Ideal ingredient calling card: Curcumin

Ideal ingredient calling card: Curcumin

What it is

  • Curcumin occurs naturally in the rhizome of turmeric (Curcuma longa), a member of the ginger family
  • Turmeric—the popular 'golden spice' of India—is extracted to yield curcuminoids
  • Curcumin (95 percent extract) is a commercial mixture of curcumin (72–78 percent), bis-demethoxy curcumin (4–7 percent), and de-methoxy curcumin (13–17 percent); 3 peaks in HPLC analyses establish purity and lack of adulteration with synthetics
  • Synthetic curcumin (99.9 percent) is a recent introduction made from fossil fuel. It lacks record of long-term safe use and evidence of being as good as natural curcumin

Where it's found

  • Turmeric was cultivated by the Harappan civilization in 3000 B.C.E. in the Indus valley
  • About 95 percent of the world's turmeric is grown and processed in southern India
  • Leading brands: Sabinsa—Curcumin C3 Complex, Kancor (OmniActives)—Curcumax; Indena—Meriva

Food or medicine?

  • Fresh and ground turmeric have been used as a spice in India to flavor and color foods naturally
  • Turmeric has GRAS status in the US, classified as a food additive in Europe
  • Historically used as a component of Indian Ayurvedic medicines
  • Not regarded as medicine; Classification requires a delivery system for effective bioavailability

Manufacturing pluses (+) & minuses (–)

Tendency to stain is a deterrent
+ Used in high added-value foods, nutraceuticals, cosmetics and cosmeceutical finished products
+ As a spice for flavor in foods including packaged curries, foods and savory products
+ As a color in dairy drinks, confectionery, snacks, and condiments including prepared yellow mustard

Market drivers

  • Growing demand for anti-inflammatory nutraceuticals and faith in curcumin's healing powers
  • Curcumin has gained popularity for it has no undesirable side effects
  • Emerging scientific evidence for its disease prevention and osteoarthritis/joint pain relief benefits

Physiological effects

  • Strong evidence: Antiamyloid, antiarthritic, anti-inflammatory, anti-ischemic, antioxidant, and antitumor properties
  • Curcumin acts as a free radical scavenger, inhibits lipid peroxidation and oxidative DNA damage
  • Safe at large doses (~12 g/day); curcumin is glucuronidated or sulfated and excreted within hours
  • White curcumin is a hydrogenated form—Tetrahydrocurcuminoids—with antioxidant properties

Surprising fact: Turmeric can be a great litmus test for pH: it turns red in alkaline pH and is yellow in acidic pH.

Resource: Turmeric (Curcuma longa): An Evidence-Based Systematic Review by the National Standard Research Collaboration. Alternative and Complementary Therapies. 17:4: 225-236, 2011

Kantha Shelke, PhD, is a principal at Corvus Blue LLC, a Chicago-based food science and nutrition firm that specializes in competitive intelligence and expert witness services. Contact her at [email protected] or 312-951-5810.

Hide comments


  • Allowed HTML tags: <em> <strong> <blockquote> <br> <p>

Plain text

  • No HTML tags allowed.
  • Web page addresses and e-mail addresses turn into links automatically.
  • Lines and paragraphs break automatically.