The History of Humans Eating Turmeric

Posted by Kat Koh on

The excitement surrounding turmeric right now is for very good reason. Numerous studies show curcumin, the healing substance which is responsible for turmeric’s gorgeous golden color, has significant anti-inflammatory properties that rival those found in ibuprofen. Turmeric protects your healthy cells from cancer-causing agents and helps the body fight the good fight to destroy cancerous cells before they have a chance to spread. Turmeric even helps to lower cholesterol and prevent heart disease. All that, and it’s delicious, especially in our Golden Chai recipe!

Despite the current surge of interest in turmeric, this spice has been celebrated for centuries as both food and medicine in India. Turmeric’s botanical name is Curcuma longa. The plant grows to just under three feet tall and produces both a flower and a rhizome, or a root system that grows horizontally underground. The rhizome looks a lot like ginger; it is this root-like stem that produces the yellow turmeric spice. Though it can now be found throughout the tropics, India has been the largest producer of turmeric since ancient times.

Turmeric has been used medicinally for over 4,500 years. Upon analyzing pots discovered new New Dehli, archaeologists uncovered residue from turmeric, ginger and garlic that dates back as early as 2500 BCE. Around 500 BCE, turmeric became a prominent part of Ayurvedic medicine. Ayurveda is the sister science to yoga and the ancient Indian system of natural healing that is still practiced today. Ayurveda translates to “science of life”– ayur meaning “life” and veda meaning “science or knowledge.”

Portions of ayurvedic texts stated that inhaling fumes from burning turmeric alleviates congestion, turmeric juice could help heal of wounds and bruises faster, and turmeric paste was applied to all sorts of skin conditions – ranging from smallpox, chickenpox, and shingles to simple blemishes. Ayurvedic literature contains over 100 different terms for turmeric, including jayanti, meaning “one who is victorious over diseases,” and matrimanika, meaning “as beautiful as moonlight.”

In Indian culture, turmeric is also much more than medicine. It plays a big part in ceremony and spiritual protection for Hindus: on wedding days, grooms ceremoniously tie a string dyed with turmeric paste around the bride’s neck. This necklace is called the mangala sutra, and the ritual of giving it to the bride has been compared to the Western exchange of wedding rings. Turmeric is seen as a symbol and potent agent of protection in parts of southern India: a piece of the turmeric rhizome is worn as an amulet for protection against evil spirits.

The vibrant yellow color of turmeric has made it a beautiful and effective textile dye for centuries. Saffron-hued Buddhist robes are dyed with turmeric. In cooking, turmeric is a familiar spice to most people. It first appeared in Western culinary literature as early as 1747! Hannah Glasse’s cookbook published that year, The Art of Cookery Made Plain and Easy, includes a recipe for Indian pickle made with turmeric; a later edition calls for turmeric in a recipe for Indian curry. The late 18th century saw the invention of commercial curry powders. In the United States, curry appeared in the 1831 edition of Mrs. Mary Randolph’s Virginia Housewife.

Turmeric is leading the charge with some of the most exciting findings in naturopathic and allopathic medicine today. The golden spice’s long history of medicinal use, coupled with modern scientific research that helps us understand its anti-inflammatory, cancer-fighting, and uses as a topical medicine, provides us with powerful information about how to improve our health. New and delicious ways of consuming turmeric are aiding consumers to get more of this superfood into their diets. At Golden Chai, we’re proud and excited to provide you with a way to consume more of this delicious superfood that balances mind, body, and soul.


Research Sources:

Avey, Tori. “What is the history of Turmeric?”. PBS Online. Public Broadcasting Service. 09 Mar. 2015. <http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history>. 24 Feb. 2016.

Davidson, Alan. The Oxford Companion to Food. Oxford: Oxford UP, 1999. Print.

“First Curry Powder Advert.” First Curry Powder Advert. British Library Board, n.d. Web. 09 Feb. 2015.

Prance, Ghillean T., and Mark Nesbitt. The Cultural History of Plants. New York.: Routledge, 2005. Print.

Ravindran, P. N., K. Nirmal Babu, and K. Sivaraman. Turmeric: The Genus Curcuma. Boca Raton, FL: CRC, 2007. Print.

Saberi, Helen, and Colleen Taylor Sen. Turmeric: Great Recipes Featuring the Wonder Spice That Fights Inflammation and Protects Against Disease. Chicago: Agate Digital, 2014. Print.

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