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Cooking with Turmeric

Fresh turmeric is well known for it's health benefits and versatility in the kitchen. Here at the cookery school, we've always loved turmeric and for me it has surpassed ginger as one of my favourite ingredients. Turmeric is often thought of as the poor relative to expensive saffron, but other than colour, there is no comparison, I find the taste of turmeric richer and more complex than the verging-on-medicinal flavour of saffron.

History of Turmeric

Turmeric originates from India and South East Asia. Historically turmeric was traded as a dye and was known as Golden Saffron, because of its rhizome colour and the association with saffron, which was also used as a dye. Tumeric was a far cheaper source of the yellow dye. Turmeric then gained value for its medicinal powers and exotic flavour.

Food coloured yellow is sacred for Hindus making turmeric a very important spice in India and turmeric is also the basis for curry powders.

Tumeric (Curcuma longa) is a relative of Ginger (Zingiber officinale), It is a knobbly rhizome, smaller than ginger, commonly dried and ground, but now far easier to buy fresh. It has an aromatic earthy taste and is best known for its brilliant orange colour.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric has been a recognised herbal medicine for more than 6,000 years. There is a long record of herbal use in Indian, Thai and Chinese medicine. It was first recorded as a Western herbal medicine about 600BC.

As a medicine turmeric contains Curcuminoids, of which Curcumin in the best known active ingredient.

In traditional medicines and Ayurvedic medicine turmeric is valued as anti-inflammatory, contains antioxidant qualities, is a liver tonic and stimulates bile production. It is also a digestive bitter and a carminative that aids digestion, reduces wind and bloating so no wonder it is an important spice in curry powders.

It is said that turmeric is more easily digested if either cooked in oil, added to milk or mixed with soya lecithin to improve absorption in our bodies. It is also suggested that black pepper that contains Piperine helps turmeric to be absorbed.

Topically turmeric helps heal wounds, grazes, soothes eczema and is rubbed on the skin before weddings to give a healthy orange glow.

Fresh or Dried Turmeric?

I like to use both, I have dried turmeric in the store cupboard and use it for curry powders and when ever I want to brighten up a dish. Fresh turmeric is now readily available in most supermarkets.

Fresh is not as intense as the dried so you need approx. 20g fresh to a teaspoon of dried. Fresh turmeric freezes well, I find it best to prepare it first, peel it and grate or mash so that it can go straight from the freezer into the dish you are cooking and do freeze in recipe quantities. I also like to use turmeric as a vegetable and slice it thinly and add to vegetable curries.

How to Store and Prepare Fresh Turmeric

Keep fresh turmeric in the fridge. The easiest way to peel turmeric is with a teaspoon. Then you can grate or pound the turmeric in a pestle and mortar.

Just remember it will turn everything it touches golden, so use gloves to protect your hands. It will come off your hands but it does dye chopping boards.

Favourite Turmeric Recipes

Turmeric is gaining popularity as a drink with golden tea or latte flavoured with turmeric, ginger, black pepper and milk on café menus. Golden tea or latte is easy to make at home for a nourishing pick me up. All you need is a thumb sized piece of turmeric and ginger, peeled and sliced with a few black peppercorns, add water or a nut milk, cover and gently simmer for an hour for the spices to infuse. Strain and either drink warm or chilled and sweeten to taste.

Why not try our recipe for Golden Vegetable Pasties

Delicious food photography by Rob Wicks of Eat Pictures.

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