Turmeric or tumeric (Curcuma longa) /ˈtərmərɪk/ is a rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the gingerfamily, Zingiberaceae. It is native to southern Asia, requiring temperatures between 20 and 30 °C (68 and 86 °F) and a considerable amount of annual rainfall to thrive. Plants are gathered annually for their rhizomes and propagated from some of those rhizomes in the following season.
When not used fresh, the rhizomes are boiled for about 30–45 minutes and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep-orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in Bangladeshi cuisine, Indian cuisine, Iranian cuisine, Pakistani cuisine and curries, for dyeing, and to impart color to mustard condiments.
History and etymology
Turmeric has been used in Asia for thousands of years and is a major part of Siddha medicine. It was first used as a dye, and then later for its medicinal properties.
The origin of the name is uncertain, possibly deriving from Middle English/early modern English as turmeryte or tarmaret. There was speculation that it may be of Latin origin, terra merita (merited earth).
The name of the genus, Curcuma, is from an Arabic name of both saffron and turmeric (see Crocus).
Turmeric is mostly used in savory dishes, but is used in some sweet dishes, such as the cake sfouf. In India, turmeric plant leaf is used to prepare special sweet dishes, patoleo, by layering rice flour and coconut-jaggery mixture on the leaf, then closing and steaming it in a special copper steamer (goa).
In recipes outside South Asia, turmeric is sometimes used as an agent to impart a rich, custard-like yellow color. It is used in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes, orange juice, biscuits, popcorn color, cereals, sauces, gelatins, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders.
Most turmeric is used in the form of rhizome powder. In some regions (especially in Maharashtra, Goa, Konkan, and Kanara), turmeric leaves are used to wrap and cook food. Turmeric leaves are mainly used in this way in areas where turmeric is grown locally, since the leaves used are freshly picked. Turmeric leaves impart a distinctive flavor.
Although typically used in its dried, powdered form, turmeric is also used fresh, like ginger. It has numerous uses in East Asian recipes, such as pickle that contains large chunks of soft turmeric, made from fresh turmeric.
Turmeric is widely used as a spice in South Asian and Middle Eastern cooking. Many Persian dishes use turmeric as a starter ingredient. Almost all Iranian khoresh dishes are started using onions caramelized in oil and turmeric, followed by other ingredients. The Moroccanspice mix ras el hanout typically includes turmeric.
In India and Nepal, turmeric is widely grown and extensively used in many vegetable and meat dishes for its color; it is also used for its supposed value in traditional medicine.
In South Africa, turmeric is used to give boiled white rice a golden colour.
In Vietnamese cuisine, turmeric powder is used to color and enhance the flavors of certain dishes, such as bánh xèo, bánh khọt, and mi quang. The powder is used in many other Vietnamese stir-fried and soup dishes.
The staple Cambodian curry paste kroeung, used in many dishes including Amok, typically contains fresh turmeric.
In Indonesia, turmeric leaves are used for Minang or Padang curry base of Sumatra, such as rendang, sate padang, and many other varieties.
In Thailand, fresh turmeric rhizomes are widely used in many dishes, in particular in the southern Thai cuisine, such as the yellow curry and turmeric soup.
In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron because it was widely used as an alternative to the far more expensive saffron spice.
Basic research shows extracts from turmeric may have antifungal and antibacterial properties.
Turmeric is under study for its potential to affect human diseases, including Alzheimer’s disease and diabetes.
Turmeric makes a poor fabric dye, as it is not very light fast, but is commonly used in Indian and Bangladeshi clothing, such as saris and Buddhist monks’s robes. Turmeric (coded as E100 when used as a food additive) is used to protect food products from sunlight. Theoleoresin is used for oil-containing products. A curcumin and polysorbate solution or curcumin powder dissolved in alcohol is used for water-containing products. Over-coloring, such as in pickles, relishes, and mustard, is sometimes used to compensate for fading.
In combination with annatto, turmeric has been used to color cheeses, yogurt, dry mixes, salad dressings, winter butter and margarine. Turmeric is also used to give a yellow color to some prepared mustards, canned chicken broths, and other foods (often as a much cheaper replacement for saffron).