Every now and then, I have an ingredient in my pantry that I, for some reason, never use. Turmeric happens to be one of them. It is an ingredient I began to love when I visited India. When I walked through the spice markets and gazed upon the sacks filled to the brim with a variety of colors and scents, the turmeric easily stood out. Aside from its glistening gold color (in powder form), its odor is strong and spicy, making it just hard to miss.
Many years have passed since my visit to India and out of some strange habit, I still buy and store turmeric in my pantry. And keep it there unused. It wasn’t until recently, while walking around Singapore, that I got a sniff of a memory, which took me straight back to my time in India and reminded me of this particular spice.
Turmeric is a rhizome root from the ginger family. It stands out with its own personality, a flavor profile that some may find quite offensive to the palate when eaten alone. With its earthy tones and pungent scent, it can turn many away on a first date. Although its taste is undoubtably its signature, turmeric’s bright sunset hue allows it to stand out and be conveniently recognizable. What’s also noteworthy is that its color differs and depends on the form. When cooking with fresh turmeric, the end result is more on the golden orange side versus the dry powder kind, which yields a striking electric yellow tone.
You can use the root whole by dropping it into a soup or flavoring a rice dish. But to achieve its vibrant color, finely grate the root and disperse in a few drops of water before adding it to the dish.
Turmeric will always be a “flavor of the month” (season more like it) with London spawning cult favorites like turmeric latte and the golden spice being incorporated in teas and smoothies, snacks like peanuts, and even chocolate. Apart from being a simple ingredient to use, it is also championed for its health benefits; it’s believed to ward off cancer and inflammatory conditions.
When using fresh roots, peel the outer skin with the back of a spoon or knife. You can use the root whole by dropping it into a soup or flavoring a rice dish. But to achieve its vibrant color, finely grate the root and disperse in a few drops of water before adding it to the dish. Turmeric’s magical flavor and color come to life when cooked. When paired with aromatics, it creates a sensational explosion on the taste buds.
Great flavor is comprised of building blocks (ingredients) and without a strong foundation, it will topple. Turmeric is one of the fundamental foundation blocks in building flavor. What comes of its earthy, pungent flavor and aroma slowly turns into bouquets of blissful scents with an almost floral tone, a transformation rarely seen in ingredients.
Originally published in F&B Report Vol. 13 No. 5