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.