Turmeric is all the rage for its purported health benefits. Most of us know turmeric as a brilliant orange powder used in Indian and Southeast Asian cooking. It’s one of the primary ingredients in curry powder. And lately, “golden milk”—a sort of spicy turmeric tea—is trending in everyone’s Instagram feed.
From a culinary perspective, turmeric adds a warm spiciness and a vivid hue to food. On the health front, turmeric’s big claim to fame is its anti-inflammatory properties. It’s also being studied as a natural hedge against Alzheimer’s disease.
From a culinary perspective, turmeric adds a warm spiciness and a vivid hue to food. On the health front, turmeric’s big claim to fame is its anti-inflammatory properties.
Ground turmeric has long been a staple in my spice cabinet. But a few weeks ago, I came across fresh turmeric in the produce section of my local natural food store. It looks a little bit like ginger root (or if you’re in a more ghoulish frame of mind, a bit like large insect larvae). Having never seen it before, I bought a couple of pounds and brought it home to experiment.
Although it took me a little while (and some orange-stained fingers) to figure out what to do with it, I’m now a hardcore fan.
What does fresh turmeric taste like?
The flavor of fresh turmeric is much different than the powdered turmeric you may be used to. Both have a warm, pungent flavor that’s unlike any other spice I can think of. The fresh root is brighter, more aromatic, and a bit less bitter than the powdered form.
If you’ve ever had anything made with curry powder, then you’ve had turmeric. But with it can be hard to separate the flavor of the turmeric from all the other strong flavors in curry. If curry is the only place you’ve ever encountered turmeric, it’s really fun to experience the spice on its own and experiment with other combinations.
If you’ve ever had anything made with curry powder, then you’ve had turmeric.
Because it’s got such a strong flavor, turmeric works well with other strong spices. Try combining it with other warm spices like ginger, cardamom, and cinnamon. You can take it in a more savory direction by combining with cumin, coriander, mustard, and black pepper.
Use these jazzy spice blends to perk up foods that are mild in flavor, such as lentils, dried beans, potatoes, and other root vegetables, rice and other grains, and milk.
Here are ten fun things to do with turmeric, along with a few tips on how to handle it.
Ten ways to use fresh turmeric root
- Add grated turmeric root to stews and soups. Although Indian curries are an obvious fit, you can use turmeric in a wide variety of dishes. Try it in butternut squash or vegetable soup or a stir fry.
- Add it to rice or other whole grains before cooking. Both the color and flavor will pop.
- Stir some grated turmeric root into your tuna, egg, or tofu salad.
- Whisk fresh turmeric root into a vinaigrette or any other salad dressing. Drizzle over raw salads or cooked vegetables.
- Make compound butter. Mash grated turmeric root and ground black pepper into softened butter and melt over grilled fish or roasted vegetables.
- Add a small chunk to your smoothie.
- If you own a centrifugal juicer, try juicing some fresh turmeric root and using it to spice up other fruit and vegetable juice blends. It pairs especially well with ginger juice.
- Add grated turmeric to scrambled or deviled eggs.
- Make turmeric tea. Simmer grated turmeric and ginger in hot water for several minutes to make a warming tea.
- Try golden milk. Simmer grated turmeric and ginger along with a few black peppercorns, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pods in milk or soy milk for several minutes. Strain and serve with a touch of honey.
Tips for working with raw turmeric root
Here are a few additional tips—gleaned through personal trial and error—for dealing with this unusual ingredient.
How to store turmeric
Wash your turmeric root, shake it dry, and then wrap it in a paper towel to absorb any excess moisture. Store it in an open plastic bag in your vegetable crisper. Stored this way, it will keep for 2-3 weeks. If you hang on to it for too long, it will either dry out and shrivel or get moldy. If that happens, toss it.
How to prepare it
Use a microplane grater to finely grate the root. (No need to peel it.) Fresh turmeric root can stain your fingers and fingernails so you may want to protect them with latex gloves. It may also leave a sticky orange residue on your grater. Scrubbing with hot soapy water should remove it.
To remove (or at least fade) turmeric stains on your fingers, try rubbing your hands with fresh lemon juice. Use a nail brush to scrub your fingernails. Then wash with hot soapy water.
Boost the benefit
Turmeric’s health benefits are due to a compound called curcumin, but this molecule is rather poorly absorbed from the digestive tract. Piperine, a compound found in black pepper, greatly enhances the absorption of curcumin, so turmeric and pepper make a beneficial spice combo.
Are there any side effects?
Turmeric has natural anticoagulant (or blood-thinning) properties. Compounds found in turmeric can also lower blood sugar levels and can also interfere with iron absorption.
I don’t want to overstate the danger—the amount that you’d typically consume in food is unlikely to cause any problems. But of course, it’s possible to overdo just about anything. Taking a turmeric supplement or consuming large amounts of fresh turmeric juice on a regular basis could potentially be an issue, especially if you take blood-thinning or anti-diabetes medications, or you have an iron deficiency. Check with your doctor or pharmacist about any concerns.
If you’re scheduled for any kind of surgical or dental procedure, ease off on the turmeric (as well as ginger and garlic) for a few days beforehand. These spices are natural blood-thinners and, in large quantities, could increase the risk of bleeding or bruising.
Try this at home
If you’ve never enjoyed fresh turmeric, I hope this week’s episode has inspired you to check it out. Are you already a fan of fresh turmeric? Post your photos and recipes for your favorite ways to enjoy it on the Nutrition Diva Facebook page or tag me on Instagram!