You likely know turmeric best in its dried, ground form; the orange-hued spice, which can stain fingers, is often included in curry blends. But more supermarkets are now carrying turmeric in its fresh form; it looks like fresh ginger, but smaller and darker. Fresh turmeric adds deep color to dishes as well as a lively flavor that’s peppery and earthy, with a hint of mustard.
An ancient ingredient
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a member of the ginger family. Like ginger, it’s a rhizome, meaning it’s a plant stem that grows underground. Found in tropical and subtropical climates all over the world and available year-round, turmeric has been cultivated for about 4,000 years in India, where it’s incorporated into Ayurvedic medicine for its purported antiseptic and wound-healing properties, among other things. It’s also become part of various Indian and Southeast Asian religious ceremonies as a dye and food ingredient. Ground turmeric has been popular in the West since British colonists brought it back from India.
A versatile spice
Fresh turmeric’s subtle bite is good in everything from juices and teas to pickles and marinades. Grate some with a rasp-style grater into scrambled eggs, vegetable soups, or rice, or slice it thinly to toss in salads and slaws. Its peppery bite makes it a good match for slightly sweet flavors, like carrots, raisins, coconut, and honey, and it can jazz up milder ingredients, such as tofu, beans, and grains.
Handle with care
Look for fresh turmeric near the ginger in well-stocked supermarkets and Asian, Indian, or Middle Eastern markets. Buy smooth, firm, unblemished pieces, and store in a tightly sealed plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. You can wrap fresh turmeric in a paper towel inside the bag, if you like, to further prevent drying. It can also be tightly wrapped and frozen for up to two months.
Both fresh and dried turmeric can stain surfaces and fingertips. If you’re worried about your fingertips turning yellow, wear gloves when handling turmeric. Though a tad inconvenient, it’s a small price to pay for turmeric’s bold color and flavor.