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Turmeric


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There are several different varieites of turmeric.

In Japan, the white-flowering, orange-fleshed, fall-harvest curcuma longa (what is generally known as "turmeric" is used for food, while the spring-harvested, purple-tinged flowering, yellow-fleshed c. aromatica is used more medicinally (it's more bitter, for one thing). There are several other varieties, but none of them are used much in cooking. Then there's zedoary, which has white-fleshed roots and quite pink flowers.

So if I were looking for culinary turmeric powder, I'd be looking for an intense marigoldy orange-yellow, and stay away from lighter mustardy tan colors.

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Thanks, Helen. It sounds like the different fresh turmeric root I've seen are different varieties, not ages.

And just to pile on: turmeric does indeed a flavor, and not one that is unnice or too strong. Like most intensely flavored spices, roots, and the like, it requires a careful hand and thoughtful blending. If it ruins a dish, don't blame the ugly little root: too much clove, garlic, salt, or just about anything can ruin a dish.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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This might help All About Turmeric.

It seems that the turmeric we can buy here is a different variety from that popular in India.

Excellent linked article. Interesting that India keeps the mellower variety for domestic use & exports the more pungent kind.

Thank God for tea! What would the world do without tea? How did it exist? I am glad I was not born before tea!

- Sydney Smith, English clergyman & essayist, 1771-1845

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Thanks, Helen. It sounds like the different fresh turmeric root I've seen are different varieties, not ages.

And just to pile on: turmeric does indeed a flavor, and not one that is unnice or too strong. Like most intensely flavored spices, roots, and the like, it requires a careful hand and thoughtful blending. If it ruins a dish, don't blame the ugly little root: too much clove, garlic, salt, or just about anything can ruin a dish.

While that's true, powdered turmeric (along I guess with salt) is the one ingredient with which it is easiest to ruin a dish. Adding an extra teaspoon of coriander, cumin or whatever is much less likely to make a dish taste unpleasant than turmeric.

Most commercial 'curry powder' is turmeric-based, leading to a flavour that tastes cheap and unrefined.

That is why you are always much better off with more complex spice blends (either commercial or self-made) that depend on spices that aren't quite so brash, cardamom, cumin, mustard seeds, etc. Anyone who is not familiar with turmeric is advised to use great caution and restraint (e.g., half a teaspoon) until they are familiar with its use. And I definitely recommend the fresh stuff.

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Thanks for the nice welcome and for all the information. Catew’s link explained the connection between colour and flavour -- the colour comes from curcumin, whilst flavour and aroma come from the volatile oils. I interpret that to mean that colour and flavour are not necessarily connected. That’s good news and bad news, I suppose.

Helen, your description “marigoldy orange-yellow” is helpful. That exactly describes one of them I’ve seen.

But now several of you have got me intrigued about using fresh turmeric. How is it used? It’s peeled, I suppose, but then is it grated, chopped, or what? Need I worry that it will stain my hands? Is it added to hot oil as fresh ginger would be? Does it burn easily? How much would substitute for, say, a teaspoon of powdered turmeric?

Sorry to have so many questions, but Indian cooking is so much about getting the spices right.

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[P]owdered turmeric (along I guess with salt) is the one ingredient with which it is easiest to ruin a dish. Adding an extra teaspoon of coriander, cumin or whatever is much less likely to make a dish taste unpleasant than turmeric.

We'll still have to agree to disagree. Fenugreek, ginger... there are many things to which this condition applies.

Chris Amirault

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Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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In recent years, turmeric has gotten a great deal of attention from the Western medical research establishment in terms of an anti-oxidant, various skin problems, Alzheimer's and some types of cancer. It will be interesting to see how the research turns out. I have always heard that variations in color are usually the result of moisture content during processing.

Regards,

Michael Lloyd

Mill Creek, Washington USA

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I have come to love tumeric. It adds a wonderful exotic, aromatic flavor to any green vegetable. Saute minced garlic, add a tsp of ground tumeric, then stirfry the green vegetable for a real treat. It's also wonderful as a dry rub (with salt) for meat.

I can't understand how anyone could think it's tasteless...?

I grow my own tumeric plants. I'm not sure what variety I have, but the fresh roots are yellow inside and taste WONDERFUL when chopped and stirfried in dishes. (I don't bother processing them into powder because it's so much work and the powder is so cheap.)

I also grow galanga, and the fresh tumeric root is every bit as delicious and exotic, although it has a completely different taste of course. There is a Burmese pork curry that uses both fresh tumeric and frest galanga. It's delicious.

