by Lee Wyatt
(last updated April 16, 2014)
Turmeric which is also known by the scientific name Curcuma longa, and the Arabic name Curcuma, and is very similar in nature to saffron. Surprisingly, this spice is actually a part of the ginger family, rather than a from a flower like saffron. As with ginger, the part of turmeric that is used as a spice is actually the root. Turmeric actually gets its name from the color it has, which is a gorgeous and brilliant orange that has been used as a dye for millennia.
When Marco Polo, who was the first Westerner to be introduced to turmeric, discovered just how impressive this spice could be. He is attributed as saying in his journals, "There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of the true saffron as well as the smell and the color, and yet it is not really saffron. It is held in great estimation, and being an ingredient in all their dishes, it bears, on that account, a high price." However, unlike the spice that it is so similar to, turmeric doesn't now have that same high price. You can currently get turmeric for as little as $6.50 a pound. When compared to the price that saffron commands (at least twice that price for one gram), turmeric can be a very cost effective substitute for saffron in many recipes.
Turmeric is most commonly used in Indian, Middle Eastern, and Oriental cuisines, and is slowly gaining inroads into the dishes of the West. In taste, while turmeric is so similar to saffron, it is also reminiscent of some of its ginger family, most namely cardamom. Another advantage of turmeric is that it is nowhere near as delicate as saffron, and is a more robust plant and spice. If you are looking for a great way to add a little pep to your dishes, then you may very well consider adding a little turmeric. Just be careful that you don't overdo it.
In addition to its culinary uses, turmeric is also used in a variety of other ways. For example, like ginger, turmeric has long been considered an aid in digestion in some countries, and is even prescribed as a dietary supplement for this. Currently there are even some studies that are going on that express some interesting affects that turmeric has on such illnesses as cancer and Alzheimer's. There is nothing conclusive yet though that says definitely whether this is the case or not, but early results are rather exciting. Only time will tell if this long standing folk remedy, and wonderful spice, will actually bear any fruit in the medical field.
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