Turmeric is a popular spice known for it’s bright yellow-orange color and features heavily in Asian cuisine. As well as adding flavor and aroma, it is also known to have numerous health benefits. To help you get the most out of this wonderful ingredient, we’ve put together this Ultimate Guide to use, select and store turmeric.
What is turmeric?
Turmeric is a perennial plant in the ginger family, native to southern Asia. The part of the plant used as a spice is a “rhizome”, which looks like a root, but is in fact an underground stem, from which roots shoot off. Other common rhizomes used in cooking are ginger and galangal.
As a flavoring it has an earthy, peppery, slightly bitter taste, and is usually used in savory dishes.
Dried ground turmeric is made by peeling and boiling the rhizomes for about 45 minutes. They are then dried in hot ovens and may later be ground into a powder. During the drying process turmeric loses some of its pungency and essential oils, but provides some flavor and a bright color. You can also buy the whole dried rhizomes (“fingers”) and grind them as needed with a microplane. This can help the flavor last longer in storage.
How to source and store fresh turmeric
Fresh turmeric rhizomes can be found in upmarket grocery stores, health food stores or Asian supermarkets. They’re not the most attractive looking things at the best of times, but look for firm, fresh looking rhizomes that aren’t soft, dried or shriveled. After purchasing, store it in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to two weeks or store in the freezer for up to 10 months.
In some specialty food stores it is possible to buy bottles of pre-ground fresh turmeric, which is convenient to keep in the fridge.
How to use fresh turmeric
Fresh turmeric looks like a ginger root but with a yellow skin. First scrape off the tough outer skin. Then you can prepare it as appropriate for your dish, including:
- cut in fine matchsticks – great in a stirfry
- cut into coins – great in a curry
- grated with a microplane, zester or cheese grater
- blended into a juice or smoothie
- crushed in a mortar and pestle
Fresh turmeric has a stronger flavor than dried.
How to use dried turmeric
Recipes will usually call for a measurement of turmeric powder measured by teaspoon. When measuring the required amount, make sure you do this away from the steam of your cooking. This ensures heat and moisture doesn’t get into your container and effect its future potency.
Can you use dried turmeric in place of fresh?
1 Tablespoon of freshly grated turmeric is equivalent to 1 teaspoon of ground turmeric. You can swap one for the other and get a similar affect in your cooking.
How to source and buy dried turmeric
Dried turmeric powder is widely available in grocery stores and supermarkets. You can also buy it in bulk in specialty stores and health food shops. The color can vary from yellow to orange, and doesn’t necessarily reflect the spice’s quality. Fresh spice will have a stronger odor, but if buying in sealed packages you may not be able to test this.
Amazon has several brands available, many of which are eligible for free shipping. They also have higher quality options including fair trade, organic, single origin and bulk packets.
Unless you’re making large quantities of Asian food, it’s probably best to only buy a small amount of turmeric at a time, as it loses its flavor with age. You want to buy the amount you will use in 6-12 months and buy more when required.
How to store dried turmeric
Store dried turmeric in a cool, dark environment, away from direct heat or sunlight. As with other herbs and spices, heat and light will affect the potency of the ground spice’s flavor.
Ensure it is stored in an airtight container that is tightly closed when not in use, to prevent oxidation of the powder, which will make it go stale. If you buy your herbs and spices in bulk, transfer them from plastic bags or containers into a container made of glass or tin to seal in the freshness. Write a label on the jar and date when you bought it so you can later keep track of how long you’ve had it in your spice cabinet.
If you don’t yet have a spice cabinet you’re happy with, take a look at our reviews on spice racks.
If you buy turmeric prepackaged in jars, it is likely to come with a best before date written on it. This is a general guide only, as commercially dried herbs and spices do not spoil, but simply lose their strength over time and will not flavor food as intended. In the US, “Best By,” “Best if Used By,” and “Use By” dates on packaged foods indicate the manufacturer’s estimate of how long the product will remain at peak quality. Spices are still usable once past their peak, they just aren’t as strong any more.
If you’re not sure whether your dried turmeric is still good, rub a small amount in your fingers, then taste and smell it. If the aroma is weak and the flavor is not obvious, it’s time to replace it. Meanwhile, you could just increase the amount called for by your recipe to compensate for the faded flavor of your spice.
It’s best not to freeze dried turmeric, as moisture can get into the package and it loses its flavor.
Turmeric as a supplement
Turmeric is rumored to have many health benefits, and has long been a popular ingredient in Ayurvedic medicine. It is said to be anti-inflammatory, an anti-oxidant and to help with all sorts of things including depression, cancer, Alzheimers, heart disease, IBS, aging and brain function.
However, if you want to consume large quantities of turmeric for its health benefits, you may be better off buying turmeric supplements. It’s hard to consume large amounts through food alone.
Due to it’s reputation of being a natural way to help with inflammation, turmeric curcumin supplements are a best seller on Amazon.
We hope you’ve enjoyed this guide to use, select and store turmeric. If you’ve found it useful, please be sure to share the link on social media.