Turmeric is one of the vital ingredients for many Asian and Middle Eastern dishes, especially in curries.
It is said to have originated from South and South East Asia and it used to grow wild, but these days, it is mainly cultivated in India and Pakistan. Turmeric used to be called Indian saffron during medieval times in Europe, because it was the cheap alternative to saffron for common people.
Fresh turmeric roots look like ginger, but with a slightly orange tint. As well as this, it has an earthy smell and a slight bitter and peppery taste. Fresh turmeric is boiled for a few hours, then dried to preserve the color and then ground to a powder form.
Recent research has revealed that turmeric is a natural wonder, proving beneficial in the treatment of many health conditions such as Alzheimer’s and cancer. Turmeric capsules and turmeric tea is popularly sold in health food stores recently.
It is a natural antiseptic and an anti-bacterial agent. The ancient Indian art of traditional medicine, Ayurveda, recommends its use in food for its medicinal properties.
It used to be grown in many households in South India and they used the fresh roots for treating burns, cuts, insect bites and skin rashes.
Fresh turmeric is known for its anti-inflammatory properties, and its melanin controlling properties for the skin. It used to be one of the main ingredients for beauty regimes in Asia, and these days, multinational cosmetic companies are after turmeric extract for its excellent skin toning properties.
Turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food in certain regions in India. In Indonesian and Malaysian cooking, the leaves are used to give a distinctive flavour to some curries, like Beef rendang – fresh leaves are tied into a knot and then added to the sauce while the curry is simmering, to extract all the flavours.
These days it is used as a colouring agent in modern food industry – often to provide a rich, yellow color in many baked products, cereals, sauces, dairy products and many more. It is coded as E 100 in ingredient lists and unknowingly we are having it in many products.
If fresh turmeric roots are available, you can use it in your dishes as well. I found that the colour is much weaker with fresh turmeric than with dry powder, but fresh turmeric adds a wonderful fresh flavour to the dish.
Be careful when you use turmeric in curries -if too much is used it leaves a slight unpleasant taste. When it comes to powdered turmeric, a little goes a long way…..