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I grow turmeric (the leaves are used in some Indonesian dishes), buy fresh rhizomes and use the dried form forms. Unfortunately dried and powdered froms are often bitter and flavorless. Better luck with whole dried rhizone (although they are diffucult to grind), which preserved some of the amazing fruity aroma of the fresh rhizomes.

The fresh rhizomes are used in a lot of SE-Asian cooking and have a flavour and aroma that is miles away from the bitter staleness that is often the case with the powdered form.

If you have access to fresh rhizomes (chilled section of Asian grocer in my case) it is easy enough to grow you own from these. Collect a half dozen large sized rhizomes and place them in a potting tray full of seed raising mix, cover with cling film or place in a plastic bag an leave for a month or so in a warm spot. At this point roots will have developed on some of the rhizomes, transfer to new pots with new potting mixture, from some of these you will get green shoots. In about a year leaves and rhizomes are ready to harvest.

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Turmeric is used for the color it imparts to a dish rather than its virtually non-existent taste.  It's simply overpowered by other ingredients used in Indian cooking, no matter the region. So, let your eyes and color sense be your guide.

Its tasteless coloring properties are why turmeric is frequently used as an ingredient in prepared mustard, yogurt and other commerical foods.

Oh no, you have to try the fresh roots -- sorry, "rhizomes." Nothing like the powder. We make a lamb dish that could never get off the ground without turmeric root, it is built around the seasoning.

By the way, when you cut the roots they stain everything they touch, so wear gloves unless you want yellow/orange fingers for a few days.

Edited by Batard (log)

"There's nothing like a pork belly to steady the nerves."

Fergus Henderson

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But now several of you have got me intrigued about using fresh turmeric.  How is it used?  It’s peeled, I suppose, but then is it grated, chopped, or what?  Need I worry that it will stain my hands?  Is it added to hot oil as fresh ginger would be? Does it burn easily? How much would substitute for, say, a teaspoon of powdered turmeric?

It is near identical to fresh ginger in usage and handling. Remove the thin skin, and mash it up into a paste. I guess 10g peeled is probably about the same as a teaspoon, although much nicer.

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Don't give up on powdered tumeric!

I use both the powder, which I purchase, and the fresh roots, which I grow. I buy tumeric powder at a middle-eastern market that sells alot of spices and has a high turnover, which means that their spices tend to be fresher.

The powder I get is close to the color of marigolds. It has a distinct aroma. It's very cheap -- less than $1.

Try to find a market with alot of spices and a high turnover. These tend to be immigrant markets.

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Fresh and dry turmeric have two different flavor values and both are enjoyable in dishes that are created or have evolved around them.

Yellow "Curries" [a misnomer] of the "boiled paste" sort, made with fish and some thing sour, from southern Thailand are one example of food that glories in the fresh root.

Dry turmeric in India has several roles other than flavoring. The water-soaked dried rhizome freshly ground on stone have a unique quality missing in the powdered bags of stuff sold in most groceries in plastic bags. In the US, most of the product is fairly old, and the freshness, the volatiles, have either evaporated to some extent or degraded. The usual brands are fairly poor quality as far as flavor is concerned. In contrast, the tins of McCormick are of excellent quality, flavorwise, but extortionate in pricing.

The flavor of fresh ground dry turmeric rhizome becomes very important in a wide range of dishes in the cookery of West Bengal. Fish cooked in a ground paste of black mustard, khecharanna/khichuri, a mixture of rice and split legumes cooked together into a mushy state, sometimes with seasonal vegetables, several vegetable dishes, sweet-sour prepartions with Dillenia fruit, and so on.

Turmeric paste, or even turmeric powder[be it of poor quality or good] fulfils another function in Bengali cookery: 3-in-one; it is rubbed with salt into pieces of raw cut fish. There is a deodorizing effect, a preservative effect in the heat, where even 1 hour may accelerate spoilage. I would add that such fish are caught, sold, cut and cooked within the space of a 12 hour day, at least in former times.

Finally, in the preliminary frying that is de rigeur for West Bengal fish cookery, the turmeric forms an essential sealant, like Wondra flour.

Turmeric is rubbed on eggplant slices along with salt for the same reason, so a seal will form, and it won't splatter in the hot oil during frying, from the water drawn out by the salt

This effect also is used to carefully regulate moisture egress and caramelization in West Bengal dry mixed vegetable preparations, in tandem with sugar and salt, osmotica used to draw cellular water OUT of certain vegetables in the mix.

Turmeric is an important flavoring as well as moisture regulator in the cooking of meat, when it is cooked without garlic or onions, in the traditional thin flavorful stew of the gentry of West Bengal.

