Spices 101: What is Turmeric?
I’m really interested in spices and seasonings. Afterall 90% of the time they’re responsible for making a dish taste like what it does. If variety is the spice of life, then spices are the spice of food. Or something. That’s why I’ve started this column to introduce exotic and interesting spices to readers unfamiliar with them. I can’t help but remember the first time I saw a bottle of cumin and asked my mother “Mom, what’s ‘cummin’?” Many years later I’d like to think I have a pretty impressive knowledge of all the different spices out there, so now it’s time to share that knowledge.
Appearance: Fine yellow powder
Scent: Earthy, woody
Taste: Mild, mustard–like
Foods: Indian cuisine, Asian cuisine, curries
Turmeric is a weird spice. Unlike other ones, instead of being a dried leaf or fruit or something from the leafy part of the plant itself, turmeric powder as we know it comes from the plant’s roots. Similar to ginger, it’s a large, gross, brown root thing with a bright yellow center. The roots are harvested, then dried until their moisture content is gone, and then crushed up into a fine powder, which is what we see in stores.
See, it’s kinda freaky-looking to be quite honest. But it’s actually pretty mild despite the bright yellow color. It smells pretty similar to tree bark, in a good way. And the taste itself is barely noticeable unless you use a lot of it. That being said, don’t go dumping heaps of it into your foods on account of the following reason.
Turmeric’s one defining trait is that it is a really powerful dyeing agent. Some of you may recall we used it to dye our organic Easter eggs yellow a few weeks ago. That’s how powerful it is. It’s on par with nasty, industrial dyes made from artificial chemicals. So because of that, anything you get it on is going to be stained yellow, be it your food, or your clothing. Alas, our poor microwave bowl recently had some chicken curry that had lots of turmeric in it, recently, and it now has permanently stained yellow splotches in it.
Don’t let that scare you off however, turmeric is very handy for Asian cuisine since it lends its earthiness well to dishes that need a little extra something to them. It’s very common in curry meals, which will definitely be missing something without it. As mentioned in our article on yellow rice, in addition to dyeing eggs it can be used with other spices to make Spanish-style yellow rice. Lastly since it’s fairly cheap and easy to find in stores, you should be able to acquire it and keep it in your spice rack pretty easily. Just be careful while handling it if you’re wearing white clothing!