by Kate Heyhoe
A member of the ginger family, turmeric bears the bright yellow-orange color associated with curry powder for which it is indeed a key ingredient. In fact, it is also used to give American mustard its vibrant yellow hue. Besides India, it is used in other Asian countries and is also cultivated in the Caribbean.
As with ginger, turmeric has salubrious properties. It is an antiseptic, applied as a paste to cuts and abrasions, and is taken with food to purify the blood and aid digestion. Hindus consider it sacred and the women will mark a dot of it on each other's foreheads as a mark of respect and friendship.
While you can sometimes find it in its fresh form, the dried powder is more commonly used. Turmeric itself has an earthy aroma, but when combined with other spices and flavors remarkably balances and enhances the whole dish. While Indians use it in all types of cooking, they do not add turmeric to greens as it can cause them to discolor and turn bitter.
A word of caution: turmeric has long been used as a natural dye—which means don't get it on your clothes. It will do exactly what it is so prized for: stain them. So be careful when measuring it and cooking dishes that may splatter, and if you're a nut about keeping your cutting board looking absolutely pristine, you shouldn't be cooking, at least not with turmeric.
Here are two recipes using turmeric:
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This page originally published as a Global Gourmet Today column in 1998.
Copyright © 2007, Kate Heyhoe. All rights reserved.
This page modified January 2007
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