Turmeric is an incredible herbal ally with dozens of major ways to support our wellness. One group of these molecules is the curcuminoids. The three curcuminoids in Turmeric are such potent molecules that often you can buy them extracted from the whole herb. Now, there is a time and place for extracts like this, though if given the option I use the whole herb with all the hundreds of molecules, the whole pharmacy, per se. Best may be to use the whole herb with an extract of Curcuminoids.
With all of these curcuminoids separated out of Turmeric, it begs the question what is happening to all the “curcuminoidless” Turmeric out there. Is it composted? Is it fed to farm animals? Is it thrown out? Nope! It is likely sold to a broker who sells it to a broker who, after mixing in some synthetic food color to account for the missing curcuminoids sells it to some herbal supply company who then sells it to the consumer as, of course, Turmeric. Mom n’ Pop ethnic style grocery stores are fantastic places to find Turmeric without its curcuminoids, as are herb companies where money talks louder than the call to be impeccably pure and potent.
So this is why I would highly recommend that you either grow your own Turmeric or buy it from a reliable certified organic biodynamic responsible high-integrity herb company. If you do not it is likely that you are buying diminished turmeric at best and supporting the coffers of business men and not the marginalized farmers and tribals who really need our support.
One of the tests to determine the amount of curcuminoids is the color of your Turmeric. If it tends to be dark, or at least without its characteristic brightness, this is one sign that your Turmeric may be a mite devoid of curcuminoids. However, because there are many varieties of Turmeric, each one of varying colors, and because the processing of Turmeric can also significantly affect the color, at the end of the day, often the best way to ensure you have whole Turmeric is, as I said, knowing the source.
After it is harvested, Turmeric rhizomes go through a curing process, which involves a quick par boiling in minimal water, often in large earthen or cast iron cauldrons. The rhizomes are boiled until a light froth arises, at which point they are lifted out as any extra boiling can change the color, texture, and whole product.
I know what many of you are thinking now: “Isn’t raw turmeric more potent then? Doesn’t par boiling the Turmeric damage some of the molecules?”
There may be some volatiles in the essential oil fraction of Turmeric that are damaged by the par boiling, though studies have shown there is no significant change. In general the par boiling and subsequent drying actually help to retain Turmeric’s potency and in many ways, increase it. The par boiling actually helps dry and “set” the turmeric. Also, often in in roots and rhizomes, there are potent molecules that are created in the par boiling and/or drying process that simply are not present in the fresh herb. The process here is called a “dehydration reaction” and involves chemical changes as water molecules in the fresh herb are altered or withdrawn from a complex combination of phytochemistry.
For instance, in the case of Ginger rhizomes, some of its most potent medicinal facets, like the shogaols, are the chemesthesis piquant molecules that are not even in the fresh herb, but are metabolites of a dehydration reaction due to cooking and/or drying. The shogaol in ginger, likely the most researched molecule in ginger, is not even in fresh ginger, but is a metabolite of a dehydration reaction acting on what are gingerols in the fresh rhizome. Note though, that the fresh rhizomes of herbs, be that Turmeric, Ginger, Atis or Shatavri, have great use in their fresh forms and in many ways are literally a different herb when dried. Both dried and fresh have their strengths!
And so this process of par boiling Turmeric is actually an amplifier of Turmeric, and is also an important indicator of its color. Knowing the path your herbs take from soil to kitchen shelf is a wonderful facet of getting to know them, and now you know about the color of your Turmeric!