A spice for innovation

Rokiah Mahmud

Turmeric is a spice used in Southeast Asian cuisines, enhancing the aroma of a dish while possessing a distinctive bright yellowish-orange colour. Not only is it a common cooking ingredient, but it also has health benefits, making it popular in Asia for alternative treatment.

Haji Zupri bin Haji Kamis is the owner of Perusahaan Celapa. He has a different take on the properties in turmeric, especially rhizome.

Haji Zupri conducted his own research on turmeric, from the roots to the leaves and stems of the plants.

Rhizome is the main stem of the plant that runs underground. It is a family of spice ingredients found in turmeric, ginger, galangal and lotus.

For Haji Zupri, the focus of his research lies in the extraction of curcumin.

“Curcumin is an active chemical in turmeric that produces the yellow colour,” he said. “Based on research, curcumin has the potential of reducing inflammation, relieving stress, lowering cholesterol readings, osteoarthritis and more yet to be discovered.”

An alternative method of planting turmeric. PHOTOS: ROKIAH MAHMUD
Haji Zupri bin Haji Kamis at his turmeric farm

Haji Zupri went through trials and errors when planting turmeric saplings. Limitations in terms of land space and weather factors as well as maintaining and looking after the plants were a lot of work as the plants take months to grow. Despite the difficulties, Haji Zupri proceeded with several methods to find the best way to grow turmeric for its rhizome.

At first, he used the traditional way of planting turmeric and waited over two months for the saplings to grow. Haji Zupri then tried to plant the turmeric saplings in a specially -made tray.

“I started with planting ginger and papaya under the same methods but shifted my focus to turmeric for the curcumin extract. It is valuable not only for our diet but as alternative medicine,” he said.

He said in producing the saplings, it took about one week for the rhizome to grow before the seedlings are replanted in a larger area on an agricultural land at the Mulaut Agricultural Development Area.

“Having fertile land is not enough if you do not have high quality seedlings. It is also not good enough if you do not have a good method for seedling systems.”

For the nursery process, Haji Zupri used cocopeat, which contains burnt coconut and rice dust. During this period, intensive care is needed to avoid it from drying up and ensure that it is moist most of the time so the rhizome can grow healthily.

Once the turmeric rhizome produces saplings, it is transferred to the agricultural land. It has an estimated capacity to produce some 10,000 turmeric plants.

Not only is the rhizome valuable, but the leaves and flowers are as well, he said.

Dried turmeric contains only two per cent of circumin, but the leaves and flowers emanate a unique aroma. Apart from being used as a spice, the flowers are usually made into sambal or eaten raw. As a matter of fact, turmeric leaves are commonly used in Malay cuisine to enhance a dish’s flavour.

Haji Zupri also came up with another product – turmeric essence. The process of extracting the essence is not an easy task. It takes almost a day from the initial process to yield the final product.

As he is also busy with his daily routine, Haji Zupri only produces turmeric essence twice a week.

Fresh turmeric is crushed, and then goes through a distillation process. The final product, despite producing yellow colour, turns white like coconut water and has a coat of oil on the surface.

“Learning this process requires several references such as those who have expertise in this field, videos online and reading materials,” he said.

“I hope that one day my research will be used as reference and that mass production of turmeric can be realised in the country. Not only for cooking spices, but also for its health benefits.”