If you have a jar of ground turmeric in your spice rack, it’s probably for one of two reasons. One: You cook a lot of cuisines that call for it in their dishes (like Indian, Thai, or Persian, perhaps) and your jar of ground turmeric gets almost as much use as salt. Or, two: You picked up a jar of it ages ago for a recipe that called for a small amount—probably more for color than flavor—and your ground turmeric sees less action than juniper berries.
Don’t get me wrong, I like its color-boosting powers, especially in scrambled tofu. It has a lot of value as an all-natural coloring agent: It’s used to color everything from mustard to chicken soup. (You can also use ground turmeric to dye Easter eggs.)
It’s just that we sometimes pigeonhole turmeric, thinking of it only in its dried, ground form—if not as a coloring agent, than as an integral ingredient of curry powder. But as with all jars of spices in our cupboards, they originate as plants. Although other parts of the turmeric plant are edible, what we’re talking about using today is the rhizome. (So it's technically not the root, but I thought if I lead with a mandate to eat more of a rhizome, I’d lose you before I’ve begun.)
Turmeric has medicinal value as well, which Diane Morgan reviews in her book, Roots: “The yellow compound found in the rhizome is curcumin, which has been the focus of several scientific studies into its anti-inflammatory and anticancer potential, based on its antioxidant strength.” It’s also used in Ayurvedic medicine to heal wounds, relieve abdominal pain, and treat a wide variety of other ailments.
While we can’t recommend eating more turmeric for any purported medical benefits (this is the part where we insert the tiny font warnings from drug commercials and advise you to talk to your doctor before undertaking a new medical regimen), we can encourage you to introduce more fresh turmeric into your kitchen for the benefit of adding color and flavor to your plate. If you haven't worked with it much, it has a slight musty smell and a bit of an earthy, bitter sharpness. Enjoyed fresh, turmeric has a sweetness to it, too.
Try looking for fresh turmeric at a specialty grocery store, heath food store, or Indian or Asian market. Store it in the refrigerator: Wrap it in paper towel, and then pop it in a plastic bag. It will keep well for a week or two. If you notice any mold, cut it off and replace the paper towel.
Fresh turmeric looks like ginger consciously coupled with a carrot for the sole purpose of creating eye-catching offspring with stunningly beautiful, vibrantly orange flesh (and, as at least part of its good looks suggest, turmeric is in fact closely related to ginger). Fresh turmeric should be peeled (as in image #1, far above) with a paring knife, vegetable peeler, or spoon (as you can do with ginger), and then prepared as desired. It's easier to grate (shown in image #2) than ginger is, as it's less fibrous. Just remember the part about it being a natural dye—it's equally effective on your cutting board and your fingers. Tip: Wash cutting surfaces immediately and wear gloves (or be prepared for yellow fingers).
Tasty Ways to Use Fresh Turmeric
- Like ginger, after peeling and grating turmeric, the pulp can be squeezed to produce juice (put it through a juicer for an easier time getting larger quantities). Use that liquid in salad dressings, bread dough, or your morning juice or smoothie.
- It can be thinly sliced or chopped into tiny matchsticks for a lively addition to green salads, potato salads, and slaws.
- Use fresh turmeric in lentil, rice, and other grain dishes.
- Sliced, it can be added to soups or pickled.
- Fresh turmeric pairs well with egg dishes: Try grating some into egg salads, scrambled eggs, or omelettes.
- Use grated turmeric in a marinade for chicken, fish, or vegetables.
- Make turmeric tea with grated turmeric, honey, and freshly grated black pepper. (You’ll often see turmeric paired with black pepper, as it helps with the absorption of the turmeric.) If you don’t want to wing it, try Jennifer Perillo’s recipe.
Our 10 Best Turmeric Recipes
This restorative soup with fresh turmeric and yellow miso paste is exactly what you want to slurp on when the temperatures drop below freezing or you feel a cold coming on.
Average roasted carrots become extraordinary with a few simple additions, like turmeric (fresh or ground), cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and a splash of lemon juice.
If you think all coconut rice is mushy, you probably haven't met this version from cookbook author and and food writer Andrea Nguyen—it's layered with delicate flavor and perfectly fluffy.
If you constantly crave Cheez-Its (who doesn't?), try making this homemade version, which calls on ground turmeric and a handful of other punchy spices for even more snackability.
This tangy yogurt marinade works wonders on chicken thighs, tenderizing the meat and promoting a gorgeous char on the grill.
Meet your new go-to salad dressing for now until, well, forever: it's bright and zingy, with just the right amount of balancing sweetness from maple syrup.
Use up all that fresh turmeric with this spicy, knock-the-socks-off-your-taste-buds salsa that goes on everything from rice or roast vegetables to grilled fish or toast.
This dish hits all the right marks when it comes to balancing flavors and textures: crispy-crunchy edges, cooling yogurt for spreading over top, sweet coconut milk, and spicy-salty toppings.
This soul-warming Burmese-inspired braised chicken just might be our most popular turmeric recipe of all time, and for good reason—it's satisfying, fairly easy to whip up, and simply delicious.
This flavorful dal with light and airy turmeric rice makes a comforting dinner the whole family will love—yes, even the kiddos.
Tell us: How do you like to use turmeric?
Photos by Mark Weinberg