Turmeric, Curcuma longa, is a member of the Zingiberaceae family or ginger family and is closely related to cardamom, ginger and grains of paradise. It is pronounced as either “too-mer-ick” or “tur-mer-ick.” Tumeric is the frequent misspelling of turmeric that you may have encountered. It is native to tropical South Asia and is a key spice in numerous Asian dishes.
It contains three key components: essential oil (1.5% to 6%), coloring compounds known as curcuminoids (3% to 8%) and starch. The essential oil is primarily turmerone (30%), duhydrotumerone (25%) and zingiberene (25%) and is very aromatic.
Turmeric is called Kurkum (Arabic), yu-chin (Mandarin), Curcuma or Safran des Indes (French), Indischer Safran or Gelbwurz (German), Haldi (Hindi), Ukon (Japanese), Açafrão da Índia or Curcuma (Portuguese), zholtyj imbir (Russian) and Cu’rcuma (Spanish). It may also be referred to as Indian saffron, curcumin turmeric or yellow ginger.
Cooking with Turmeric
It is a central ingredient in Masalas, Ras el Hanout, curry powders and pastes. In India, it helps in digesting the complex carbohydrates found in most dishes. In Indian and southeast Asian cooking Turmeric is an important seasoning used to add flavor and color to curries of all kinds but especially vegetable curries, desserts, fried fish, lentils, pickles, rice, soup and vegetables like cauliflower and potatoes.
In Indonesian, Malaysian and Thai cooking, it is added to yellow and red curries, laksa (a spicy noodle soup), stews, yellow rice (nasi kuning) and vegetable-based dishes.
Many Persian dishes use it as a starter ingredient and when combined with dried limes is used to flavor a Middle Eastern stew of meat, lentils, onions and tomatoes that is served over rice. In Lebanon it is used to color Sfouf cake. In South Africa, it gives boiled white rice a rich, golden color.
In the US, it’s often used commercially in baked goods, biscuits, canned beverages, cake icings, cereals, dairy products, ice cream, mustard, orange juice, sauces, yellow cakes and yogurt. Use it with beans, chicken, eggs, fish, meat, rice and spinach.
Turmeric works well in combination with other herbs and spices like bay leaves, cilantro, clove, coconut, coriander, cumin, curry leaves, dill, fennel seed, galangal, ginger, lemongrass, mustard seeds, nutmeg, paprika and pepper.
Some of our favorite recipes with it include Vegetable Jalfrezi, Moroccan Soup, Amritsari Chole, Golden Milk and Rajma.
Turmeric has one huge enemy and that is white clothing. We suggest wearing something yellow or something you don’t particularly care about ruining when cooking with this spice. Turmeric tends to find its way all over your clothing even if you are as careful as can be! It’s a powdery spice, so it poofs up in the air and you end up with a yellow turmeric mustache or a random yellow streak on your cheek, even if you haven’t touched your face at all.