Turmeric is used as a colorant, and here it is carefully regulated so as NOT to contribute any flavor, in the ghee rice made with Sitabhog rice used for religious offerings, again by some of the traditional WB gentry.

Finally, fresh turmeric rhizomes are processed in a hot alkaline bath preparatory to drying in the sun or other means. Just as there are different turmeric varieties, there are sun and shade grown, types grown on different kinds of soils, many parts of India, such as Bengal and Kerala, with distinct climates. All of these differences contribute to a range of flavor and color, and are prized locally for various reasons that may not translate intelligibly.

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Gautam's mention of an alkali process reminded me that the yellow colouring in turmeric (curcumin) acts like an indicator of pH (acid/alkali) and changes colour from yellow to red about pH10 (can't remember exact value). It could be that the more orange the powder, the more red content. However, I have seen fresh turmeric rhizome, and it seems quite orange when fresh, so I would suggest it turns more yellow on ageing.

Another interesting thing about curcumin is that it is composed of two molecules of vanillin (or very nearly), so that it is possible to derive a vanilla note from cooking turmeric. If one extracts the yellow colour (from a watery paste of turmeric) with cooking oil, after separating the two layers and letting the coloured oil layer stand for a few hours, a faint vanilla note should be detectable.

cheers

Waaza

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  • 3 months later...

As gautam and others have mentioned, there are many different varieties of turmeric with different colours and varying strengths/flavors. However, this is probably not what is responsible for the choice of colours available in your market. The most commonly used turmeric is orange, and in my experience is usually quite a deep orange, some samples we have gotten from specific terroirs in India are so orange as to almost be brown. There might be a variety of turmeric that is yellow, but I doubt it.

My understanding from talking with my boss (who owns a spice importation business) is that most ground turmeric available in north america is heavily adulterated. We import the whole dried rhizome, and it is definitely a deep orange. I should know, I have to smash kilos of the stuff to bits by hand with a mortar in pestle, as it is so hard that it breaks our electric grinders. However, when diluted it does take on a more yellow character.

My suggestion would be to go for the more orangeish powders, or to try and find whole dried turmeric.

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Gabriel is absolutely right. If you are cooking with turmeric that stains your fingers when you eat the cooked food with your hands, that is a very dangerous sign. Recently, I warned about this on another Indian food forum and a mild skepticism soon turned to consternation when, upon experimentation, the people concerned found what they had consumed.

Turmeric is not yellow, and anything shading towards yellow is dangerous: cheaper restaurants in India use very heavily adulterated stuff and I hate to mention the word lead chromate, given the prices of metals, but some dye that has the same color as this salt does certanly is the culprit. Additionally, good turmeric should have a strong characteristic aroma associated with the powder. The weaker this aroma, the older the product or the more adulterated.

So, the combination of a bright color tending towards a burnt orange but on the upper scale, for want of a better term in my ignorance of hue, shade, color etc., and a very bright aroma that immediately should prickle your nose, testifies to a good product.

If you can, buy from a mart like Gabriel's that guarantee grinding their own. Or, buy the whole dried rhizomes themselves from various Indian vendors. The innate quality will vary like wine from different price points, but you will be getting a reasonably pure product [pesticides, soil contamination etc. are another issue best not discussed here!!]. The rhizomes need to be soaked for several hours or overnight and and cut into smaller chunks before making paste. Nonetheless, these will defeat ALL but a special purpose Indian blender, grinding stone or a laboratory quality blender.

Still, there is no comparison to Indian (or at least Bengali) food cooked with fresh ground turmeric paste. Combined with other fresh water ground spices, the quality of the food is as different as say a French dish cooked with a master brown [sercial Madeira] stock reduction and quality red wine as opposed to soup cubes and grocery store cooking wine!

*[ Another caution: urea is used extensively in Bangladeshi puffed rices as whiteners. There needs to be a strong demand made on the FDA to test the frozen seafood coming from China and Asia not just or nitrofuran medications, which tha agency doesa very good job with, but testing frozen whole fish for formaldhyde, extensively used as a preservative to extend shelf life.]

Edited by v. gautam (log)
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Gabriel, that's interesting. I would have avoided the darker ones, thinking they were stale and had oxidised. Now I'll seek them out. I will, however, avoid whole dried turmeric -- if it breaks your commercial grinders, my little Krups doesn't stand a chance.

V. Gautam, the talk of adulteration -- whether lead chromate or "only" colouring -- is scary. It's also a bit ironic, considering the media attention turmeric has been getting for its health benefits.

