Other Names: Açafrão da terra (Portuguese); azafrán arabe (Spanish); curcuma (Italian); gelbwurz (German); haldi (Hindi); Indian saffron; ird (Amharic); khamin (Thai); kunyit (Indonesian); kurkum (Arabic, Hebrew); manjano (Swahili); nghe (Vietnamese); safran des Indes (French); ukon (Japanese); yu chin (Chinese).

General Description: Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a rhizome (swollen underground root) that’s brilliant golden orange inside with orange-tinged tan skin. Indigenous to Southeast Asia, fresh, pleasantly mild, and aromatic turmeric is preferred in that region, especially for Thai cooking, because it’s sweeter and more aromatic. In Thailand, it’s grated and added to curry dishes, soups, stir-fries, fried foods, snacks, and desserts; in eastern Indonesia it goes into stews and curries. Dried turmeric is earthier and slightly bitter, with notes of mustard and horseradish and a medicinal powdery aftertaste, especially if overused. Turmeric has been valued for almost four thousand years in India, where it’s essential for curry dishes but is also used as a cosmetic, as a dye, in traditional remedies, and in religious ceremonies.

Americans are most familiar with turmeric in yellow ballpark mustard, bread-and-butter pickles, and the chow-chow relish especially popular among the Pennsylvania Dutch. There are two main types of turmeric powder: Light yellow Madras turmeric is most commonly available and is used primarily for curries, pickles, and mustard; Alleppey turmeric is darker in color due to a higher portion of curcumin (turmeric’s coloring agent) and is noted for its fine flavor and earthy aroma with delicate notes of lemon and mint.

Season: Turmeric is harvested from February to April and may be found sporadically during the warmer months.

Purchase and Avoid: Look for fresh turmeric in Korean and Southeast Asian markets. Choose plump, firm, clean “fingers” of turmeric with no signs of shriveling or wilting. Purchase high-quality powdered turmeric, as cheaper types may be unpleasantly acrid. Note that turmeric’s color will fade if stored too long.

Storage: Fresh turmeric can be stored in the refrigerator up to 2 weeks. Pat dry with paper towels, wrap in a paper towel, then place in a zip-top plastic bag.

Note: Turmeric will dye your clothes, hands, tableware, and almost anything else upon contact. The stains are difficult to remove, though they generally fade with repeated washing.

Serving Suggestions: Add turmeric to couscous dishes and homemade mayonnaise for bright color and light flavor. Make yellow rice: For every cup of uncooked rice, add 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder, 1 soft cinnamon stick, 3 cloves, and 4 green cardamom pods.

Food Affinities: Almond, beef, cardamom, cauliflower, chicken, chiles, cilantro, coconut, couscous, cumin, dal, garlic, ginger, lemon, lentils, mint, onion, peas, scallops.

from Quirk Books: