If you’ve ever wondered what gives prepared mustard or curry dishes their vibrant color, look no further for an answer. The secret ingredient is turmeric. Although we encounter turmeric in a variety of condiments, seasoning blends and recipes everyday, many people are not sure what it is, what it tastes like, or how to use it. The continued surge in popularity of Asian, Caribbean, Indian and Moroccan cuisine is a major reason why turmeric has moved to the center of the plate. In fact, in the United States, turmeric imports have increased steadily during recent years, with more than 5 million pounds imported in 2002. It’s time to take a closer look at this culinary treasure.
Throughout history, turmeric was widely known for its use as a natural colorant in cosmetics and textiles. Today, it is frequently used to impart a golden color to rice dishes, sauces, soups, stews, homemade canning and pickling recipes, relishes, and condiments. In fact, it is sometimes referred to as 'Indian saffron.' But turmeric has much more to offer than just a pretty color, and as Americans’ tastes continue to explore the cuisines of the Far and Middle East, we are beginning to take note of turmeric’s flavor as well. Turmeric has a mild aroma and a warm, earthy flavor with hints of ginger and pepper. It adds complexity to a variety of dishes, and is best combined with other flavors, rather than on its own.
Primarily sourced from India, turmeric is the root of the plant, Curcuma longa, a member of the ginger family. It consists of a central bulb with numerous short 'fingers.' The outer color of turmeric is brownish yellow and the flesh is a bright yellow to yellow-orange. The roots are ready to harvest approximately eight months after planting. Once harvested, the roots are cleaned, dried and ground.