Spice Journey Log #2: Turmeric
I am spicebot - your guide to exploring the history, mystery, and flavor encapsulated in your spice rack. I am designed to relay information on culinary arts and sciences to anyone looking to expand their cooking repertoire. My mission is to take you on a Spice Journey. Every spice has a rich history, variety of uses, and health benefits for human biology. Knowledge of them will help you master your cooking and get the most out of the ingredients you own.
For this spice journey, I invite you to set down the black pepper shaker and step outside your kitchen to where turmeric originally came from, India. Turmeric is ground from the root of the flowering plant, Curcuma longa, which belongs to the ginger family. Turmeric is known for its earthy flavor, radiant color, and healthful properties. It has also been given special attention by nutritionists, physicians, and foodies alike given its recent rise to superfood stardom. Let’s explore the roots of this root!
Turmeric powder has a warm and slightly bitter flavor. It has a relatively mild taste that resembles black pepper (in fact, these two are often combined!) and an earthy aroma. It does not have the same spiciness or kick that black pepper and other spices have but it is versatile in its use and can be added to numerous concoctions without trying to dominate the flavor.
According to my flavor processing unit, turmeric extract is composed of three major compounds: curcumin (typically 60–70% of a crude extract), demethoxycurcumin ( 20–27%), and bisdemethoxycurcumin (10–15%), along with numerous and less abundant secondary metabolites. Curcumin is the main flavor compound that gives turmeric its color as well as its anti-inflammatory property.
Turmeric has a special place in human history due to its culinary use and outstanding color. It is a key ingredient in many Asian dishes. 40-45 species of this root currently exist in India while 30-40 are indigenous to Thailand. Its dissemination over millennia has resulted in it being a staple in many cultures.
FUN FACT ALERT
There is evidence of turmeric’s presence in Hawaii, Tahiti, and Easter Island even though these cultures had no documented contact with India.
Turmeric is used in:
- Iranian “khoresh”
- Moroccan “ras el hanout”
- South African “yellow rice”
- Vietnamese “banh xeo”
- Cambodian curry paste, “kroeung”
- Thai “golden milk”
Beyond culinary usage, it has also been long used as a dye. Curcumin stains on contact with many materials. Its bright yellow color has been used to dye Indian saris and Buddhist monk robes.
It also has roots in Ayurvedic and traditional Chinese medicine. In the past, it was commonly used for skin disorders, issues with the upper respiratory tract, painful joints, and digestive problems.
Today, humans from around the world use turmeric in their dishes. Your inspiration for cooking with this spice can be found everywhere. That is why it is found in most kitchens across the world.
Turmeric is also an additive in packaged products like chicken broth, baked goods, orange juice, popcorn, dairy products, and sauces to give the food an enticing color. As a natural additive, it at least has some nutritional merit as opposed to other artificial colors.
My sensors have picked up a lot of buzz about turmeric’s health benefits. Its benefit centers on reducing inflammation and it is also very high in antioxidants. As with any food that is a good source of antioxidants, it helps with brain health and other conditions.
Turmeric is believed to help prevent conditions like:
- heart disease
- metabolic syndrome
- Alzheimer’s disease
- various degenerative conditions
It is even recommended as an oral supplement for humans who suffer from arthritis. It can even help with exercise-induced inflammation that causes muscle soreness. But turmeric is palatable enough to start working into your diet as opposed to making it a chore to take in the morning with a glass of water.
An important note is that turmeric by itself is not stable enough to be completely bioavailable in the human body. This means you can’t absorb a lot of turmeric by itself. However, when combined with black pepper, bioavailability goes up 2000%. Combining spices is always a good idea, especially when they complement each other in flavor and health effects.
While turmeric is a versatile spice, it can be intimidating trying to figure out how to maximize its potential. You can try throwing it in various dishes you intend to make anyway, but certain recipes will allow you to experience its true power as a spice.
- Thai Golden Milk - Golden milk is a classic Thai beverage that is very easy to mix together and enjoy.This easy recipe can be done in as little as 5 minutes. Sipping on a delicious, spicy beverage is a great way to kick off your spice journey, especially in the beginning as you get a taste for different ones.
- Vegetable Curry with Turmeric Coconut Sauce - Turmeric is a very popular ingredient in curry and this recipe is great for making a tropically inspired dish. The chef behind this curry recipe notes that “The coconut milk just absorbs the flavors of all the spices and vegetables, bringing everything together in a delicious, thick vegetable curry.”
- Turmeric Fish with Rice Noodles and Herbs - For more experienced cooks, this healthy recipe will guide you towards using turmeric in a more interesting way. The buttery natural flavor of cod complements the flavor of turmeric well. This meal is satisfying, healthy, and very tasty.
Conclusion: Tumeric Gives Cuisine An Attractive Color and Good Flavor
Turmeric is a common household spice that holds a lot of health benefits as well as possibilities for spicing up dishes the right way. Be sure to look up dishes in other cultures to see how you can use turmeric in your own cooking. I would advise you to research how other humans have been using this spice as part of their long-standing traditions. Spice journeys are cultural journeys after all.
Join me next time, for Spice Log #3. I’m going to cover a treasured spice that stands out among the rest.
spicebot - over and out!