What Is Turmeric Root?

O. Parker

Turmeric root is the fleshy rhizome root of the turmeric plant. This close relative of common ginger belongs to the Zingiberaceae plant family. Added to food, turmeric root adds flavor, a rich yellow color and provides many health benefits. The roots resemble ginger roots and thrive in hot, humid climates. It is identified under the species name Curcuma longa.

Turmeric, which contains curcumin.
Turmeric, which contains curcumin.

Fresh, dried and powdered turmeric root is available for use in the kitchen. The fresh root can be peeled and grated into savory dishes, and dried roots can add flavor and color to soups and stews. The rich yellow turmeric root powder provides an easy to store, on-hand supply of turmeric for just about every culinary requirement.

Turmeric is a common ingredient in spice blends used to make Indian and South Asian curries.
Turmeric is a common ingredient in spice blends used to make Indian and South Asian curries.

Cooks commonly use turmeric powder or grated turmeric to add color and flavor to egg dishes, to brighten up cauliflower and to enhance rice dishes. Though it's a common ingredient in many pre-mixed curry powders, turmeric also can be used to replace curry powder in dishes. It can be added to lentils and other bean dishes, salad dressings, and pasta dishes as well. When a recipe calls for expensive saffron, turmeric can provide an economical substitute for color and flavor.

Turmeric root — in any form — also provides numerous health benefits. It can help lower cholesterol, protect the liver and cardiovascular system, and treat inflammatory bowel disease. Studies also indicate that adding turmeric to the diet can help prevent and slow the spread of some cancers by inhibiting the growth of the cancer cells. It is believed that people suffering from Alzheimer's disease can benefit by adding turmeric to their diets as well.

Fresh turmeric root can often be purchased at specialty vegetable markets and grocery stores. Powdered and dried turmeric root typically can be found at regular grocery stores with other spices and dried herbs. The root can be found at online retailers as well, often in its dried or powdered form.

The plant also can be grown outdoors in tropical and sub-tropical climates. In colder areas, turmeric can best be grown in a greenhouse or indoors, though root production may be limited. In areas where temperatures rarely drop below 64°F (about 18°C), turmeric thrives outdoors year-round. The plants grow 2 to 3 feet (about 60 to 90 cm) tall. The roots can be dug and harvested in the fall when the plant goes into its dormant period.

Turmeric root, planted in the ground or in pots, commonly produces new shoots in two to three weeks. A temperature of 68°F (about 20°C) and humid air, such as that found in greenhouses, provides an ideal environment for propagating turmeric. A weekly application of balanced fertilizer and consistently damp soil and humid conditions makes growing turmeric root a simple endeavor.

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