Sunday, March 4, 2012

Curcuma longa, the soul of Curry

The Asian plant Curcuma longa of the Zingiberaceae family is one of the basic components of the Eastern condiment more universally well-known, the Curry. Nevertheless its cooking qualities were not the reason by which the Asians began to cultivate does already it more than 3,000 years, but the dyeing properties of the curcumin, the main active principle of its rhizome. The dyed wool acquired an attractive yellow color lemon. Also it was used to dye the skin of the face and the hands in the religious rituals. 

Inflorescence of Curcuma longa with the first flowers in the middle of the summer.

Rhizomes of Curcuma longa.

India is the producing and consuming major of this rhizome. The city of Sangli, located in the south of India, is the producing major of this spice. Dust turmeric mixes with other spices and aromatic plants to elaborate the curry, such as basil, cumin, saffron, cinnamon, cardamom, celery, coriander, onion dried in dust, ginger, nut nutmeg, pepper, cayenne pepper, pulp of tamarind, caraway, etc. varying the components and the proportion among them according to the tastes of each Asian region. Along with saffron, dust turmeric confers to curry its characteristic intense yellow color. The name of this Hindu condiment comes from the Kari word that means sauce in tamil language. 

Pulp of an intense orange color by its wealth in curcumin, that in the European Union is catalogued like colouring with the nourishing code E-100. Besides comprising of curry, also it is used to give the characteristic color to the mustard sauce. Added to stews of meat, rice, vegetables and tubercles it confers an appetizing yellow color to them similar to saffron, for that reason in Colombia, where it is a spice very appreciated, receives the name of root saffron. 

Vigorous plants of turmeric of two years of age at the height of summer, cultivated in Majorca from rhizomes. In spite of being a strictly tropical plant against all prognosis it lives very well in Mediterranean climate. The frosts do not affect to it since it spends the winter under earth in the form of hibernating rhizomes. Already well entered the spring of the yolks of rhizomes they bring forth new stems with very pretty, aromatic leaves rich in excretor cells that contain essential oils, fenilpropanoids and terpenoids. They live to total sun. The irrigation two or three times to the week in the months more droughts. In the middle of summer of the center of each stem they bring forth very pretty inflorescences, but they do not produce seeds, perhaps by the absence in Majorca of its natural pollenizers: insects like the bees and the butterflies and some Asian birds of the sorts Hornstedtia and Nicolaia. 
Six years ago my liking by the exotic thing took me to buy a tray of rhizomes of Curcuma longa coming from Thailand in a supermarket of Palma de Mallorca. It was the first time that I saw it and I nothing knew on this plant. In house I looked for information in Internet and already I discovered its relation with curry. It pricked the curiosity and I wanted to prove its flavor. Then it was happened me to prepare a plate with the exotic ingredients that finished buying: tubercles of Malanga, rhizomes of Turmeric, rhizomes of smaller Galanga, fruits of bitter Melon and Chinese Okra. Here you have the recipe. I assure to you that it knew to glory.

Malanga to turmeric with Chinese okra.

Exotic plate with malanga tubercles, Colocasia esculenta, bare and boiled with water, salt, small pieces of turmeric rhizomes, Curcuma longa, galanga rhizomes, Alpinia officinarum and bitter melon, Momordica charantia, to give color, flavor and aroma. Once the malanga is tender retire the bitter melon small pieces that already have given their flavor. In a frying pan with olive oil very thinly sliced of Chinese okra are fried, Luffa acutangula, that serve to adorn the plate and all this is accompanied with two boiled eggs.

Inflorescence in ear of Curcuma longa initiating the flowering in August.

From the antiquity their medicinal properties are known. It has been used to treat the malaria, hepatitis B and C, the dermatomicosis by its anti-fungal activity, the psoriasis, the diabetes, the immunodeficiencies, the cervical cancer, the hepatocarcinoma and the cancer of breast. Also it has been used like antioxidant to restrain the aging, anti-inflammatory in arthritis and antidepressant and anxiolitic in the mental and psychosomatic ailments. During the decade from 1990 to 2000 intense studies were realised in Hospital M.D. Anderson (Houston, Texas) to isolate its active principles and to demonstrate experimentally its therapeutic activity, especially against the cancer and AIDS. Their anti-carcinogenic properties seem to derive from the capacity of turmeric to induce the apoptosis or cellular death of the cancerous cells, respecting the healthy cells.

The ear of the inflorescence is formed by ready white bracts in spiral between which the yellow flowers arise.

Turmeric shares botanical family with other plants used like spices like ginger, Zingiber officinale, the cardamom, Elettaria cardamomum and smaller galanga, Alpinia officinarum. The Zingiberaceae are herbaceous plants with alternate, simple and distic leaves, that is to say, inserted or placed in two rows and ready so that each row forms a plane approximately. Their flowers have an unique functional stamen with two thecas and a great petaloid label of yellow color formed by the fusion of two staminodes. They are very ephemeral, because they last a single day, but the abundant nectar that produces facilitates the fertilization when attracting the pollenizers. 

Flower of Curcuma longa with the detail of the petaloid label similar to the one of the orchids of the Ophrys sort and the two thecas of unique stamen in its interior. The feminine part, the gynoecium, is formed by a trilocular ovary and a straight, filiform and whole style with nectar glands in its base, resting on functional stamen and is surrounded by the two thecas in its superior part. The fruit is a capsule full of seeds surrounded by an aril.

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