Spice School: Turmeric

Turmeric is such an interesting spice.  Aside from it's contributions to Indian cuisine, it is used as an antimicrobial dye in both the textile and medical industries.  It's used as a natural preservative and dye for foods such as butter and cheese as well as natural cosmetics.  It's highly regarded for its medicinal properties in Ayurvedic medicine and is gaining a lot of attention from western medicine.  

Turmeric is a rhizome in the same family as ginger.  A rhizome is basically a modified stem that grows horizontally underground and continually creates nodes that can be cut and propagated to make new plants.  In other words, they are pretty aggressive plants.  To give you perspective, poison ivy is also considered a rhizome, and we all know how hard that stuff is to kill.  In cooking, the best know rhizomes are turmeric and ginger.  Where ginger has a distinct spiciness, turmeric carries a distinct pungency and a seriously bright yellow color.  Most dishes that use turmeric are specifically for that signature yellow coloring, but it is typically used sparingly.  On it's own turmeric has a deep earthiness to it with a light spice that leads into a pungent tartness.  Too much turmeric in a dish can create an astringent taste, but the right amount can add complexity, interest and ethnicity.  Some people use it as a cheaper substitute for saffron as it lends similar qualities.  Most people, however, come into the store looking for turmeric for one reason, the health benefits.  

Natural medicine has taken off in recent years and more people are looking for alternative/complementary ways to treat common conditions.  When it comes to the most talked about natural remedies, I'm pretty sure that turmeric is number 1.  So, what makes it so amazing?  A little chemical called curcumin.

Curcumin

This little wonder chemical is what gives turmeric its signature bright yellow color and is responsible for staining any un-gloved hands that dare to handle it.  On its own, curcumin does not absorb well into the body, which is why it is often recommended that people take it with pepper (the active compound piperine found in hot peppers increases the bioavailability of curcumin).  It is known to be a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory that can be used to treat a number of inflammatory diseases including arthritis, cancer, and inflammatory bowel disease.  It is one of the most studied natural compounds and is a common natural substitute for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs. It's used to treat everything from headaches to rheumatoid arthritis with varying degrees of success.  Most people take it as a complementary therapy to their prescription drugs.  However, it can be used as a general preventative and used exclusively for minor aches and pains. (Disclaimer: Don't just take my word for it and go self-medicating.  Use your best judgment and talk it over with your doctor before use)

Using for Health 

One of the most common questions I get at the store about turmeric is how to use it.  It's an intimidating spice.  People know its good for them, but have no idea how to integrate into their lifestyle.  For non-cooking types, I recommend our Ginger-Turmeric Herbal Tea.  It's potent.  I use it whenever I feel a cold or flu coming on.  I make a strong cup of it, add cayenne pepper, honey, and a squeeze of lemon.  It instantly boosts my energy and makes me feel better.  

Turmeric In Cooking

Turmeric is used almost exclusively in South Asian cuisines.  You will find it in many curry dishes, fragrant rice recipes, and soups.  At The Spice & Tea Exchange™, we carry ground turmeric in bulk and use it in the following blends:

  • Berbere Spice Blend - A popular Ethiopian blend used in stews, meats, vegetables, and legumes.
  • Indian Yellow Curry - Our take on a popular mild curry from India.  
  • Malaysian Ginger Curry - This mild curry is a favorite in Indonesian and Malaysian cuisine.  It's ginger heavy spice and slightly sweeter flavor make for great use in a variety of curry dishes as well as kebabs.
  • Moroccan Spice Blend - Filled with flavor and spiciness, this blend is used in Arabic-style cooking and added to meats, vegetables, breads and cheeses.
  • Tandoori Roasting Spice Blend - Traditional Indian spice used in clay-oven cooking and one of my favorite spices for chicken drumsticks.

Personally, I add ground turmeric to a number of recipes like: hummus, Lassi, and cauliflower rice.  It is a fun way to add color, earthiness and complexity to just about anything.  The trick is to use a little at a time.  The problem with turmeric is that it can take over flavors and create a dish that tastes more like dirt than your intended flavor.  This is why I suggest our custom blends for the unseasoned cooks to try.  The flavors are already balanced for you and can be added to taste in your favorite dishes.

 Sweet & Spicy Lassi

Sweet & Spicy Lassi


Sweet & Spicy Lassi
(Yields 1 tall glass)

Ingredients:

  • 1 cup plain Greek yogurt
  • 1/2 to 3/4 cup Silk brand unsweetened coconut milk (substitute with almond, cashew, or dairy milk, or simply chilled water) - Use more or less liquids to control thickness of drink
  • 2-4 Tablespoons The Spice & Tea Exchange™ cardamom sugar (or to desired sweetness)
  • 1 tsp ground turmeric
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper

Directions:

  • Add yogurt to blender/mixer and blend until smooth
  • Add turmeric and cayenne
  • Add cardamom sugar to desired sweetness
  • Thin with desired amount of liquid
  • Serve over ice in tall glass

New Product Alert:  Our Spring LTO tea, Peach Turmeric Herbal Tea, was so popular that we are now carrying it full time!  Now you can get the health effects of turmeric with the soft, sweetness of peach.

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