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The Health Benefits of Turmeric

Try turmeric fresh for a tasty change

| October/November 1994

Your first bite of fresh turmeric will be as eye-opening as your first bite of fresh ginger. The brilliant orange rhizomes are seductively pungent and charged with a peppery, camphorous flavor. In the flavor you can sense this spice’s exotic origins and imagine its scent perfuming a teeming bazaar or a maharaja’s banquet table.

Turmeric Recipes:

• Canary Rice
• Harira
• Spinach and Mushroom Salad
• Vietnamese Chicken Curry 

Unfortunately, peak flavor occurs only in fresh rhizomes. When they dry, the essential oil begins to oxidize and evaporate. As long as the rhizomes remain whole, their flavor, though subdued, retains a warm, woody, almost sweet character. When the dried rhizomes are ground, however, this appealing flavor degenerates, leaving the less volatile, bitter compounds to dominate. Turmeric’s color persists as a phantom reminder of its original spiciness.

Until recently, most Americans were familiar only with the vibrantly colored but feebly flavored ground spice. We knew it as a curry’s bitter undertone or as the dull powder left to languish in the back of the pantry. We saw it but did not taste it when, as one of the food chemist’s favorite colorings, it brightened our butter, mustards, jellies, and cheeses.

Today, many of us can experience fresh turmeric’s headier flavors as an increasing number of markets serving a Southeast Asian clientele stock fresh or equally pungent frozen rhizomes. Gardeners fortunate enough to live in America’s hotter climes can grow it as well.

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