A member of the ginger family, turmeric is a robust perennial, native to southern Asia and appreciated there since antiquity as a flavoring, a dye, and a medicine. It is one of the least expensive spices, yet throughout the region it’s valued on ritual and ceremonial occasions, whether to color rice for an Indonesian wedding or to dye the skin of cows.
India is the main producer of turmeric and more than 90% of the crop is used domestically. Other producers include China, Haiti, Indonesia, Jamaica, Malaysia, Pakistan, Peru, Sri Lanka, and Vietnam.
About Taste: Fresh turmeric is crunchy, has gingery, citrus aromas, and an agreeably earthy taste with citrus overtones. Dried turmeric has a complex, rich, woody aroma with floral, citrus, and ginger notes. The taste is slightly bitter and sour, moderately pungent, warm, and musky.
Parts Used: Fresh and dried rhizomes.
Buying & Preserving: Fresh turmeric is available from Asian markets. Store it in a cool, dry place or in the fridge vegetable crisper for up to 2 weeks; it also freezes well. Dried turmeric keeps for two years or more in an airtight container. Alleppey and Madras are one of the best Indian grades of ground turmeric. Alleppey has the higher percentage of essential oil and curcumin (yellow coloring matter), giving it a darker colour and more intense flavor. Stored in an airtight container, it retains its flavor for up to a year.
Harvesting: Rhizomes are lifted and sold fresh, or boiled to stop further maturation and then sun-dried for 10–15 days. When dry and hard, turmeric is polished, graded, and often ground. It loses 3/4 of its weight during processing.
Turmeric binds and harmonizes the other spices with which it appears in many combinations. Use it sparingly. Fresh turmeric is used throughout Southeast Asia in spice pastes made with lemongrass, galangal, garlic, shallots, tamarind, chili peppers, and sometimes dried shrimp paste and candlenuts. Chopped or grated, it goes into laksas, stews, and vegetable dishes. Juice extracted from crushed turmeric flavors and colors rice dishes for festive meals in Indonesia and Malaysia. The fragrant leaves are used to wrap foods in Malaysia, and the shoots are eaten as a vegetable in Thailand. In India and the West Indies, dried, ground turmeric mixed with different spices is the basis of masalas, curry powders, and pastes. It imparts a warm flavor and yellow-orange colour to many regional vegetable, bean, and lentil dishes. It occurs in North African tagines and stews, most notably in the Moroccan spice blend ras el hanout, and in harira, the national soup. In Iran, turmeric and dried limes flavor gheimeh, a rich stew-sauce that’s spooned over rice. In the West, turmeric is used as a colorant for cheese, margarine, and some mustards. It is widely utilized in pickles and relishes of both eastern and western manufacture.
Whole fresh rhizome: Fresh turmeric should be firm and plump. The rhizomes are used sliced, chopped, or grated.
Sliced fresh rhizome: Add pared, sliced turmeric to pickles and relishes; it has a beautiful colour and taste, and is also a preservative.
Grated dried rhizome: Turmeric stains fingers, utensils, and clothes, so be careful when using it.
Whole dried rhizome: Dried rhizomes look like tough, yellow wood; they’re virtually impossible to grind at home, but can be grated.
Good with beans, eggplant, eggs, fish, lentils, meat, poultry, rice, root vegetables, spinach. Combines well with chili, coconut milk, cloves, cilantro, coriander, galangal, cumin, garlic, curry leaf, fennel, ginger, mustard seeds, kaffir lime leaves, lemongrass, pepper, paprika, rau ram. Essential to masalas, curry powders and pastes, ras el hanout.