Turmeric is a bright yellow spice powder that is made from the root of a plant in the ginger family (Zingiberaceae), Curcuma longa. It has been used in Asia for thousands for years as a dye, food coloring, and in Indian traditional medicine.
Like galangal and ginger, turmeric is a kind of root (rhizome) and has a similar appearance, except that it has an orange hue. Fresh turmeric is also used in some dishes.
Extracts of turmeric, curcumin, are under investigation for their potential health benefits and may be sold as a dietary supplement.
When using turmeric in cooking, you will want to be careful as it can stain your hands and clothing yellow, although it will wash out.
It is also known as Indian saffron, turmeric.
Flavor of Turmeric
Turmeric has a pungent, earthy odor. The flavor of turmeric is described as a little bitter, a little peppery like mustard or horseradish, with a slight ginger flavor. It's most often used for coloring more than for the flavor. If you leave it out of a recipe, you may not notice much change in flavor, but the dish won't be as golden as desired.
For the coloration qualities, it is sometimes substituted for saffron, but that adds a little bitterness that might not be desired. A suggested substitute for turmeric in a recipe is dry mustard.
Where to Find Turmeric
Turmeric powder is widely available in spice sections of grocery stores and is easy to find at an international market.
Dried turmeric is prepared by boiling the rhizomes, drying them in a hot oven, and then grinding the dried roots. Like many dried spices, it will lose its potency in about six months, so you should think of rotating your stock.
Fresh turmeric is harder to find but well worth the hunt. You may want to look at a well-stocked international market if you have a recipe that calls for fresh turmeric root.
Turmeric is used in many spice blends, such as basic curry powder, where it is always on the ingredient list. When the blend has a yellow color, it is most often due to turmeric. It is an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce and is often used as the coloring agent in yellow mustard, relishes, and pickles.
Most turmeric is grown and exported from India, but you may also find it produced in China, Vietnam, and Peru.
Turmeric in Thai Cuisine
Turmeric is frequently used in Thai curries and other savory dishes. Yellow curries get their color from turmeric. Thai yellow curry paste is made with turmeric and used in recipes for meat, seafood, vegetables, noodles, and soups.
Easy Thai Yellow Curry Chicken Recipe: See step by step how to make Thai yellow curry paste and cook it with chicken and vegetables for a traditional yellow curry.
Thai Golden Vegetable Curry: Rather than use a curry paste, you will use the dry spices to create the seasoning for this vegan and gluten-free dish.