by Vidyaratha Kissoon
“Duh turmeric, dat is what we call dye right?“ the minibus conductor asked me. We were talking about turmeric and things good for you. Dye is what people have mixed in curry powder. Dye makes dhal taste nice and gives dhal an extra golden colour. Dye is also used in Hindu rituals and to rub down to clean the skin of prospective brides and grooms from the dig dutty (maticore) night to the morning of the wedding.
Curry as a cure?
Turmeric has gained attention as more than just for curry and colour. Turmeric has a history of curing various ailments. Ayurvedic traditions and Chinese medicine have used turmeric in different ways. There is interest in the potential to deal with arthritis and other inflammation related diseases, and in treating skin conditions. Turmeric milk has been a home remedy for colds and coughs and stomach disorders.
The leaves of the turmeric plant are also used for medicinal purposes. The crushed stems of the leaves are used to make a poultice for cuts and bruises. The leaves are also used in the preparation of some foods in South Asia.
Dieneke Ferguson, a 67 year old woman in the United Kingdom said that turmeric helped cure her of myeloma, a form of cancer. She started using turmeric after the chemotherapy failed.
The response of the medical establishment has been that this is remarkable, but that this might not work for everyone.
As with many other natural compounds, there is research ongoing to find out which part of the plant might be useful
Turmeric contains curcumin, a compound which could help to deal with inflammation in the body (and of the mind). Recent research The Essential Medicinal Chemistry of Curcumin published in the Journal of Medicinal Chemistry concludes that curcumin might not be all that it is made out to be.
Advocates of turmeric though suggest that perhaps the whole turmeric rather than the curcumin alone is what would be beneficial.
The ways of taking turmeric vary. Apparently eating lots of curry and dhal is not going to be the path to the cure. Some say to steep the fresh turmeric in warm water rather than boiling it out. The powder can be mixed with coconut oil as a paste for the skin. The body apparently absorbs curcumin more readily if piperine is present. So, sprinkle some black pepper on the warm cup of tea and sip slowly.
Turmeric and black pepper are two spices which Guyana has been experimenting with in Region 1 of Guyana. The spices project started in 2008 with support from the Government of India. India produces 75% or so of the world’s turmeric, using varieties which are high in curcumin. It seems that increased demands do not mean increase in prices for farmers.
Sana Javeri Kadri, a 24 year old woman of Indian origin living in the USA, created a business to link Indian turmeric farmers with the consumers of turmeric lattes – “aggressively unpleasant tasting milky turmeric water” and ensure that the farmers get better prices.
There is a factory which has been commissioned in Region 1 . There is no sign yet of any of the turmeric products from the factory at the New GMC shop in Georgetown. There are plans to be able to satisfy the local demand for turmeric and to be able to export in 2019. Guyana has had lofty plans to increase local production and reduce imports of other products. Globalisation seems to see increasing imports of things which are already grown and made in Guyana.
There is supposed to be a plantain chips factory in Leguan somewhere. There is also another factory processing rice into Morning Glory cereal but the Morning Glory is not on the market. There is another processing plant for sun-dried tomatoes but those haven’t reached the market yet. Some sugar factories are now closed. People tell me that back in the day, Black Bush Polder used to have an orange juice factory.
Kenneth Lucian lives in Region 1. He trades in agricultural produce. He said that while he was growing up, the turmeric was used to put on sprains and joint pains. He remembers that in the 1980s, that turmeric was sold to the old Guyana Marketing Corporation.
He gets some requests for turmeric. He says that prices now would be about $80 a pound to farmers. In Bourda Market this week, raw turmeric was retailing for $300 a pound. The global trade in spices and medicinal plants has complex economics, probably just like dealing with Exxon and oil.
Mark Jacobs started producing tumeric powder and capsules in 2014 from turmeric he had grown and harvested. I had used the turmeric powder. It was coarser, and stronger than the imported powder bought in the supermarkets. The flavour was rich.
I have one turmeric plant in a pot, given from a school friend who had planted because she heard it is a good thing to use. The raw turmeric is orange/peach/pumpkin in colour. The flavour of raw turmeric is pleasant. The juice from the raw turmeric leaves a golden stain on utensils and the hands.
“Mix it with the pine, it will taste nice” Javed Madray told me. The glass was half full of turmeric juice. He topped up the turmeric juice with pineapple juice.
Javed Madray’s family makes and sells fruit juices in Bourda Market. Customers in 2017 requested the turmeric juice, made from the raw turmeric. His father experimented as this was a new product. According to Javed, his father did not quite take to the taste of the raw juice and was uncertain of how customers would appreciate it. It seems that customers have enjoyed the juice.
I had asked for a second glass of turmeric juice on a hot day and after dealing with inflammation in the mind and the body. The turmeric juice in the glass made a nice contrast with the black counter. Some might argue that sugar in it might counter the anti-inflammatory properties, but the taste is good. I had consumed several glasses of the juice over a weekend of dealing with mental and physical illnesses while sorting out some intense chores in the house. There will be no clinical trials but I swear the juice helped me through.
Other people might create other products, to widen the Guyanese palate. There might be mixes of turmeric and karilla juice soon, as karilla juice is also supposed to good for many ailments.
Some cottage industries have started to sell their own tea mixes. Leaves of sijan/moringa leaves and ban- karila are packaged and sold. A cottage industry, Natural Choice, is mixing spices including turmeric to make chai-tea. Maybe they will use local turmeric powder when it becomes available.
An investment in turmeric production and innovative usage would probably help cure Guyana of many of the divisions which are being further widened with the investment in oil.