What spice was first used as a natural dye over 4000 years ago, and even today is used to enhance the hue of many processed products from beverages, popcorn, and cereals, to ice cream, yogurt, cake, cookies and even sunscreen? If you said turmeric, you are correct!
You will find turmeric in the ingredient list of your favorite yellow mustard as well as many baked and dairy goods with a golden color. In addition to its early use as a dye, turmeric is listed for its health benefits in the Ayurveda, an ancient Hindu medical system originating in India. Many of these beneficial qualities are being tested today; among those being researched are its possible cancer, Alzheimer’s, and arthritis fighting properties. It’s also been used as an anti-fungal and an ant deterrent.
Turmeric is an important part of the wedding ceremony in Bangladesh, where it is applied to the skin of the groom and to the bride’s body by her friends. This temporarily stains the skin yellow, but is also said to soften it. Turmeric’s skincare benefits have been known in the east for thousands of years and the contemporary cosmetic industry is starting to catch on.
Turmeric is a rhizome, an underground stem that looks like a root, native to South East Asian forests. It is dried and ground into a fine yellow powder and used in spice blends, most notably curry powder, but also on its own to flavor Persian, Indian and Middle Eastern dishes. It is sometimes called Poor Man’s Saffron, because it imparts a similar yellow color to food that it is added to, but the flavor is stronger and earthier, and has a slight peppery bite to it. Next time you’re frying up some hash browns or fried rice, add a little turmeric and kick up not just the hue, but the taste, too.