I·ATE Food Term of the Week: Turmeric

September 21, 2019 11:00 am

Have you been to a coffee shop in Berlin, New York or Tokyo lately? No? Maybe you have even seen it on the menu of the bar around the corner: some beverage featuring turmeric. It’s trendy and part of a quirky lifestyle to revitalise your hipster spirits with a ‘turmeric shot’ or to indulge in a ‘turmeric latte’ after a delightful thrift shop tour. But why is that? It’s simple – turmeric is supposed to be healthy and a healthy diet is on the rise. But there is so much more to turmeric than just that.

As relatively new and extraordinary the little yellow root seems in our cultural and culinary orbit, it is in fact something that has been valued by Asian cultures for quite a while. Take Indonesia for example. ‘Kunyit’ as it is called there is an all-time favourite. There are three reasons why: the colour, the taste and, of course, the health benefits.

The colour should be named first as it is the most prominent feature of the little root. The outside seems admittedly unremarkable at first glance but if you cut it open the bright yellow is so vibrant that it inspired the naming in several languages. The Indonesian term ‘kunyit’ is etymologically related to ‘kuning’ which means yellow. In English it is also known as ‘Indian Saffron’ as the colour resembles this oriental spice. Germans call it ‘Gelbwurz’ which means ‘yellow spice’ but also ‘yellow root’. In most Asian countries, as well, such as China and Vietnam it is simply labelled as ‘yellow root’.

The taste of turmeric is very unique and depends on whether you use the dried powdered or the fresh version. As powder it is one of the main ingredients of a spice blend commonly known as ‘curry’. The fresh version has a warm, earthy and slightly bitter aroma. It is an important component of various Asian recipes. Many Indonesians dig in its rich flavour for breakfast already with their much loved ‘Nasi Kuning’, a yellow rice dish that is made with coconut milk and turmeric. Yummy and healthy!

Indonesians didn’t need science to know about the perks of consuming the yellow root. In the streets of Jakarta women sell suspiciously looking drinks in plastic bottles called ‘Jamu’ that turn out to be very traditional and very aromatic and – bluntly – more ‘yummy’ than that turmeric latte that hipster barista is serving you. The drink is a component of the traditional Indonesian medicine similar to Ayurveda and supposed to revitalise and therefore

 – you guessed right – contains lots of turmeric. On another island called Flores, women use a turmeric and rice paste as a facial mask that is said to leave your skin in a perfect condition. Now, is all of that just hokum or is there something to it? Modern science found that turmeric is indeed beneficial and even medically active. It contains curcumin, an agent with an anti-inflammatory effect comparable to that of ibuprofen. Besides, it is good for your digestion and studies show that it has a protective effect when it comes to cancer and Alzheimer disease.

You see, including turmeric in your diet is in fact healthy. 

Now you should definitely go grab one of those turmeric lattes …or try this recipe instead. Either way, not only your eyes and taste buds will thank you.



A great, rich side dish 

– 1 cup of rice

– 2 cups of coconut milk

– 1 chunk of fresh turmeric (3-4 cm)

– 1 clove of garlic

– 1 small onion

– 1 tsp oil

– 1 pandan leave or pandan leave extract

– pepper, salt

Blend the onion, garlic and turmeric in a mixer and fry it with the oil in a pot. Add the rice, salt pepper, coconut milk and eventually the pandan leave and wait until it starts boiling. Stir the rice, cover the pot and reduce the temperature to a very low level. Wait until the rice is steamed.

Enjoy or as Indonesians say ‘Selamat Makan’!



Avey T. What is the History of Turmeric? PBS. http://www.pbs.org/food/the-history-kitchen/turmeric-history/. Published March 9, 2015. Accessed September 20, 2019.

JawaPos.com. Minuman Susu Kunyit Campur Kayu Manis Untuk Pasien Diabetes. JawaPos.com. https://www.jawapos.com/kesehatan/23/08/2019/minuman-susu-kunyit-campur-kayu-manis-untuk-pasien-diabetes/. Published August 23, 2019. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Katzer G. Curcuma (Curcuma longa L.). Gewürzseiten: Kurkuma (Curcuma longa/domestica, Gelbwurz). http://gernot-katzers-spice-pages.com/germ/Curc_lon.html. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Kurkuma – die heilende Kraft der goldenen Knolle. Geo. https://m.geo.de/wissen/gesundheit/18178-rtkl-superfoods-kurkuma-die-heilende-kraft-der-goldenen-knolle. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Nita D. 5 Jamu Tradisional yang Bisa Memancarkan Cantikmu dari Dalam. IDN Times. https://www.idntimes.com/food/dining-guide/dian-nita/jamu-tradisional-c1c2. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Zeitung S. Kurkuma gibt Speisen eine leuchtend gelbe Farbe. Süddeutsche.de. https://www.sueddeutsche.de/wirtschaft/ernaehrung-kurkuma-gibt-speisen-eine-leuchtend-gelbe-farbe-dpa.urn-newsml-dpa-com-20090101-161201-99-380130. Published January 6, 2017. Accessed September 20, 2019.

Written by Christiane Menger, a German and English teacher, and Yoseph Arianto, a musician. The couple from Germany and Indonesia manages a little hotel in Maumere, Indonesia but is currently staying in Germany.

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