Turmeric, the golden spice of Bengal

This article is also available in: Italiano

Turmeric is one of the best known and most famous spices of antiquity, so incredible in taste and appearance, that it overwhelmingly fits into Bengali culture (and beyond)

Turmeric, the plant of the goddess Durga

Turmeric is a spice native to southern Asia, a vast range that includes central India and lands such as Malaysia and Borneo. In these places its cultivation developed more and more, transforming it in a very short time into one of the main ingredients of cooking and local medicine. Thanks to its intense yellow coloring, it was in fact seen from its origins as something “magical”, almost linked to religion.

It is no coincidence that in East India it is one of the 9 herbs with which Nabapatrika is made, a floral arrangement designed to celebrate Durga Puja, a festival deeply linked to the nature of India. The latter was in fact born as a way to celebrate the end of the monsoons and the resumption of the harvest, then binding to local faith and cults, thus becoming one of the most sacred and celebrated rituals in the country. Specifically, in Nabapatrika turmeric represents Durga, the Hindu goddess of war, golden just like the famous spice.

Between food and weddings

For the great coloring properties, this spice soon became a pure decoration, becoming something similar to what is henna in countries like Morocco, Yemen or India itself. Even turmeric is in fact used to “gild” the brides before the wedding, in a ritual that in Bengal and Bangladesh took the name of Gaye Holud and which is considered an integral part of the wedding. The ceremony certainly has Hindu origins but over time it has become an integral part of Indian culture, so much so that it is also celebrated by Muslims.

Do not forget, then, the impact that this spice had on the kitchen, truly unparalleled when looking at Asia and the Middle East. Thanks to its particular taste and the aforementioned coloring properties, in fact, the latter spread throughout the Silk Road, becoming one of the absolute protagonists in every self-respecting table. Turmeric is in fact used for: a mix of spices, such as the Indian Garam Masala and the Maghreb Ras el Haout, cakes, such as the Lebanese Sfouf, or meat dishes such as Persian khoresh and Indonesian satay, as well as many others that it would be impossible to mention.


But then does this miraculous spice have incredible and astounding properties? Yes and no. Since ancient times various properties have been attributed to it, including antiseptic, antibacterial, anti-inflammatory and many others; which, however, have not been confirmed in the studies.

In 2017, in fact, the largest research ever on curcumin, the main element of turmeric, was published, without however revealing any particular beneficial effects. Some slight effect was seen in the laboratory and on animals, however, it is not proven that it has miraculous effects on humans. Nonetheless, at least for taste, color and history, turmeric remains one of the essential elements for those who want to dedicate themselves to the cuisine of the Greater Middle East.

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