Nourishments: Turmeric, The Not-So-Mellow Yellow Seasoning

Look out oat bran, acai berries, and coconut water. It’s little, knobby, and gnarly, but fresh turmeric is the food world’s new darling.

Once difficult to obtain, turmeric, widely used in Indian cooking, is being touted in magazines, blogs, and alternative medicine sites as the be-all and end-all to so many ailments, that it is hard to keep track. Natural foods supermarkets are now stocking the ginger-lookalike root, along with the more familiar powdered turmeric root.

Curcumin, which gives turmeric its bright school bus yellow color, is also the component of this rhizome that makes it a reputed ally in fighting infections and other inflammations. Daily consumption of just a few grams of turmeric, if you believe everything you read, can help prevent anemia, neuritis, memory disorder, and protect against cancer, infectious diseases, high blood pressure, digestive disorders, arthritis, irritable bowel, and stroke.

That’s a tall order for a little root.

However, native to South Asia, turmeric has been used for thousands of years there to alleviate the symptoms for which it is now gaining popularity in western culture. It packs a wallop when it comes to antioxidants, vitamins, and minerals, as well.

According to information at www.nutrition-and-you.com, 100 grams of turmeric provides a solid punch of nutrients: 138 percent of the RDA of vitamin B6; 43 percent of vitamin C; 54 percent of potassium; and a whopping 517 percent of iron and 340 percent of manganese. Of course, unless my math is wrong, 100 grams is equivalent to nearly four ounces… that is a lot of turmeric. But cut that down even to an ounce, and the numbers are still respectable enough to make this a heavyweight in nourishing the body.

Therefore, I am not opposed to adding turmeric to just about everything that I don’t mind eating yellow — for turmeric has a fierce ability to share its yellow color with all that it touches. Ground turmeric has a slightly bitter, dusty taste, with perfumey accents. In fresh turmeric, the bitterness is less pronounced, and the flavor a more mild, aromatic one.

This herbaceous root is known as “poor man’s saffron,” and lends a gentle golden glow to rice, cakes, and other baked goods — unless of course, the chef is heavy handed, in which case, Day-Glo food may be the end result. Hard to look at, but still quite edible.

Because fresh turmeric is apt to stain hands and fingernails, I nestle a chunk in plastic wrap, grating only the exposed end of the root. A microplane grater works well for grating fresh turmeric, as it does for turmeric’s cousin, ginger. Kitchen gloves are another option, although I find it awkward to grip the root when wearing gloves. (Eventually, the yellow stain will wash off, if you prefer to go bareback in grating fresh turmeric.)

With its subtle flavor, it is easy to reap any benefits fresh turmeric has to offer. Add it to smoothies, toss it into soups and stews that won’t suffer from the added color, mash it into potatoes for a surprisingly pretty result, stir it into yogurt, and mix it into sandwich spreads. Simmered in a bit of butter with lemon and salt, turmeric is a bright topping for steamed vegetables. Mix some into breadcrumbs when baking chicken breasts or fish fillets.

There is nothing wrong with making yellow scrambled eggs even more yellow – throw in a little grated turmeric.

Do I have to even mention using it in curries?

Fresh turmeric should be added at the final moments of cooking, wherever you decide to use it.

Will your aches and pains disappear with the addition of turmeric to the diet? There is no way to know without trying. At the very least, it’s a good excuse to make one delicious recipe after another.

Broccoli Cole Slaw

1 small head of broccoli, tough end trimmed off, quartered

¼ small head of red cabbage

¼ of a small red onion

1/3  C mayonnaise

1 tsp fresh grated turmeric

2 Tbs fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 Tbs cider vinegar

1 Tbs honey

¼ tsp sea salt

Black pepper

1 tsp dried dill weed

½ tsp dried thyme

Place onion in food processor with steel blade and pulse 4 or 5 times, until coarsely chopped but not watery.

Replace steel blade with thin slicing blade and slice broccoli and cabbage.

In a small bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients. Adjust salt and lemon juice to taste.

Toss broccoli, cabbage, and onion together in serving bowl. Add dressing and stir all together.

Serves 2-3 people.


Scrambled Tofu

½ medium onion, diced

2 cloves garlic, crushed

½ medium green bell pepper, diced

1 lb firm tofu, drained and pressed for 15 minutes between paper towels

2 tsp tamari soy sauce

¼ C tahini

1 Tbs minced fresh parsley

2 tsp fresh grated turmeric

2 Tbs canola oil

In medium sauté pan, heat canola oil. Add onions, peppers, and garlic and cook over medium low heat, stirring often.

When onion begins to turn translucent, add tofu and mash coarsely.

Stir in tamari and tahini and continue cooking on low heat, stirring, for about five minutes.

Remove from heat and mix in parsley and turmeric.

Serve hot with whole-wheat toast.

Serves 2.

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