Turmeric grows wild in the forests of South and Southeast Asia. It is one of the key ingredients in many Asian dishes. Indian traditional medicine, called Siddha, has recommended turmeric for medicine. Its use as a colouring agent is not of primary value in South Asian cuisine.
Turmeric is mostly used in savoury dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake Sfouf.
In India, turmeric plant leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes called Patoleo, by layering rice flour and coconut-jaggery mixture on the leaf, and then closing and steaming it in a special copper steamer.
In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow colour. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yoghurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn colour, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.
Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder; in some regions (especially in Maharashtra, Goa, Konkan and Kanara), turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food. Turmeric leaves are mainly used in this way in areas where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked. Turmeric leaves impart a distinctive flavour (turmeric has a warm, bitter taste).
Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in Far Eastern recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric.
Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking.
Many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient. Almost all Iranian khoresh dishes are started using onions caramelised in oil and turmeric, followed by other ingredients.
In India and Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and extensively used in many vegetable and meat dishes for its colour, and is also used for its supposed value in traditional medicine.
In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden colour.
In Vietnamese cuisine, turmeric powder is used to colour and enhance the flavours of certain dishes, such as Bánh Xèo, Bánh Khọt, and Mi Quảng. The powder is also used in many other Vietnamese stir-fried and soup dishes.
In Thailand, fresh turmeric rhizomes are widely used in many dishes, in particular in the southern Thai cuisine, such as Yellow Curry Paste.
In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
Selecting and Storing Turmeric
Even through dried herbs and spices are widely available in supermarkets, explore the local spice stores or ethnic markets in your area. Often these stores feature an expansive selection of dried herbs and spices that are of superior quality and freshness than those offered in regular markets. Since the colour of turmeric varies among varieties, it is not a criterion of quality.
Turmeric powder should kept in a tightly sealed container in a cool, dark and dry place. Fresh turmeric rhizome should be kept in the refrigerator.
Preparing and Cooking with Turmeric
Be careful when using turmeric since its deep colour can easily stain. To avoid a lasting stain, quickly wash any area with which it has made contact with soap and water. To prevent staining your hands, you might consider wearing kitchen gloves while handling turmeric.
If you are able to find turmeric rhizomes in the grocery store, you can make your own fresh turmeric powder by boiling, drying and then grinding it into a fine consistency.
A Few Serving Ideas
- Add turmeric to egg salad to give it an even bolder yellow colour.
- Mix brown rice with raisins and cashews and season with turmeric, cumin and coriander.
- Although turmeric is generally a staple ingredient in curry powder, some people like to add a little extra of this spice when preparing curries. And turmeric doesn’t have to only be used in curries. This spice is delicious on healthy sautéed apples, and healthy steamed cauliflower and/or green beans and onions. Or, for a creamy, flavour-rich, low-calorie dip, try mixing some turmeric and dried onion with a little mayonnaise, salt and pepper. Serve with raw cauliflower, celery, sweet pepper, jicama and broccoli florets.
- Turmeric is a great spice to complement recipes that feature lentils.
- Give salad dressings an orange-yellow hue by adding some turmeric powder to them.
- For an especially delicious way to add more turmeric to your healthy way of eating, cut cauliflower florets in half and sauté with a generous spoonful of turmeric for 5 minutes. Remove from the heat and toss with olive oil, salt and pepper to taste.
Folk Medicine and Traditional Uses of Turmeric
In India, turmeric has been used traditionally for thousands of years as a remedy for stomach and liver ailments, as well as topically to heal sores, basically for its supposed antimicrobial property. In the Siddha system (since around 1900 BCE) turmeric was a medicine for a range of diseases and conditions, including those of the skin, pulmonary, and gastrointestinal systems, aches, pains, wounds, sprains, and liver disorders. A fresh juice is commonly used in many skin conditions, including eczema, chicken pox, shingles, allergy, and scabies.
The active compound curcumin is believed to have a wide range of biological effects including anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, anti-tumour, antibacterial, and antiviral activities, which indicate potential in clinical medicine.
- Research studies have suggested that Curcumin, a poly-phenolic compound, found in this herb may inhibit the multiplication of tumour cells, including multiple myeloma, pancreatic cancer, and colon cancer.
- It contains health benefiting essential oils such as termerone, curlone, curumene, cineole, and p-cymene. These compounds have applications in cosmetic industry.
- Curcumin, along with other antioxidants, has been found to have anti-amyloid and anti-inflammatory properties. Thus; it is effective in preventing or at least delaying the onset of Alzheimer’s disease.
- The root herb contains no cholesterol; however, it is rich in anti-oxidants, and dietary fibre. Together, they help to control blood cholesterol levels, offer protection from coronary artery disease and stroke risk.
- Early laboratory studies have been suggestive that turmeric is liver protective, anti-depressant, anti-retroviral effects.
- It has been in use since a very long ago as an important ingredient in traditional Chinese and ayurvedic medicines for its anti-microbial, anti-inflammatory, carminative, and anti-flatulent properties.