In the tropical climates, the presence of various types of bacteria and other micro-organisms makes it necessary to set up a food system that, while nourishing the body, takes care of its defense system too. Cooking methods play an important role and so do condiments and spices. Various spices are used across Asia, indeed, in other tropical countries too.
In Indian food, the basic spices that one can find in every main course, across the length and breadth of the country are turmeric and cumin seeds. The influence of Central Asian invasions is seen in the foods but by and large turmeric based (or at least using) cuisine is pan Indian.
The spice is a rhizome of the biological family Zingiberaceae. In fact it's close relation to the ginger family is reflected in its Chinese name - jianghuang, which literally means 'yellow ginger'.
Though it is a produce of South East Asia, it traveled to China before the seventh century and also spread across Polynesian islands as far as Hawaii and even Easter islands. It has been mentioned in the Vedas, carries a Sanskrit name and was commonly used as a medicine in ancient India and China.
Its brilliant golden yellow color is because of the curcumin chemical that also makes it a brilliant and active dye. It's aromatic and is considered to be a stimulant for body systems. Apart from having excellent antiseptic and antibacterial properties, it has been, since time immemorial, considered good for strengthening the stomach and as a blood purifier.
Traditionally, it has been considered good as an expectorant for children's irritating cough, dissolved in milk. Grandmas across Asia recommend a glassful of milk with two teaspoonfuls of turmeric to asthmatic and bronchitic children.
For people suffering from skin disorders like spots, acne, dryness or discoloration of any kind, turmeric is a God-send. A paste of turmeric, fresh cream and sandalwood powder makes for an excellent rejuvenating cream, especially for dry, discolored or aging skin.
In aid of beauty, turmeric also helps remove adipose tissue and cuts through cellulite from the body. In fact, mixed with honey in equal proportions and taken twice a week works wonders for reducing body weight, by cleansing the toxins and water retention, making the body look slimmer and toned.
When mixed with buttermilk or diluted yogurt, it is an excellent cure for stomach disorders and when made into a paste, it rejuvenates the liver. For expelling intestinal worms, turmeric juice (of raw rhizomes), taken daily, is very effective.
The list of its uses is endless, it would seem. But today, its best and most recognized use is as an essential part of curry powders, and is responsible for their strong colors. Usually, curry powder contains 24% of ginger by weight.
Ayurveda, the oldest documented science of food systems as diagnostic and thereuptic, specifies turmeric as a cooling spice, essential for a pitta diet which can develop a good amount of determination and energy. Ancients consider this to be a good state to be in. It is prescribed as an essential part of food to cure flatulence and remove toxins from blood.