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Biang turmeric is a medium to large varietal, generally larger than common commercial turmeric, and has an oval, round, to irregular appearance with curved edges. The plump rhizomes are covered in tough, textured, rough, and flaky brown skin with many crevices, nodes, and bumps. The surface also showcases faint dark brown to black grooves and rings, and depending on cultivation and growing environment, the skin may have stringy hairs extending out, giving the rhizome a prickly appearance. Many of these fibrous hairs are removed before sale in markets. Underneath the skin, the flesh is dense, firm, aqueous, and crisp with a fibrous consistency. The flesh also bears a dark orange hue with tinges of red. Biang turmeric releases a fresh and pungent aroma filled with spice, wood, and earth notes. The flesh can be consumed raw or cooked and has a musky, peppery, earthy, subtly bitter taste.
Biang turmeric is available year-round.
Biang turmeric, botanically classified as Curcuma longa, is a rare Asian variety belonging to the Zingiberaceae family. The name Biang roughly translates from Indonesian to mean “prickly” and was given to the turmeric for its rough exterior. Biang turmeric is not commonly found worldwide and is a sub-species of common turmeric primarily localized to Southeast Asia. It is said that Biang turmeric is similar to common turmeric, but the variety has a larger size, rounder shape, and a slightly higher nutritional content. Biang turmeric, like other types of turmeric, is found in the wild in Southeast Asia and is grown in home gardens as a culinary and medicinal ingredient. While the variety is not commercially produced on a large scale, the rhizomes are sold in small quantities in wet markets and are utilized in raw or cooked culinary preparations. They are also incorporated fresh or dried and ground into a powder in cosmetic and medicinal remedies.
Biang turmeric is a source of vitamin C to strengthen the immune system, calcium to build bones and teeth, and magnesium to control nerve functions. The variety also provides potassium to balance fluid levels within the body, iron to develop the protein hemoglobin for oxygen transport through the bloodstream, antioxidants to protect the cells against the damage caused by free radicals, and other nutrients, including phosphorus, fiber, vitamin B6, manganese, riboflavin, and niacin. Turmeric notably contains curcumin, a natural substance that offers anti-inflammatory properties. In Indonesia and Malaysia, Biang turmeric is utilized as a topical ingredient in face masks and exfoliators. The variety is thought to help improve pigmentation and remove dead skin cells for a clearer skin tone.
Biang turmeric has a pungent, earthy, and musky taste suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The variety is primarily utilized as a medicinal ingredient in Southeast Asia, but it is also used on a small scale in culinary dishes. Biang turmeric can be used in any recipe calling for standard turmeric. The rhizome can be sliced fresh and infused into pickled condiments, blended into a paste for sauces and dressings, or incorporated into spreads for toast. The rhizomes can also be pureed into tonics, tea, and smoothies. In addition to fresh uses, Biang turmeric is often used to color and flavor rice, added to curries, soups, and stews, or cooked with roasted meats. In Indonesia, turmeric can be added to rendang, a rice and braised meat dish. It can also be found in nasi kunyit, a fragrant coconut and turmeric rice dish. Biang turmeric is versatile in cooked dishes and is often dried and ground into a powder as a spice. The powder can be sprinkled into sauces, scattered over roasted vegetables, mixed into skillet dishes, or combined with egg dishes. Biang turmeric pairs well with meats such as poultry, beef, and turkey, seafood, honey, fruits including mangoes, pineapples, citrus, and oranges, carrots, cauliflower, and green beans. Whole, unwashed Biang turmeric will keep for several weeks when stored in a dry container with ample air circulation in the refrigerator’s crisper drawer. Turmeric can also be frozen or dried for extended use.
May 27th was declared Jamu Day in Indonesia in 2008. Jamu, also known as djamoe, is a descriptor derived from the words “djampi” and “oesodo,” meaning “prayer or medicine” and “health.” Jamu is a traditional form of medicine in Indonesia that incorporates natural elements from nature to create nutrient-rich tonics, powdered medicines, and remedies. Jamu has been practiced for thousands of years and is still an important element of health in Indonesia in the modern day, but it is fading over time due to the influx of Western medicine. Former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudoyono decided to declare May 27th as Jamu Day in 2008 in an effort to promote and preserve the country’s herbal medicine. Biang turmeric is traditionally utilized in Jamu as a remedy for upset stomachs and excess stomach acid. The rhizomes are typically pressed and made into a drink, occasionally sweetened with honey, and are consumed in a water-based drink to reduce heartburn, improve mood, and lower inflammation in the digestive tract.
Turmeric is thought to be native to India and has been growing wild since ancient times. There are some discrepancies among researchers as to whether turmeric was also native to other regions of Southeast Asia, but in general, turmeric has been known and documented in medicinal, cultural, and culinary preparations in India for thousands of years. Historians believe turmeric could date back to 4,000 BCE in India, and the rhizomes were recorded from 1700 BCE to 800 BCE in northwestern India as a clothing dye and spice. Turmeric spread to other regions of Southeast Asia during this time, including Indonesia, and was quickly naturalized, becoming an integral element in Indonesian medicinal and culinary practices. The origins of Biang turmeric are unknown. Turmeric is often accepted as a native plant in Indonesia, and many sub-species and varieties have been developed over time. Today, Biang turmeric is a somewhat rare type, only grown in small quantities throughout Southeast Asia. The variety is primarily used for medicinal use and sold through wet markets.