Turmeric has been used in India for thousands of years. It is used both as a spice and a herb. As a spice. it adds a bright yellow-golden color to make every curry vibrant and vivacious; as a herb, it is a powerful anti-oxidants and has anti-inflammatory, anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties.
Today, the world is re-discovering the amazing benefits of turmeric. From soups to smoothies. from dips to desserts and from lattes to lamb cutlets, turmeric is painting the town yellow!
And yet, over the last few years, there have been growing concerns about contamination in turmeric, particularly the use of lead chromate during its processing.
In this blog, we take a closer look at recent research, key findings and the main caveats to look out for the next time you buy turmeric.
Causes of Toxicity : Lead, Chromium, Arsenic and other Heavy Metals
In September 2019, Stanford University published a research on lead contamination based on their extensive study of turmeric processors in Bangladesh. (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0013935119305195?via%3Dihub)
The results were alarming. The research found that the amount of lead and chromium found in turmeric was far higher than expected or explainable due to natural soil contamination. It was eventually found that the cause of higher lead and chromium in turmeric was the unregulated and widespread use of an industrial pigment - lead chromate, used during the ‘polishing’ stage. After they are harvested, turmeric roots are boiled, dried and sorted. They are then put into large rock tumblers - the polishing machines, where rubbing against the rough rock surface removes the outer skin of the turmeric root. During the polishing stage, turmeric loses 10 to 15 percent of its weight. It is at this stage that processors use lead chromate, a yellow pigment generally used to colour toys and furniture. Lead chromate hastens the polishing process and makes the polished roots look more yellow and appealing.
Lead is a neurotoxin that can increases the risk of heart and brain disease in adults and interferes with children’s brain development. Chromium can damage various organs resulting in different diseases such as: kidney damage, allergies, asthma and respiratory tract cancer in human.
Arsenic is a metal that finds its way in most food products as a natural part of agricultural through soil nutrients. Naturally occurring arsenic in foods - herbs, spices, fruits and vegetables - is found in very small proportions, and has anti-cancer effects. However, it is the rising levels of arsenic in foods that is becoming a cause of alarm and concern. A key reason of this is the fact that arsenic is widely used in both industrial and agronomical applications. In agriculture, pesticides, herbicides and fungicides contain arsenic, which finds its way into the plant through their roots.
Increased intake of arsenic can cause serious health concerns. In the last few years, many research studies have established how higher arsenic exposure can lead to pathological conditions like : cardiovascular diseases, peripheral vascular diseases, diabetes, hearing problems, blood abnormalities (anaemia, leukopenia, and eosinophilia) and cancer.
Other heavy metals present in turmeric are copper, zinc, tin, cadmium and mercury. Each of these metals plays an important physiological role in the functioning and metabolism of the human body. But increased industrial usage of heavy metals has resulted in higher proportions of these heavy metals entering the body, causing a higher degree of toxicity and increasing concerns over public health. Higher exposure to these heavy metals can lead to a general and long-term deterioration in health ranging from cardiovascular diseases to neurological and neurobehavioral disorders, blood abnormalities and in extreme cases, also leading to cancer.
Make the Right Choice
As the food chain becomes more global, countering and safeguarding contamination and adulteration is becoming more stringent and strict. Food that is grown naturally and organically, and then processed using traditional and chemical-free processes, are the best options. An increasing number of responsible companies and brands are now declaring sources, ingredients, metal contents, and nutritional information on pack labels, ensuring customers have the necessary information. These companies have totally changed their procurement and buying policies over the last few years.
Today, every responsible brand procures their ingredients only from proven, traceable and responsible growers who follow strict guidelines and stringent certification criteria. These companies and brands also work in a long-term partnership with growers at source, enabling them adopt better agronomical practices that lead to quality produce.
For consumers, one of the most effective ways to counter this menace of adulterated and contaminated products is to buy only certified, organically grown and naturally processed turmeric. Responsible brands are highly selective and careful during their sourcing, ensuring they only buy from certified and proven growers and manufacturers. Whilst buying a variety of turmeric products like turmeric teas, turmeric latte mixes etc., checking the packaging label is always a good idea, as reputed and responsible brands will always be upfront about declaring certifications, sources and other details like date of production, date of manufacture and process of manufacture. This information is generally sufficient to ensure you buy your turmeric, or any other spice, that is fresh, that is grown organically and naturally, processed ethically and packaged perfectly.
Turmeric is a wonderful spice and herb. Make the right choice and buy contamination-free, organic and certified turmeric and turmeric products from reputed and recognized brands, and enjoy its timeless health and immunity benefits.
About the Author :
ketan desai | chief educator | firstname.lastname@example.org
Ketan Desai is the Chief Educator at VAHDAM Teas. After a brief stint with the family tea business, Ketan went on to work with some of the top tea planters, tasters, blenders and marketers across India, Sri Lanka, Russia and the CIS countries, the UK, Bangladesh, Indonesia and Africa.
A seasoned tea-taster and blender, and a passionate raconteur, Ketan conducts tea workshops and events, regaling participants with amusing stories while explaining the finer nuances of tea during live tasting sessions.
At VAHDAM Teas, Ketan spearheads tea, content and community initiatives. He leads TEAch Me, VAHDAM’s social initiative focused on education of children at tea estates.
Ketan's favourite tea is Darjeeling First Flush, which he prefers to have without milk or sugar. He can be contacted at @ketdes on twitter or at email@example.com
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