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Channie,

If you find a restaurant supply house and buy McCormick in large sizes, that is a very good quality turmeric. Brands like Swad are not adulterated, merely mediocre in quality compared to the tinned McCormick. Whether Mccormick in plastic will prove to be inferior to the tinned small batch, I cannot say: a factor of turnover rate, exposure to light +plasticizers, plus what the company formulates for its restaurant trade.

The heavily adulterated kind is safely far away from you, confined to the cheap restaurant trade in India. I am reasonably certain that the major brands sold in the US by Indian packers are NOT adulterated either with dyes or lead salts.

If you read my post carefully, you will see my qualification about the mass market trade IN INDIA. If you go back to my earlier posts, you will note my further reiteration of MEDIOCRITY with respect to Indian brands sold in the USA, NOT ADULTERATION age, and oxidation caused by exposure to light and air in plastic packaging.

To set your mind at ease, I myself consume SWAD brand in significant quantities, perhaps 100 times more each day than you will ever consume at comparable rates in your life. And propose to go on using this same brand, or LAXMI or any other reputable Indian powdered brand in the future.

Just like all pre-ground spices, the quality is mediocre. But that is my fault, not the brand's. It is a bit like people who choose to purchase pre-ground black pepper! Some things are just not meant to be stored in their activated forms.

I am sorry to be so opinionated, but with very few exceptions [Charmaine Solomon: meats, Ammini Ramachandran: Kerala vegetarian, Kurma: vegetarian] very few Indian cookbook authors really guide the absolute beginner in ways that actually bring out the true flavors of North Indian foods.

I know there will be howls of protest from those who now consider themselves past masters, having taught themselves to cook from this or that book, but I have to stand by what I said. I know about those masters having cooked their recipes!! Being a wonderful person does not make one a master cook! This is doubly true about dishes containing fried onions or meat described by them.

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  • 1 year later...

I got some remarkable fresh turmeric this weekend and was struck by how complex, potent, and beautiful it was; the stuff I had used before paled in comparison, and powders? Forget about it.

The weekend of cooking (more on that in another topic) produced a tip and a warning. As with many things, a microplane is an outstanding tool for getting extremely small bits ready for pounding in the mortar and pestle. However, the fresh turmeric left a coating of tarry resin on the microplane. I tried to wash it off but it just transferred to the rag without breaking down at all; I eventually just grated some galangal over it, and that got up most of it.

I'm curious about this resin, as there's nothing really like it in other root products like ginger or horseradish, at least as far as I know.

Chris Amirault

eG Ethics Signatory

Sir Luscious got gator belts and patty melts

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  • 5 years later...

My local farmer gets in all sorts of interesting organic goodies each week for his market - he has been getting fresh Turmeric for a while now.

 

I decided to make a quick pickle with thinly sliced turmeric, onions and mustard seeds; upon eating it, I noticed not long after my tongue started to tingle, thinking a possible reaction of sorts, Dr Google told me that it can cause a tingling tongue sensation and was wondering if this is common or others have experienced this as well.  I sort of strangely, enjoy it....

 

Also interested to hear how others use (besides dying ones hands and chopping board) this fantastic spice (perhaps root, in this form)

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Regarding culinary uses of fresh turmeric - simply use it as the "turmeric ingredient" instead of the more common dry powdered turmeric.  (I assume you know that turmeric (both fresh and powdered) is widely used in many dishes in the various cuisines of South, South-East, West Asia; and various cuisines elsewhere too)

 

Some examples of the use of fresh turmeric I've posted about here on eG:

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/143989-lunch-whatd-ya-have-2012%E2%80%932014/page-9?p=1916525#entry1916525 (I use powdered turmeric for this dish made at other times when I'm lazy; I've posted those here too)

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/143989-lunch-whatd-ya-have-2012%E2%80%932014/page-9?p=1913815#entry1913815

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/146914-lunch-whatd-ya-have-2014/page-2#entry1954047

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/148424-dinner-2014-part-3/page-3?p=1970024#entry1970024 (yes, fresh turmeric was in there)

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/148945-dinner-2014-part-4/page-20#entry1984287 (scroll down)

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/149363-dinner-2014-part-5/page-11?p=1989178#entry1989178

http://forums.egullet.org/topic/149363-dinner-2014-part-5/page-8?p=1987829#entry1987829

 

Others here have also posted about their use of fresh turmeric.

 

Hmm, now I have a slight yen for making nasi kunyit...or maybe some turmeric fried rice...both of which are common rice dishes in SE Asia...

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