You may not know what turmeric is at first mention, but if you’ve ever slathered plain old ballpark mustard on a hot dog, you’ve eaten turmeric. However, sampling it as a simple condiment hardly honors the properties of this powerful plant derivative.
Also known as Curcuma longa, turmeric is a rhizome of a herbaceous perennial plant, a cousin of ginger. Each year these rhizomes are harvested, boiled and dried in hot ovens and then ground into a orange-yellow powder. It’s that ubiquitous, earthy spice used in Indian foods and curries, and it is even used for fabric dyeing. Of course, there’s the mustard coloring component as well.
- The active ingredient in turmeric is curcumin, which is showing promise in preliminary research for treatment of cancer, Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes, as well
as allergies, arthritis and other chronic illnesses. It is also used to treat heartburn, stomach pain, diarrhea, headaches, bronchitis, colds, lung infections, skin conditions, bruising and infected wounds.
- Turmeric has deep roots in Chinese and Indian medicine as an anti-inflammatory aid. It is also an essential ingredient in the cuisines of those countries.
- The essential oil of turmeric is used in perfumes. Its resin is used in food manufacturing as a coloring agent and to impart a peppery-warm, bitter flavor.
- Bon Appétit magazine reports that many chefs and home cooks use turmeric in raw, rather than powdered, form. It can be cut, peeled, sliced and grated much like ginger. A recent article mentioned that “turmeric juices, tinctures, and tonics have been on the rise.” Try adding it to braises and soups for a peppery kick.
- Be wary: The yellow-orange flesh stains easily! Protect your fingers, cutting boards and clothes.
- Bon Appétit also suggests using a tiny amount to drench batters and doughs with bright color.