Asian food, generically, is perceived to be spicier than its western counterpart. Though this was true for a long time, the reason does not happen to be taste or color alone.
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. There are various spices that 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.
Turmeric is one of the strongest Antiseptics known to man. Its healing properties are beyond belief. In India, it is used in cooking without even a second thought to its medicinal properties. 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.
It is brilliant golden yellow color is because of the presence of the curcumin chemical that also makes it a brilliant and active dye. It is 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. It is said to have the ability to clear phlegm and reduce spasms of asthma also. Turmeric powder combined with caraway seeds or bishop's weed is considered an effective cure for colds in 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. The turmeric gives a glow to the skin, while cream keeps it soft. In fact this was one of the best kept secrets of ancient Indian cosmetic knowledge, and royal ladies as well as commoners have been using it for centuries. Even today, in India, turmeric is considered an essential part of a rejuvenating face mask, that needs nothing but natural ingredients, usually off the kitchen shelf.
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. It also forms an intrinsic part of Indian preservative foods like pickles and wafers. Indeed, it is hard to imagine an Indian dish without turmeric.
Ayurveda, the oldest documented science of food systems as diagnostic and thereuptic, specifies turmeric as a cooling spice, essential for a pitta diet ----people with pitta diet are said to develop a good amount of determination, energy and determination. Ancients consider this to be a good state to be in. It has been prescribed as an essential part of food to cure flatulence and remove toxins from the blood.
Turmeric, most associated with hot, pungent, dark-colored curries, is more of a medicine than a taste enhancer, and we need to learn this from the forefathers of medicinal sciences in Asia, particularly India and China.