The ginger-looking branch in our West Coast TakeHome cases this week is not ginger, but fresh organic turmeric from Hawaii. Turmeric grows wild in India and Southeast Asia and has been integral to the taste, smell, and color of those lands for thousands of years. It is literally woven into the fabric of Asian life. I met a Thai Buddhist monk who, while adjusting and winding his considerable long robes around himself, remarked, “These robes are thousands of years long.” The tradition of saffron-colored robes dates back 2,500 years to when a monk’s modest garb was washed in the river daily—absorbing the color of turmeric that had been rinsed from dishes into the water.
The use of turmeric dates back to the Assyrian Herbals and early Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. Today, its rhizome has extensive daily use in Hindu society, as food spice, medicine, dye, and cosmetic. Turmeric grows as a beautiful plant, and its peppery flavor and vibrant orange color is the epitome of an Indian sensory experience. The bright uplifting nature of its color is why Christo and Jeanne-Claude used it to curtain their great New York City art installation, “The Gates.”
The medicinal power in turmeric comes from curcumin, which studies have shown to be an antioxidant. Other potential benefits include anti-inflammatory and anti-plaque properties that can aid in the relief of common ailments and hold promise in the prevention of degenerative diseases.
Turmeric as food is its most immediately gratifying use. Peeled like ginger and grated, it offers instant access to what most off us have only known in dried or powdered form. You will have the ability to transform white cauliflower into a pungent orange flower and add pow to stir-fries. When preparing to use the fresh root, it is useful to reflect on all the fabric turmeric has dyed, as it can stain kitchen counters, hands, and cutting boards easily.
Preparation: Peel with the blunt end of a spoon, and grate or chop.
Storage: Keep in bag in the crisper section of the fridge. Use within one week.
- Heidi Lewis