body 
  • relieving gas
  • dispelling worms
  • improving digestion 
  • regulating menstruation
  • dissolving gallstones
  • relieving arthritis

 

To this day Many South Asian countries use turmeric as an antiseptic for cuts, burns, and bruises, and as an antibacterial agent.(1)

Modern medicine has only just begun to recognise the importance of turmeric. The 3000 publications on turmeric that have only come out within the last 25 years definitely show that.(1)

In one of the most recent studies, the effect of turmeric was examined on patients with irritable bowel syndrome. When 1-2 tablets of turmeric extract were given daily for 8 weeks, the effect of irritable bowel syndrome significantly decreased. The ratings on the abdominal pain/discomfort score also saw a decline.(6)

Modern medical research has also shown turmeric to have anthelmintic and antimicrobial properties. This definitively adds to turmeric’s impressive reputation.(7)

How is turmeric grown?

Now for the real questions - how does turmeric grow, and where?

Turmeric - where does it grow?

Turmeric is mainly cultivated in India. However, it is also cultivated in many other regions, including Taiwan, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Java, Brazil, Peru, and many parts of Africa.(5)

However, India produces nearly all of the world’s turmeric crop and consumes 80% of it. This is due to the fact that Indian turmeric is considered to be the best in the world, since it has a high content of the bioactive compound curcumin.(1)

In India, the state of Andhra Pradesh is the largest producer of turmeric. The state’s productivity is 33% higher than the national average. Other major producing states are Tamil Nadu, Orissa, Karnataka, West Bengal, and Maharashtra.(8)

How is turmeric grown?

Individual turmeric plants can grow to be 1m tall, and have long leaves.(1) They can produce tall, very beautiful, white flowers.(9)

The part of the plant that makes turmeric is the root, which is known as the rhizomes. These have rough and segmented skin, and are a yellowish brown on the outside, and dull orange inside.(1) Each rhizome is a central bulb with a number of offshoots, called the fingers.(8)

In order to grow, turmeric requires a hot and moist climate (temperatures between 20°C and 30°C), a liberal supply of water, and well-drained soil.(8, 1) It is usually planted on raised beds to avoid extra water.(8) In temperate regions (like the UK), turmeric can only be grown indoors.(10)

Because turmeric is sterile, it is only known as a domesticated plant and is not found in the wild.(10) A sterile plant is one that doesn’t produce or distribute any seeds.

In India, planting is done during May to June.(8) 

Turmeric is ready for harvest in 7 to 9 months after planting, so the harvest season begins from February.(8)

It’s important that turmeric is harvested at the right maturity, for the best colour and aroma. It’s quite easy to tell when turmeric is mature, because the leaves turn yellow and the whole plant gradually dries out.(8)

Processing

Before turmeric can be used, the turmeric rhizomes must be processed.(1)

The processing consists of three stages:(8)

  1. Curing
  2. Drying
  3. Polishing 

 

Curing involves boiling fresh rhizomes in water until they’re soft. Nowadays, the cleaned rhizomes are boiled in copper, iron or earthen vessels with just enough water to soak them.(8) 

The rhizomes are cooked enough when a finger can make a dent in one.(8)

Cooked rhizomes are cooled gradually and spread out to dry in the open on uncoated plain bamboo mats or concrete drying floor. It can take 10 to 15 days for the rhizomes to completely dry. In most growing areas, the cooked rhizomes are dried in the sun.(8)

Dried turmeric has a rough appearance and a dull surface. The outer surface is often polished to give a better finish. Polishing removes the roughness by getting rid of any scales, small rootlets, and remaining soil particles.(8)

How do I grow it?

If you’re in the UK, and want to grow your own turmeric, you can! You’ll need to find a suitable spot in the house or maybe a greenhouse.

To start, you’ll need a section of a rhizome (root). Plant it in a tray or container, and if there are roots, plant them facing down.(2) Turmeric will need a good quality soil, like one for tomatoes.(2) You should plant around March or April.

The tray should be sealed in a clear plastic bag, and kept warm for at least three weeks. When shoots emerge, you should remove the bag and keep the tray damp in warm light.(10)

The rhizomes should be potted when the shoots are 5cm high, into shallow 15cm pots. They should be kept damp, warm, and slightly shaded. Feed them weekly with general-purpose liquid fertiliser.(10) When the plants begin to die back in winter, about ten months after planting, you should be able to harvest the larger roots.(2)

Summary 

To wrap this avalanche of information into a neat little bow, let’s just go over the main points.

Turmeric is a root that has been used for centuries, in many different disciplines. From cooking, to religion, to medicine, turmeric is a powerful plant that is very versatile.

The plant is mostly grown and cultivated in India, and grows from May to February. After harvesting, the roots are cooked, dried, and polished. Then they are ready to go wherever they’re destined to. That could be in curry powder, supplements, or turmeric shots.

It is possible to grow turmeric in the UK, but it needs some TLC and attention. If you persevere, however, there’s no end to how you could use the fruits of your labour. Enjoy!


Links:

1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK92752/

 

2) https://www.firsttunnels.co.uk/page/TopofTheCrops-Turmeric

 

3) https://www.britannica.com/plant/turmeric

 

4) https://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history/

 

5) https://www.atinafoods.com/blog/2017/5/1/turmeric-plant

 

6) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15673996/

 

7) https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B978012394801400014

 

8)http://www.alaalsayid.com/ebooks/Medicinal%20and%20Aromatic%20Plants%20-%20vol%2045%20-%20Turmeric-%20The%20Genus%20Curcuma.pdf

 

9) https://greenharvest.com.au/Plants/Information/Turmeric.html

 

10) http://powo.science.kew.org/taxon/urn:lsid:ipni.org:names:796451-1

 

This information is meant to supplement, not replace, advice from your doctor or healthcare provider and is not meant to cover all possible uses, precautions, interactions or adverse effects. This information may not fit your specific health circumstances. You should always speak with your doctor or health care professional before you start, stop, or change any prescribed part of your health care plan or treatment and to determine what course of therapy is right for you.