Turmeric is a spice used in cooking, as well as for medicine and as a dye for food and fabric. It imparts a subtle flavor and brilliant yellow color. Therapeutically, turmeric is known as a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, helpful in the treatment of skin diseases, digestive problems, bacterial and viral infections, wounds, and many other uses.
What is it related to? Turmeric is the rhizome (a stem that grows underground) of a plant (Curcuma longa L.) in the Ginger family, Zingiberaceae. It is related to gingerroot and arrowroot. Turmeric has been in use for thousands of years and has also been called “golden spice” and “Indian saffron”.
When is it available? Ground turmeric is available year-round. However the fresh root is also available in specialty grocery stores. In the tropics where it grows, turmeric is planted in spring and harvested after 7 to 10 months. The peak season for harvest is December through March.
What does it look like? Fresh turmeric roots are small, knobby roots about the size of your finger with brownish skin and pale to deep-orange flesh. When boiled, dried, and ground, the powder turns a deep yellow.
What does it taste like? Turmeric adds a slightly bittersweet, astringent flavor to foods. The active ingredient is curcumin, which is unrelated to cumin seed.
What’s the best way to store it? Place ground turmeric in an airtight container and store in a cool, dark, dry place. Store fresh turmeric root in the refrigerator, wrapped in plastic or sealed in a glass jar up to several days; freeze for longer storage.
How is it used in food? Turmeric powder is widely used to color and flavor mustard, relish, chutney, and pickles. It is a component of curry spice mixtures and commonly used in Indian and Indonesian cooking, where it originated. Turmeric enhances the flavor of many foods, including meats, poultry, seafood, eggs, potatoes, rice, lentils, and vegetables.
What are some substitutes for it? For yellow color, you can substitute annatto seeds, marigold blossoms, saffron (which is much more expensive), curry powder, or mustard powder. However, there is no substitute for the flavor of turmeric and each of these substitutes carry their own distinct flavor.
Recipes to get you started
- Rock’s T-Bone Steaks from allrecipes.com
- South African Curry Meat Loaf (Bobotie) from Saveur
- Indian Tomato Chicken from allrecipes.com
- Chicken and Onion Tagine (Djej Besla ) from Saveur
- Grilled Turmeric and Lemongrass Chicken Wings from bon appétit
- Salmon with Gingery Vegetables and Turmeric from Food & Wine
- Grilled Shrimp with Fiery Lemongrass-Chile Sambal from bon appétit
- Spicy Indian-Style Scrambled Eggs from Food & Wine
- Curried Potatoes with Cauliflower and Peas from vegetarian times
- Ethiopian Cabbage Dish from allrecipes.com
- Basmati Rice & Curry Casserole from EatingWell
- Red Lentil Curry from allrecipes.com
- Indian Mango Dal from EatingWell
- Oven Roasted Cauliflower with Turmeric and Ginger from Food Network
- Nutty Sweet Potato Soup with Harissa and Spinach from vegetarian times
- Bread and butter pickles from Examiner
- Healthy turmeric tea from Dr. Weil
- Semolina Turmeric Cake (Sfoof) from allrecipes.com
Use these links to tested recipes for entrées to desserts. Each of these popular recipes features turmeric powder as an ingredient.