Our Ingredients: Turmeric

In this series, we'll explore the history, common usage, and modern applications of each plant based ingredient in the Cardiff line.

What is turmeric?

Turmeric, or Curcuma longa of the ginger family, is a flowering plant whose roots are typically used in cooking. The perennial plant is native to Southeast Asia and the Indian subcontinent and requires a warmer, wetter climate — 68-86° Fahrenheit, plus ample rainfall to thrive. During cultivation, turmeric’s rhizomes (roots) are gathered once a year and used for either next season’s propagation or the current season's consumption. 

However, turmeric doesn’t just begin as a fine seasoning, as many are familiar with it. The plant’s roots are typically boiled and dried before they’re ground into their iconic bright yellow-orange powder. This finely ground version of the root can be incorporated into a variety of delectable dishes, dyed textiles and natural products. 

Many institutions, including that of the World Health Organization, European Parliament, and United States Food and Drug Administration have approved of turmeric’s use as a food additive. And although many feel there must be additional research completed about turmeric’s potential health and wellness benefits, the plant already holds a rich history with medicine. 


History

Those in Asia have been utilizing turmeric for centuries, where it remains a major part of Ayurveda medicine, Siddha medicine, Chinese medicine, Unani and even animal rituals. Though first used for its bright color and terrific dyeing power, turmeric was later picked up for its medicinal properties. 

Drenched in historical and cultural relevance, turmeric remains one of the most popular spices in part thanks to its intense color, flavor and aroma. And though always popular, the plant has recently gained more traction in Western societies for its possible health and cosmetic-based benefits. 


Current use

It should first be noted that many of the plant’s historical uses are still very much in place, in India and Southeast Asia especially. Cultural practices like that of the Haldi ceremony, the Tamil–Telugu marriage ritual and Kankana Bandhana still use the turmeric plant just as they did hundreds of years ago. 

Modern use has shifted a bit from tradition though, as scientists continue to study questions like “What is turmeric good for?” and “How can turmeric be used most successfully?”. Over the last few decades, the plant has ventured into more of the commercial health and wellness genre. Turmeric contains small amounts of minerals, essential oils and curcuminoids, all of which make the plant desirable for use. This may be why turmeric has landed itself in everything from golden milk lattes, to skin-brightening facial cleansers lately.

Recent scientific research is just starting to uncover the positive impacts of turmeric, but many in traditional medicine believe it has a multitude of beneficial uses, specifically for the skin. 

Turmeric can currently be found in a variety of products including:

  • Supplements
  • Cosmetics
  • Dermatology products
  • Herbal teas
  • Lattes / tonics / soups / etc.
  • Spice mixes
  • Fabric dye

Turmeric benefits

Many of turmeric’s benefits revolve around its bioactive compounds called curcuminoids, of which curcumin is the most popular and potentially impactful on the body. The plant contains other helpful properties as well, like powerful antioxidants and anti-inflammatory components. Both of these help to revive one’s skin and uncover a natural glow from the inside out, especially when used in a face mask or scrub.

The curcumin in turmeric mentioned previously may also allow the plant to help speed up the healing process, as it both reduces swelling and possibly decreases oxidation. For similar reasons, turmeric’s inclusion in creams and lotions may help calm psoriasis flare-ups — less swelling, less irritation. 

With special concerns to one’s face, some have found turmeric to be helpful in controlling breakouts and minimizing acne scarring. As with many of turmeric’s benefits on skin though, a consistent combination of uses must be implemented to see real results. It takes time for the plant’s antioxidant and anti-inflammatory compounds to target one’s pores, calm the skin and begin a more restorative process. 

As more potential benefits begin to gain traction among the scientific community, some are pushing for more studies on turmeric’s benefits on skin. For example, many believe turmeric may be helpful in treating more serious dermatological conditions — eczema, alopecia, lichen planus, etc. — but research has yet to fully confirm these hypotheses. It seems only time will tell all of turmeric's potential uses and benefits.