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Make it yellow
December 26, 2011 6:14 AM   Subscribe

When my mother whipped up a mixture of fresh milk, gram flour and turmeric in her kitchen today, to use as a herbal face pack, my curiosity led me to find out more about this ubiquitious yet medicinal spice. What is turmeric, the bright yellow powder common in Indian spice boxes that gives such a characteristic colour to everything from dhal to aloo to bhajis? What is its provenance and history? Is it simply a spice or a medicine? What happens when you try to patent it? (previously) Turmeric turned out to be far more romantic than you'd imagine - a prosaic kitchen spice immortalized in idiom, song and double entendre - all courtesy of amche Bollywood.
posted by infini (23 comments total) 35 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oddly enough, tumeric also pops up in Peruvian cuisine (e.g., ají de gallina—last one is a self-link). It's a lovely thing, but turmeric turns EVERYTHING golden yellow: skin, your cooking utensils, anything you're wearing, etc. And it doesn't wash out of fabrics at all.
posted by LMGM at 7:20 AM on December 26, 2011


Whoa! Too many links, must stop clicking...
posted by Old'n'Busted at 7:30 AM on December 26, 2011


As much as I love haldi, I'd like to provide a tip to non-Indian mefi-friends: the quantity of turmeric on restaurant tandoori food is usually an inverse indicator of the quality of the dish. Pick up the tandoori chicken with your fingers. Do they come away orange? If so, you are eating sub-standard tandoori chicken.

Nice post, infini. The biopiracy angle is a pet peeve - the atta chakki patent is another ongoing idiocy.
posted by vanar sena at 8:03 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Vanar - the biopiracy and traditional use turned into fancy forejin patents deserves an FPP of its own if its not already been done. Its ridiculous the way its abused in the developing world

LMGM thanks for the recipe - I also noted that Ethiopian cuisine used it as well.
posted by infini at 8:18 AM on December 26, 2011


This is a lot of turmeric info. :-) I've recently started seeing fresh turmeric in San Francisco at regular grocery stores, probably because of the increasing Asian population. I cook a lot of Indian food, or at least attempt to, but haven't ever seen any recipes that called for fresh turmeric.

I wish Indian food and how to cook it were more prominent in the US. It's a major source of disappointment for me on Food Network. Aarti Sequeira is the only one making an attempt but her food is so westernized though I understand she's trying to appeal to a broad viewer base.

As mentioned in your epicurean.com link, the quantity, timing, combinations with other spices, to temper or not, makes Indian cooking food seem rather difficult.

The University of Maryland link with information on using it for medicinal purposes was informative; thank's for including it.
posted by shoesietart at 9:03 AM on December 26, 2011


Actually I don't know that we use much fresh turmeric in home Indian cooking -- perhaps for pickling? In South India, AFAIK, we use the yellow whole dried form and the powdered dried form.

One of my favorite pick-me-ups when I'm feeling that I'm coming down with something is turmeric milk -- heated milk with sugar, a bit of turmeric powder and ground black pepper. It somehow always makes me feel better.
posted by peacheater at 9:17 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Fresh turmeric and its leaves are more common in South East Asian cuisines like Malay or Indonesian. Its known as kunyit and the leaves are daun kunyit. Its also used in Vietnamese cooking and that may explain its emergence.

· Fresh turmeric root (related to ginger and galangal) is important to the Vietnamese as a spice in their cooking, as a natural beauty treatment for women and for healing. It is an excellent source of vitamin A. A small piece is broken off and the raw end rubbed on blemishes to help dry them out and heal them quickly. It is considered good for the liver and to help recovery from hepatitis. Fresh turmeric root crushed and mixed with honey is said to help heal ulcers if taken before lunch for 7 days in a row.

San Francisco has always tended to have one of the better global grocery supplies of anywhere in the world.
posted by infini at 9:28 AM on December 26, 2011


As mentioned in your epicurean.com link, the quantity, timing, combinations with other spices, to temper or not, makes Indian cooking food seem rather difficult.

Shoesietart, if you're in San Francisco, the World Market on teh Wharf has these ready use spice kits with pre measured all you need for this dish or that
posted by infini at 9:34 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


Just two days ago I was turned bright yellow by a turmeric face pack.
posted by 200burritos at 10:24 AM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


A half-teaspoon of turmeric in the rice that you're making will add a nice color and flavor and make your kitchen smell exotic.
posted by telstar at 10:30 AM on December 26, 2011 [2 favorites]


I can't claim to be an expert but I don't find Indian cooking to be particularly difficult. The techniques (and in particular the sequence of events) differ slightly from European or East Asian style cooking but once you're familiar with it it all makes sense and flows right along. And it's very rewarding, of course. Dang. Now I'm hungry.
posted by zomg at 11:33 AM on December 26, 2011


Just two days ago I was turned bright yellow by a turmeric face pack.

