What is Turmeric?
Turmeric is an ancient spice, a native of South East Asia, used from antiquity as dye and a condiment. It is cultivated primarily in Bengal, China, Taiwan, Sri Lanka, Java. Peru. Australia and the West Indies. It is still used in rituals of the Hindu religion, and as a dye for holy robes, being natural, unsynthesized and cheap. Turmeric is in fact one of the cheapest spices. Although as a dye it is used similarly to saffron, the culinary uses of the two spices should not be confused and should never replace saffron in food dishes. Its use dates back nearly 4000 years, to the Vedic culture in India where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. The name derives from the Latin terra merita “meritorious earth” referring to the colour of ground turmeric which resembles a mineral pigment. In many languages turmeric is simply named as “yellow root”.
Turmeric is the rhizome or underground stem of a ginger-like plant. It is usually available ground, as a bright yellow, fine powder. The whole turmeric is a tuberous rhizome, with a rough, segmented skin. The rhizome is yellowish-brown with a dull orange interior that looks bright yellow when powdered. The main rhizome measures 2.5 – 7 cm (1” – 3 “) in length with a diameter of 2.5 cm (1”), with smaller tubers branching off.
Bouquet: Earthy and slightly acrid.
Flavour: Warm and aromatic with a bitter undertone.
Hotness Scale: 3
Preparation and Storage
Turmeric is always used in ground form. The powder will maintain its colouring properties indefinitely though the flavour will diminish over time so buy in moderation. Store in airtight containers, out of sunlight.
Cooking with Turmeric
Turmeric is used extensively in the East and Middle East as a condiment and culinary dye. In India it is used to tint many sweet dishes. Apart from its wide use in Moroccan cuisine to spice meat, particularly lamb, and vegetables, its principal place is in curries and curry powders. It is used in many fish curries, possibly because it successfully masks fishy odours. When used in curry powders, it is usually one of the main ingredients, providing the associated yellow colour.
When looking for a substitute for turmeric, keep in mind that it has a mild flavor and thus you may leave it out of some recipes altogether without ruining the flavor of the dish. Saffron is a possible substitute for turmeric. It has an earthy aroma and a much stronger taste than turmeric, so use only a small amount as a substitute. You can also use mustard powder with pinch of saffron.
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Turmeric is a mild digestive, being aromatic, a stimulant and a carminative. An ointment base on the spice is used as an antiseptic in Malaysia. Turmeric water is an Asian cosmetic applied to impart a golden glow to the complexion. Curcumin has been shown to be active against Staphlococcus aureus (pus-producing infections).
For more info on turmeric as an anti-inflammatory herb have a look at Prof. Kevin Curran’s site Ethnoherbalist.
Plant Description and Cultivation
A tropical perennial related to ginger (of the Zingiberaceae family) It grows to 60 – 100 cm (2-3 1/2 feet). It has long stemmed, bright green lily-like leaves which surround conical clusters of pale yellow flowers. Turmeric thrives in the tropics and sub tropics where it requires a hot, moist climate and a fairly light soil. It is propagated through division of the rhizome. The roots are boiled, dried for over a week and their rough skins are often polished before sale.
Indian Saffron, Tumeric, Yellow Ginger French: curcuma, saffron des Indes German: Gelbwurz Italian; curcuma Spanish: curcuma Arabic: kharkoum Burmese: fa nwin Chinese: wong geung fun Indian: haldee, haldi, huldee, huldie Indonesian: kunjit, kunyit Malay: kunjit Sinhalese: kaha Tamil: munjal Thai: kamin
Curcuma domestica syn: Curcuma long Fam: Zingiberaceae