With its sunny color, distinctive fragrance and warm flavor, turmeric has long been one of the world’s most versatile and popular spices. It’s an essential element in curries and Middle Eastern spice blends such as ras el hanout, and lends its golden color to many other dishes. Let’s get to know this colorful rhizome a little better, and look at the best ways to cook with turmeric to release its fine flavor and long-documented nutritional benefits.
In the bazaars of the Middle East, India and other south Asian countries, amid the vast array of clove buds, coriander seeds, cinnamon bark and peppercorns — and all the other spices the world has come to love — you will see heaps of turmeric powder looking like a mountain range of gold.
A perennial relative of the ginger family, turmeric comes from the root of the Curcuma longa plant. The rhizome has a tough brown skin and deep, orange-red flesh which, dried and ground, yields the turmeric powder found in most spice cabinets. In southern Asia, where the plant is grown, fresh turmeric leaves are also used to wrap food for cooking.
For thousands of years, the turmeric rhizome has been used as a remedy for cuts, concussions, aches and pains and other ailments. Modern medical researchers have been studying the molecular properties of curcumin, the chief chemical compound in turmeric, as a way to effectively prevent cancer. Curcumin is also being studied as an effective means to fight against diseases such as arthritis, Alzheimer's and stomach ulcers, to name a few.
At our Napa shop, customers often ask us about how to use this versatile, powerful spice. Here are our top tips for cooking with turmeric:
» With its slightly bitter taste, turmeric can overpower a dish if you use too much. The best way to release its delicate flavor is to use small amounts per recipe, first sautéing it in hot oil for just a few seconds.
» Also, piperine — a compound in black pepper — appears to help the human body absorb curcumin more effectively, so we always throw in a pinch of black pepper with the turmeric.
For the best results cooking with turmeric:
» Use about 1/4 - 3/4 tsp per recipe, depending on number of servings.
» Sauté the turmeric in hot olive oil before adding other ingredients.
» Turmeric can burn very quickly: Prepare all the ingredients in advance.
» If using onion or garlic, sauté these first.
» Once the onion is browned, mix in the sautéed turmeric and sauté for about 20 seconds, allowing the oil to soak up the flavors. The turmeric will start to change color rapidly, from bright orange into darker orange.
» Quickly add the rest of the ingredients to prevent the turmeric from burning.
Once you start using turmeric on a regular basis, it's fun to find new ways to use it in home cooking. Try this recipe for a tasty side dish: Turmeric Quinoa »»