Turmeric a Complete Guide

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A small rhizome of the ginger family otherwise known as yellow ginger or curcumin. The plant, curcuma longa, is a perennial with yellow flowers that can be found in India, Indonesia and other parts of South East Asia requiring the same growing conditions as ginger. There are a number of varieties of turmeric but only a few are used for cooking. Considered an antioxidant with anti-inflammatory qualities it has strong links with medical research into the treatment of cancer and Alzheimer’s.


The most familiar type of turmeric is that which has a brilliant deep orange colour when fresh and is very popular as a food and clothing dye. Sadly, the drying out process results in a loss of colour leading to the orange/yellow powder, which is a staple of curry powders and pickles, especially piccalilli. Ground turmeric should be used with caution, too much leads to a bitter taste and will overpower the spiciest of dishes.

I have often seen turmeric used as a substitute for saffron and this really is a bad idea. Whilst it is fine for flavouring and colouring an Indian rice dish it would certainly spoil a paella or Mediterranean fish soup. Known as ‘saffron of the poor’ in North Africa it is widely used in their cookery, particularly in tagines and spice blends such as ras el hanout. When buying curry powder it is worth taking note of the colour, as the cheaper ones tend to contain a lot more turmeric purely for cosmetic reasons.

Content and picture © Miles Collins