What is White Turmeric (Zedoary)?

White turmeric, or zedoary is an ancient spice, a close relative to regular turmeric and native to India and Indonesia. The Arabs introduced it to Europe in the sixth century, where it enjoyed great popularity in the middle ages. Today it is extremely rare in the West, having been replaced by ginger. It is a substitute for arrowroot and used in Indian perfumes and in festive rituals.

Description of Zedoary

Zedoary root is actually a rhizome with a thin brown skin and a bright orange, hard interior. It’s smell is similar to turmeric and mango. Because of the mango-like fragrance, zedoary is called amb halad in many Indian languages (amb means mango). It is sold as a powder (kentjur in Chinese shops), or dried and sliced with a gray surface with a yellow to gray-white interior.

There are two types of white turmeric sold in Indian markets – Curcuma zedoaria or ‘round’ which is small and fat like ginger, and Curcuma zerumbet, or ‘long’ which is long and slender like turmeric.

Bouquet: musky a gingerlike with camphorous undertones
Flavour: warm and ginger-like, slightly camphorous, with a bitter aftertaste.
Hotness Scale: 4

Preparation and Storage

Dried zedoary is ground to a powder in a pestle and mortar. Store in airtight containers..

Cooking with White Turmeric

In the Indian kitchen zedoary root is usually used fresh or pickled. It is used as a dried spice more in Indonesia where it is often used as an ingredient in curry powder, especially for seafood dishes. It may be pounded with turmeric or ginger to make a spice paste for lamb or chicken curries.

Health Benefits of White Turmeric

Zedoary is valued for its ability to purify the blood. It is an antiseptic and a paste applied locally to cuts and wounds helps healing. It is used as an aid to digestion and to relieve flatulence and colic. The starch, shoti, is easily digested and nutritious so is widely used as part of an Eastern regimen for the sick or for the very young.

It is an antioxidant and is said to help sexual problems in both men and women. It is said to strengthen the uterus muscles and so help in childbirth and to cure male erectile dysfunctions, as well as being an aphrodisiac. White turmeric is also used to stop diseases recurring (it’s an anti-periodic), and to treat colds, flatulence, digestive disorders, ulcers, gastro-intestinal problems, and the tisane will prevent indigestion if taken 30 minutes before a meal.

It has also been used to clean and purify the blood and detoxifies the body. Zedoary helps in cell regeneration and is good for the immune system. It regulates body temperature and is used in cases of fever.

How to make a Zedoary Infusion

Add one tablespoon of finely chopped root to one pint of boiling water. You should leave the root to steep for half an hour before straining and drinking. It should be drunk half an hour before eating to benefit the digestive system and to make it more efficacious in other treatments. You can drink one cup before meals two to three times a day.

Plant Description and Cultivation

White turmeric, or zedoary, grows in tropical and subtropical wet forest regions. It is a rhizome, or underground stem, like turmeric and ginger. The rhizome is large and tuberous with many branches. The leaf shoots are long and fragrant, reaching 1m (3ft) in height. The plant bears yellow flowers with red and green bracts. Pieces of the rhizome are planted, taking two years to mature before it can be harvested.

Other Names

wild turmeric

French: zedoaire
German: Zitwer
Italian: zedoaria
Spanish: cedoaria
Indian: amb halad, garndhmul, kachur
Indonesian: kentjur

Scientific Name

Curcuma zedoaria Curcuma zerumbet
Fam Zingiberaceae

Photo by David J. Stang / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/4.0)