Tumeric is a yellow/orange spice. It is what makes your mustard yellow. It is often used with meat in persian cooking, and possibly other styles. It makes up only a small yet distinct portion of the flavor of mustard.

It goes great in a simple beef stew. Even adds a nice flavor to some ground beef then made into a thick hamburger.

A rhizome Curcum longa, belonging to the Zingiberaceae family, along with ginger, galangal and krachai. The plant has large leaves that are used to flavour some Indian and Malaysian dishes, and strikingly elongated purple/pink flowers. It is below ground however, where most of the action is.

The rhizome has a dull brown skin, with regular segmented rings along its length. Roughly the same size as an adult human finger. It bears a passing resemblance to a small knob of ginger. Once cut however, there is little doubt this is a totally different spice. The interior of the rhizome is a brilliant neon orange. Beware not to get too much on your fingers, I have scrubbed for days and still owned a pair of Oompa Loompa hands.

India is the major producer of the spice, growing around 180 000 tonnes annually, of which nearly 90 % is used domestically. It is possible to buy fresh turmeric in India and South East Asia (as well as Asian markets abroad), but it is mostly found in its powdered form. Almost all commercial curry powders contain some turmeric. To powder turmeric, it must be first cured. This involves boiling the fresh rhizome for half an hour, then drying in the sun for 2 weeks, until it is dry and brittle.

On the culinary front, apart from the aforementioned curry powders, turmeric is often used in rice dishes, especially festively vibrant yellow pilaus. Although the fresh spice is orange, once cooked it imparts a bright yellow colour. This is one reason not to substitute turmeric for saffron, cooked saffron is deep orange in colour and they have totally different tastes. The flavour of turmeric is fairly earthy and mellow, diminishing the longer the spice is cooked.

There is a related white turmeric C. zeodaria, known as zeodary, or zedoary that is used mainly in Thailand. It has a similar external appearance, but is a much paler yellow/white inside. It is also treated in a completely different manner, Thai cooks generally chop fresh zeodary and add it to nam prik (relishes) or salads.

As you would expect, possessing such a vivid colour, turmeric has been used for centuries as a dye. Most famously for Indian silk, but also for colouring paints and varnishes.

Turmeric is one of the spices most strongly associated with Indian cooking - in fact, I have the impression that Indian restaurants outside of India tend to add it to almost everything partly to make sure that people know they are eating Indian food. It is added to curry in other parts of the world as well - in many places a curry just isn't a curry without it, although the Thais would disagree.

Turmeric has a mild, earthy flavour and an intense yellow colour, with the power to stain almost anything. Usually it comes off eventually if you scrub it with a mix of lemon juice and soap, and keep scrubbing for a really long time. The same component that imparts the colour, curcumin, is also chiefly responsible for the wide range of health benefits credited to the spice - it is a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory agent, and there is fairly strong evidence that it can help to prevent cancer and mitigate the effects of Alzheimer's Disease. Its bio-availability is not high, but it is enough to show some definite affects from oral supplementation. Research is ongoing.

A rhizome from the same family as ginger, fresh turmeric is much the same shape, and has a similar warm spiciness to it along with a rich flavour with subtle floral notes to it. It makes a delicious infusion, rather like an earthier version of ginger tea; my best results involved blending it with white tea and some other ingredients, and I have recorded a recipe under that heading. Unfortunately, I have very rarely found fresh turmeric for sale in Britain - it is much more commonly dried and ground into a fine powder. In this form, it is best to make sure it is well-cooked, either by boiling or frying - the dried form of turmeric has a bit too much of that earthy flavour when it is raw, and is a little on the bitter side. It also loses almost all of its gingery character when dried. I had turmeric once that had been dried but not ground, which I found was rock hard and almost impossible to do anything with.

Besides its ubiquitous use in curries, turmeric also makes an excellent addition to many rice dishes, especially fried rice, and to pakoras, onion bhajis and other kinds of fritter.

Curcumin is a pH indicator - it turns pale yellow when you add acid, and deep orange or even red if you mix it with an alkali. This makes turmeric a more versatile dye than it would otherwise be. It also means that if you make pakoras with too much baking soda and no acid to set it off, their vivid red colour should tell you that you have completely ruined them.

Some information is from Gernot Katzer's Spice Pages, almost certainly the internet's best source of general information on spices. Here is a BBC report on research into turmeric's health benefits. Here is more from the Huffington Post.

Tur"mer*ic (?), n. [F. terre-m'erite, NL. terramerita, turmerica; apparently meaning, excellent earth, but perhaps a corruption of Ar. kurkum. Cf. Curcuma.]

1. Bot.

An East Indian plant of the genus Curcuma, of the Ginger family.


The root or rootstock of the Curcuma longa. It is externally grayish, but internally of a deep, lively yellow or saffron color, and has a slight aromatic smell, and a bitterish, slightly acrid taste. It is used for a dye, a medicine, a condiment, and a chemical test.


© Webster 1913.

Tur"mer*ic, a. Chem.

Of or pertaining to turmeric; resembling, or obtained from, turmeric; specif., designating an acid obtained by the oxidation of turmerol.

Turmeric paper Chem., paper impregnated with turmeric and used as a test for alkaline substances, by which it is changed from yellow to brown. -- Turmeric root. Bot. (a) Bloodroot. (b) Orangeroot.


© Webster 1913.

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