All things turmeric

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Miguel Braganza

It is the month of August and time for patoleo, a rice paste, grated coconut and coconut jaggery sweet dish steamed in a wrap of turmeric leaf; even if we have to give the ‘Patoiechem fest’ and Independence Day parades a miss this year due to COVID-19.

The turmeric leaf wrap gives the patoleo a distinctive colour, flavour and aroma. There is a turmeric variety with mango flavour that is locally known as ambe-halad. It is also edible and has medicinal properties. Recently, turmeric has also made its appearance as ornamental flower plants in home gardens. Turmeric is a traditional antiseptic, skin care and wellness item in India, including Goa even in the colonial era spanning 451 years. Starting with the Konnsachem fest and continuing through Ganesh Chaturthi, turmeric is a part of our culture, religion, and traditions. Even weddings are preceded by ‘haldi’ and ‘ros’ or anointing of the bride with turmeric paste and coconut milk. Some of my colleagues have recently gone through this celebration and there are others in waiting. In Goa, we begin the month of August by eating some god-chun or coconut jaggery mixed with grated coconut kernel. Then comes the famous ‘Konnsachem fest’ at Raia in Salcete on August 5 followed by the ‘novidades’ of Taleigao, and then all over Goa on August 15 each year. Turmeric leaves are also added to the rice kheer and ‘methiamchi pez’ (of Fenugreek) sweet dishes that are postpartum delicacies.

We use turmeric in our curry or ‘umonn’, whether with prawns, fish or vegetables. Turmeric is also an important ingredient of our prawns ‘caldinha’ with ladyfinger. No one stops to think that turmeric has anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. The curries taste so good! Jokes aside, curcumin is said to help overcome symptoms of depression. It may be the reason why the new groom is offered a glass of hot milk with turmeric on the first night. It may be useful to treat COVID-induced depression, either due to ailment or loss of income.

There has never been a more spirited fight by India for a patent internationally than the one for turmeric, Curcuma longa. The haldi or turmeric is a part of ayurvedic treatments as well as our ethno-medicine in India. The use of turmeric is reported to prevent Alzheimer’s and heart diseases. Recent studies indicate that the use of turmeric may reduce the incidence of cancer. It is reason enough to eat patoleo all year. Turmeric is propagated by planting pieces of the underground stem that is modified to look like a root. The botanists call it the rhizome, as in ginger, and it is self-perpetuating if left in the ground. At the ‘Patoiechem fest’ last year, sprouted turmeric rhizomes were given as the takeaway for us to plant in home gardens and make patoleos with homegrown turmeric leaves this year.

It has served its purpose during the COVID pandemic, when each person prefers home grown greens.  Let us spread the aroma and the flavour of our culture and traditions.