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Turmeric is having a moment

What’s the story behind this fiery yellow spice? 

When you examine your spice rack, everything seems to blend together in a sea of green. But when you notice a pop of color—think saffron, paprika or cinnamon—the corresponding taste is typically off the charts!

The point is, many exotic herbs and spices help elevate our food to new heights. Today, we’re exploring turmeric…

turmeric powder

Meet turmeric (spice of the moment).

Made from the root of the curcuma longa plant, turmeric is a member of the ginger family. While the plant itself isn’t exactly edible, people have been cooking with its roots for centuries. When ground into a fine, delicate spice form, you get turmeric.

So, is this fiery ingredient just a supplement, or does it really alter taste? Is it good for me, and if so, can I grow it myself?

If such spicy questions are swirling in your head, don’t get overwhelmed. Our foodie researchers are on the case. Here’s the whole story behind turmeric.

Where is turmeric from?

The curcuma longa plant is native to Southeast Asia, where the climate is conducive to its growth. Requiring significant rainfall and super high temperatures to thrive (like, Miami in August), the plant produces pretty flowers and is known for its many branches, although that’s not exactly what ancient chefs were after.

Instead, people figured out how to extract the plant’s awesomely zesty flavor by grounding down the roots. Today, we most associate turmeric with India, although plenty of Asian and Middle Eastern cultures harvest and use it. Over thousands and thousands of years, people have used turmeric not only in cooking, but also as a coloring and medicinal agent, although its therapeutic benefits are unproven.

Oh, and not to mention—turmeric is known for its bright yellow, sometimes orange color. For this reason, it’s often referred to as ‘Indian saffron.’ When we say ‘be careful,’ we really mean it. When handling turmeric, it’s known to stain. 

What does turmeric taste like?

You’ve probably heard it a million times before. But the taste of turmeric is truly unique. Described as slightly bitter, sour, but also earthy and pungent, it’s an ideal accompaniment to dishes on the savory side. Some liken it to mustard, but that’s not exactly right. Like most magnificent spices, you simply have to try it to understand.

Of course, it’s more likely that you’ve eaten ginger at some point. Imagine its bright, zesty notes, then bring your palate back down to earth. When you add in a sort of warm, peppery taste, you’ve probably got turmeric.

In terms of scent, turmeric has aromatic notes of ginger, orange, and similarly zesty ingredients.

So, in a nutshell, turmeric tastes….

  • Gingery
  • Peppery
  • Earthy
  • Mustard-y
  • Pungent
  • Bitter
  • Sharp

What are the health benefits of turmeric?

Although past (and current) cultures use turmeric for its healing properties, those powers aren’t exactly ‘proven’ by Western medicine. Still, scientists know the composition of turmeric, allowing them to break down how it could potentially enhance our health.

To start, curcumin (an active component in turmeric), is known for its incredible anti-inflammatory effects. That means it’s great at combatting heart disease, certain cancers, dementia and other memory diseases, as well as a variety of degenerative disorders.

That said, you would have to sprinkle a whole lot of spice in your food to reap those healing rewards. Instead, turmeric can be taken in capsule form as a dietary supplement.

Other purported benefits include boosted brain function, relief for those with arthritis, stomach ulcers, and ulcerative colitis, as well as antioxidant support, which is linked to anti-aging.

What is turmeric used for in cooking?

In the culinary world, turmeric takes on many roles. It’s not only used as a dye for eggs and pickles (and other homemade fare). It’s also beloved for its sharp flavor, which can be overpowering, but used in moderation, also a wonderful complement to Indian and other global dishes.

Check out some easy recipes and ideas featuring this rad root.

5 Tantalizing Uses for Turmeric (with Recipes)

Mix it in a healthy drink

Whether it’s your morning coffee, after-workout shake or dessert smoothie, ground turmeric takes any mixture to new heights. You’ll enjoy a delicious ‘zing’ of flavor while also benefiting from its countless health advantages.

Recommended recipe: Carrot Ginger Turmeric Smoothie from the Minimalist Baker

Kick your curry up a notch

A classic staple in this scrumptious Indian cuisine, turmeric is known to be the perfect pair for coconut. For instance, coconut oil is known to ‘activate’ turmeric’s health benefits. Not to mention, the flavors are an ideal accompaniment for most palates. So, it’s only natural that you use a dash or two in your favorite curry dish.
Recommended recipe: Turmeric Coconut Curry with Pork from Bon Appetit

Make your soup sing

Craving a low maintenance meal that’s also good for your diet? Boost any broth in both color and flavor by sprinkling in a yummy spoonful of turmeric. The results are also incredibly fragrant, which is wonderful when you’re letting it simmer on the stovetop all day long.

Recommended recipe: Turmeric Broth Detox Soup from Feasting at Home

Mix it in your mac and cheese

Turmeric is great for flavoring and ‘dying’ rice and other side dishes, but it also forms an unexpectedly awesome marriage with pasta. If you, your spouse or kids crave ooey, gooey mac and cheese, but still want to stay a healthy course, put a pinch of turmeric to good use.

Recommended recipe: Creamy Yogurt Turmeric Mac and Cheese by Stonyfield

Serve up a heavenly hummus

When working with turmeric, you can’t help but take inspiration from Eastern parts of the world. Next time you’re tackling homemade hummus, mix in a small dash of turmeric—and sprinkle some more on top for a gorgeous display. Its deep yellow coloring and zesty flavor make your chickpeas and tahini even more delicious.

Recommended recipe: Turmeric Hummus from Dizzy, Busy & Hungry

Made In mavericks: feeling adventurous yet? Set sail across the globe by incorporating turmeric into your next recipe!

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