With a rich golden hue and earthy, slightly bitter flavor, turmeric or Curcuma longa is having something of a moment in North America, after years of being largely ignored by most but those familiar with South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Here’s what you need to know to join the revival of this nutritious savory spice.
There are two main types of turmeric on the global market: "Madras" and "Alleppey." Named after where they originate in India, both are used as food colorants and spices. The Alleppey variety has a greater concentration of volatile oils and curcumin, a special active ingredient with possible health benefits.
The "Madras" variety is also popular, particularly in Britain and the Middle East. Other tropical countries with warm, wet climates, including the Caribbean and Latin America, produce turmeric of varying strengths. A third variety, "Bengal" is primarily used as a dye in the subcontinent.
Most of us are familiar with root ginger—it's widely available at supermarkets and pretty different to ground ginger. Turmeric is part of the ginger family. Unlike a pale ginger rhizome, peeled fresh turmeric reveals flesh as vividly orange as a marigold.
Fresh turmeric is much more fragrant and pungent than its dried counterpart, so if you'd prefer it in your recipes, you'll need to use a lot less of it, either as matchsticks or grated. A one-inch chunk equals a teaspoon of dried turmeric.
You can keep fresh turmeric in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two weeks, or increase its longevity by peeling and freezing your root in a freezer bag for mincing as needed. You can also puree the root and freeze it in convenient ice cube tray portions for use within six months.
Ground turmeric is best stored in a sealed jar in a cool, dark cupboard or pantry. Exposure to light and heat can lessen its impact, and the passage of time, about half a year, will also decrease its potency.
Turmeric is the main ingredient in curry paste, and you'll find it in 95% of Indian dishes, which partly explains the warm color palette of food in the subcontinent.
For starters, you'll find turmeric in smooth dhals, hearty kalyas, puffy parathas, and samoosa fillings. The spice traveled from India to Southeast Asia and the Middle East and influenced the local cuisines.
The Middle East and the rest of Asia took turmeric and ran with it. Think Thai yellow curry, satay skewers, Persian stews, and heady rice dishes with lentils and dates. You can flavor cocktails and mocktails with fresh turmeric, or infuse marbled shortbread or a coconut and lime cake with the ground spice.
Add turmeric to vegan tofu scrambles, mac and cheese, or chicken congee. A little goes a long way.
Before turmeric shots and elixirs made their way onto Goop's website and overpriced menus in gentrified neighborhoods, they were—and still are— the comfort drink of choice in South Asia.
Whatever the physical or emotional ailment, grannies whip up steaming mugs of haldi (the Hindi word for turmeric) milk and thrust them at their friends and family members. Making a golden latte with coconut milk or sprinkling stove-top tea with honey and spices could be the comforting ritual you didn't know you needed. Give it a go during the colder months.
The Moroccan spice blend, ras el hanout, includes turmeric, and you can mix it with yogurt or sour cream to make a flavorsome dip. Sprinkle a dash of ground turmeric over your popcorn to make it more savory, or use it to add depth to unripened tomato and fennel seed pickles.
In some parts of East Asia, pickled and softened fresh turmeric is a beloved addition to meals.
Ayurvedic medicine sees turmeric as an anti-inflammatory antioxidant and it has been used for skin conditions like eczema for centuries. In a Vogue segment on YouTube, Priyanka Chopra revealed her secret ingredient for glowing, exfoliated skin—a turmeric paste.
Indian rituals teem with turmeric, which is why the Sharma girls from Bridgerton lather themselves in a beautifying golden mixture on the eve of Edwina’s wedding. Try it for yourself, but be careful about potential stains. You can remove any signs of yellow with lemon juice.
Because of its potential health benefits, there’s a growing turmeric supplement trend. Keep your doctor apprised of any supplementation because turmeric can thin the blood and should be avoided during pregnancy, for example.
Experts suggest that 500 mg daily is a healthy dosage. Double this amount, and you may experience side effects such as an upset stomach or itchy skin, which defeats the purpose. So far, studies suggest that using turmeric as a herb or spice is unlikely to do much besides color and flavor your food.
Heating turmeric in fat such as ghee can aid its absorption. But the bioavailability of curcumin is also helped by the presence of piperine, a chemical in black pepper. When you’re preparing food or drinks with turmeric, add black pepper, if suitable, to get the most out of your ingredients.