Turmeric powder, soul of Indian cuisine, is made from the dried root stems of turmeric plant. It is known as manjal in Tamil (my mother tongue) and haldi in Hindi (my national language).
It belongs to ginger family. It has a beautiful yellow colour and when used sparingly, brings a pleasing yellow hue to the food. Turmeric powder has a pungent, acrid and mild bitter taste. They are sold ground and you can find small packets in Indian stores and international food aisles of departmental stores like Whole foods, Safeway, Safemart, and Walmart.
In certain homes back home in India, the dried roots are ground to a powder at the grinding store to get the texture right. Every family has one store who does it for them generations together. I am sure we can make small batches with a coffee grinder.
Turmeric is an antiseptic and in most Indian homes, grandmothers will suggest making a paste with water and applying it on cuts and wounds. It is also an antibiotic and hence we rub it on the meat, chicken and seafood during washing. It kills the bacteria and helps to reduce the odour of meat/seafood.
Turmeric is also a preservative and is used in pickling to prevent the food from getting spoilt.
Due to its medicinal significance, turmeric is given special importance in Ayurveda. For individuals suffering from gall stone and bile disorder, it is recommended not to consume turmeric.
A glass of warm milk seasoned with little turmeric powder and crushed pepper corns helps to soothen cold, cough and fever. I have been including turmeric milk in my South beach diet menu. Turmeric is an excellent source of iron, manganese, vitamin B6, fiber and potassium.
Tumeric powder is blended with other spices powders like chili, cumin, fenugreeks to make curry powder and tandoori pastes. Its colour stains the hands when handled during cleaning and cooking. It just lasts for a day or so. Just washing with hand soap is good enough to get rid of the stain fast.
Generally I add turmeric to the browned onion mixture that was sauteed in the oil perfumed with spices. Some may add it to the hot oil before the main ingredients and in that case, you will see a dark yellow color in the oil. But once you throw in other ingredients in succession, the colour become mild, close to light lemon shade.
The colors yellow and orange are auspicious to Hindus. Since these two shades are associated with the Sun and solar system, these colours are part and parcel of Hindu muthology. Since India has predominant Hindu population, the usage of turmeric powder to decorate the diyas, walls and temples is a common sight. The word turmeric is synonymous to fertility and prosperity.
Before the day of the wedding, turmeric paste is applied to bride and groom’s face and body. Since its a preservative, it is a tradition to cleanse and purify the couples before the wedding. My grandmother also says that turmeric keeps the bride/groom from the evil eyes. In South Indian homes during the festival of Navaratri or any auspicious day, turmeric roots/powder are given along with kumkum, flowers and fruits/coconut.
Turmeric has so many significants so make it a part of your daily life to enjoy its goodness like we do. This spice is easily available in the grocery store all over the country. However, there are conflicting views about the purity of the powder and some say it gets mixed with carcinogenic contents. To get the purest form, I would shlling out few more dollars to buy the organic varieties from stores like whole foods.
For more cooking ideas with turmeric powder, hop over to see my quinoa salad with turmeric viniagrette.