It wasn't genuine. The comments in the facepack link are most informative though, perhaps (let me put this delicately ;p) less melanin may also be a problem.
posted by infini at 12:24 PM on December 26, 2011


I don't find Indian cooking to be particularly difficult.

I don't think it's especially difficult but I'm not as knowledgable about ingredients and techniques. There are some recipes where you toast spices at the beginning of a recipe, others where the spices are added directly to the pot, and some where spice are tempered in ghee and then added at the end of recipe. And while I can follow a recipe easily enough, I don't know the ingredients as well.

I'm a good home cook and with Italian food, for example, I find it very easy to doctor pasta sauce in a jar, add some fresh onion, garlic, basil or extra parmesean. I don't have the same degree of confidence with spices with Indian food, does it need more cumin, garam masala or ground coriander.

I'm a big fan of Shan brand spice blends, especially their lamb seekh kebab and masala dal mixes. I can make dal from scratch just fine but my attempts at bhindi masala and baingan bharta have been disappointing, not awful but nowhere as good as what I get at my favorite restaurants.
posted by shoesietart at 12:33 PM on December 26, 2011


That's restaurant food, start simple - separate north indian recipes from south india (different spice boxes) and as soon as you understand the basics it'll be as intuitive as Italian to you:

chilli, salt, turmeric and cumin seeds - basics
garam masala - some, added later
tempering after - mostly dal
frying before - usually cumin, before grinding
coriander seeds ground - you know, I've never figured this out ;p but usually in more complex stuff like what you mention
posted by infini at 12:44 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


If anyone knows how to get turmeric out of cotton, well, my wardrobe would be thankful.
posted by mek at 3:32 PM on December 26, 2011


Turmeric is great zombie makeup, it turns your face chartreuse.
posted by serena15221 at 3:32 PM on December 26, 2011 [1 favorite]


I took a Balinese cooking class years back, and the teacher picked up a chunk of tumeric, sliced it open, and rubbed it on the back of his hand. He said that tumeric shares many of the same properties as betadine, and is good for disinfecting cuts if it's all you have on hand. I'm not sure if this is really true or not, but the resulting color of the juices looked exactly like betadine.
posted by Ghidorah at 4:18 PM on December 26, 2011


Seconding mek; turmeric stains the hell out of baby bibs, if you happen to have a baby who likes curry.
posted by Eyebrows McGee at 7:19 PM on December 26, 2011


If anyone knows how to get turmeric out of cotton

My mother says just put it out in the sun. I know she used to do that for our melamine dinner plates after a particularly yellow food and the stains would fade in the sunshine.

You may have to wait till summer though if there's no sun where you are
posted by infini at 11:50 PM on December 26, 2011


I wish Indian food and how to cook it were more prominent in the US. It's a major source of disappointment for me on Food Network.

If you haven't seen it yet, the British show Indian Food Made Easy on BBC is good, with a decent variety of recipes, some western adaptions and some more authentic dishes.
posted by formless at 12:02 AM on December 27, 2011


If anyone knows how to get turmeric out of cotton, well, my wardrobe would be thankful.

And here I was about to come in and say that you could use turmeric as a fabric dye (and I'm going to be experimenting with that a bit fairly soon). According to the reference books I have, it does fade. Just keep washin' it (not to the point that it falls apart).

Just two days ago I was turned bright yellow by a turmeric face pack.

Some fancy-pants spas offer something called the "lulur" treatment, which (they claim, anyway) is based on a traditional beauty treatment for brides in Java. It's basically a face/body pack with milk or yogurt, turmeric, and a bunch of other spices and aromatics; the yogurt softens the skin, the aromatics make the skin smell good. And the turmeric....well, the traditional treatment involves using this face/body pack each day for the 40 days leading up to the wedding, so that on the wedding day the bride will be stained this glowing golden yellow color.
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 5:50 AM on December 27, 2011


I used to frequent an international grocery in Ann Arbor, and I made a point of bringing home one unfamiliar vegetable on each trip. Fresh turmeric root was the best thing I discovered this way. It smells heavenly (and not at all like the powdered product). You can boil it for a few minutes to make tea, or add it to the flavor base for soups, or even make syrup from it.

Fun fact: Turmeric syrup is carroty orange, like the peeled root itself, but the moment you add club soda, it magically turns the bright yellow color familiar from curry stains. (Someday I'll have learned enough to write a front-page post about mysterious color changes in food: turquoise garlic, tea turned black by honey, clear juices that stain dark brown, the blue-green afterglow of red cabbage...)
posted by aws17576 at 9:21 AM on December 28, 2011


*pricks up ears*

If you honestly want help with that post, some of the "all-natural fabric dyeing handbooks" I own may help. (The stuff that different mordants do to food-based dyes is really funky.)
posted by EmpressCallipygos at 10:04 AM on December 28, 2011 [1 favorite]


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