Turmeric (Curcuma longa)
, a rhizome and member of the ginger family (Zingiberaceae)
, is native to tropical South and Southeast Asia. Known for its brilliant yellow color and use as a textile dye, turmeric is an essential ingredient in curries and other South Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine. But, just as fresh ginger and powdered ginger differ in flavor and complexity, so do fresh and powdered turmeric.
Look for fresh turmeric in specialty produce sections or Asian food markets – the finger-sized rhizomes often sit next to their ginger root cousins. Although it looks like ginger and wears the same papery skin, fresh turmeric is less fibrous and smaller. Scrape off the skin and you’ll find bright orange flesh that easily stains fingers. In contrast to ginger’s pungency and heat, fresh turmeric is milder though still astringent with a crunchy texture and earthy fragrance. It blends well with traditional Asian staples like lemon grass, ginger, lime, hot chilies and coconut milk.
In addition to culinary uses, turmeric is used in Chinese herbal medicine and India’s Ayurvedic practices. Turmeric contains curcumin, a chemical compound responsible for the yellow color. Because of curcumin’s antioxidant, antibacterial and anti-inflammatory properties, turmeric has potential applications in modern Western medicine.
How to Choose Fresh Turmeric
Fresh turmeric is smaller than fresh ginger. The main section is plump and cylindrical, tapering on both ends. Small knobs may protrude from the main stem. When choosing fresh turmeric, pick rhizomes that are firm, smooth-skinned and mold-free.
How to Store Fresh Turmeric
For peak flavor and texture, use fresh turmeric as soon as possible. Fresh, unpeeled turmeric will keep in the refrigerator for two to three weeks. To store, wipe dry, wrap in a clean paper towel and place in a locking plastic bag. When you’re ready to use the turmeric, cut off just what you need. Then, rewrap the remainder and refrigerate.
How to Prepare Fresh Turmeric
Handle fresh turmeric with care. Its orange flesh can stain skin, cloth, tools and surfaces. To minimize staining, wash hands, tools, cutting boards and storage vessels immediately after prepping. For more protection while handling peeled turmeric, wear disposable kitchen gloves.