Test your turmeric

Haldi is as commonly used as salt in Indian households yet the yellow powder you get in the market can be adulterated, says Pushpa Girimaji

TO Indians who swear by ‘haldi’, the recent research findings from Britain on the possible role of turmeric in preventing blood cancer should not come as a surprise. Indians, of course, have been using the wonder spice for thousands of years in food for its flavour and colour besides its medicinal properties. No Indian cooking is complete without haldi.

This is where the problem lies. Once upon a time, the Indian households grew the plant — curcuma longa, dried the root and powdered the pure spice. But today, most households buy the readymade powder and in the absence of stringent enforcement of the Prevention of Food Adulteration Act, one is not sure of the quality of the spice one gets.

As part of its surveillance of food contaminants in India, the Indian Council of Medical Research had tested for heavy metals, 249 samples of turmeric collected from rural and urban markets in 1993, 47.8 per cent of the samples showed the presence of arsenic, 55.8 per cent had cadmium and 99.6 per cent was contaminated with lead.

In six turmeric samples, the lead level exceeded the maximum limit imposed in the Act. Continued exposure to lead either through ingestion or inhalation results in its gradual accumulation in the body. Symptoms of lead poisoning include loss of appetite, weakness, anaemia, abdominal cramps, lethargy, headache and irritability. In severe cases it can lead to seizures, coma and even death. Children are particularly susceptible to lead poisoning.

Heavy metals are known to cause kidney damage, cardiovascular diseases, anaemia, neurological and behavioural disorders, besides irreversible changes in brain and nerve cells. Of course, the ultimate toxicity depends on the quantum and the chemical form of the metal itself, besides factors such as the age and the physiological status of the person consuming it.

Besides heavy metals, the turmeric that you get in the market could also be adulterated with toxic colours such as lead chromate or metanil yellow-both banned under the PFA Act. Or it could be ground from poor quality, insect-infested turmeric.

So if you want to reap the benefits of haldi in your diet, make sure that what you are using is pure and uncontaminated. Demand better enforcement from the department of PFA and buy haldi sold only in packages and preferably, from trusted sources or brands. Also check the ‘best before’ date.