Global Ingredient Feature- Turmeric

Pots boiled, sauces simmered and the radio chortled softly in the kitchen of the 3rd floor apartment at 2 Stillman Place in Boston’s North End district on the evening of April 18th 1947. Excitement and the smell of garlic filled the cramped apartment as the entire Boeri family packed into the living room to meet the newest member of the family. With electric blue eyes and jet black hair, the one day old baby boy, Ken, was wrapped in a blanket and sleeping peacefully in the arms of his mother.

Fast-forward 70 years to 2017- I’m visiting my father, Ken, for the weekend in Northern California and he hands me a mug of piping hot liquid filled with what appears to be tea. Upon spotting mysterious chunks at the bottom, I turn to him and ask “What is it this time?” “Just drink it and tell me what you think,” he says. As I take my first sip of the earthy tea, sweetened with honey, he goes on to tell me that it’s made with fresh turmeric root and honey, a concoction he drinks every night before bed.

My father is somewhat of an oracle when it comes to food trends, a fact he is unaware of. Over the years, he’ll obsess over something in the kitchen that I’ve never heard of and a year or two later, the ingredient or technique will appear on the menus of award-winning chefs and consumers won’t be able to get enough of it. Quinoa, kale, quick pickled vegetables and crème fraiche are all prime examples. I’m thoroughly convinced that he’s the kingpin of a secret organization that controls food trends, but that’s a discussion for another time. The bottom line is that when he starts talking about a new ingredient or starts tinkering in the kitchen, I pay close attention. His latest obsession is turmeric.

Let’s unearth the details about this global ingredient that’s turning up everywhere these days-

Turmeric 101

  • Native to: Southern Asia
  • What is it? A member of the ginger family, turmeric is a perennial flowering plant with a stunningly beautiful pink bouquet.

  • Preparation: The rhizome (root) can be purchased fresh, however, most are accustomed to the spice in its powdered form, which is achieved by boiling the root to stop maturation and then sun-drying for 10-15 days.

  • Flavor profile:
    • Fresh– warm, earthy, citrus and ginger notes
    • Dried– warm and earthy with some sour and bitter notes; imparts complex depth of flavor
  • Pairs Well With: Turmeric blends and harmonizes with many herbs and spices such as chili, cilantro, clove, coriander, curry, cumin, coriander, garlic, ginger and lemon grass.

Trend Watch

  • Color: Dried turmeric’s brilliant yellow color is a double-edged sword. While it adds a splash of color, it has the potential to turn a whole dish yellow when added.
  • Applications:
    • Turmeric Lattes– Turmeric lattes are popping up on restaurant menus and have great promise given the popularity of its cousin, the matcha latte. (This concept of pairing turmeric and milk is not new, in South Asia a drink whose name translates to “golden milk” incorporates both and is widely consumed.)
    • Better-For-You: It’s important to note that turmeric has risen to popularity in the culinary community largely because of its alleged health benefits/healthy halo. This is reflected in the dialogue along with the recipes and CPGs that incorporate it. Like other trending ingredients that benefit from a healthy halo, it is described as a super food or “super ingredient.”
    • Savory Applications: While many traditional turmeric applications are savory, it appears that recipe developers and chefs in the West are pairing the spice with sweet ingredients potentially because it has first seen success in the beverage category. We’ll see if turmeric can gain traction in Western savory recipes. Chefs like Marcel Vigernon of Wolf in Los Angeles who recognize its ability to add warm flavors and depth will be leading the way.