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Curcuma longa

Yellow Root or Indian Saffron (Turmeric)

This spice goes back before Biblical times when it was used primarily to make perfumes, a testament to its exotic fragrance. Its use dates back nearly 4000 years, to the Vedic culture in India where it was used as a culinary spice and had some religious significance. It is mentioned in Sanskrit writings. This relative of the ginger family is used both for its flavor as well as for its color. When peeled, dried, and ground it has a bright gold or yellow color.

The name derives from the Latin terra merita “meritorious earth” referring to the color of ground turmeric resembles, the mineral pigment ochre. In many languages turmeric is simply called “yellow root”. It is often referred to as “Indian saffron”. Because of the strong association between India and spices in the olden days of Europe, many spices contain an “India-Element” in their names. Examples are, besides “Indian saffron” for turmeric, designations like “Indian nut” (coconut, nutmeg), “Indian date” (tamarind), “Indian anise” (star anise), “Indian parsley” (coriander) and many more.

Turmeric is used extensively in the East and Middle East as a condiment and culinary dye. In India it is used to tint many sweet dishes. In addition to its wide use in Moroccan cuisine to spice meat, particularly lamb, and vegetables, its principal use is in curries and curry powders. It is used in many fish curries, possibly because it successfully masks fishy odors. Turmeric is a primary ingredient in American yellow mustard. It is what gives American mustard its yellow color rather than the ground mustard seed. Turmeric is also an ingredient in Worcestershire sauce. Turmeric is often used lightly in dishes as a substitute for the much more expensive saffron.

If you are running short of turmeric, use curry powder which will probably contain turmeric anyway.


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