Native to both India and China turmeric is also known as "Indian saffron". This underground stem or root of the Chinese Curcuma longa is the commercial variety of turmeric plant that is used for dyeing, the coloring matter being curcumin. It is one of the few natural dyes that is used as a direct dye, that is, requiring no mordant to give it a reasonable degree of fastness to the textile. The dried rhizomes, about 1 inch or longer and lk inch in diameter are very hard and have an external yellowish-grey color. For dyeing purposes the rhizomes are simply ground to a fine powder. The fine dust that was prevalent during this operation gave the workers a strong yellow complexion and is still used as a skin dye during festivals and celebrations.
Since the introduction of synthetic direct yellow dyes turmeric is much less used, being much more sensitive to acids and alkalis and having a lower degree of fastness to light. Other varieties of
Curcuma that are grown in southern Asia are more suited to the important uses of food coloring or condiments, the color yield of these varieties being less.
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