Turmeric is a vibrant yellow spice that has become increasingly popular in recent years. Known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, turmeric has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic and Chinese medicine. These days, Western medicine is also recognizing the potential health benefits of this golden spice.
Turmeric comes from the rhizome (root) of the Curcuma longa plant. While turmeric powder may look the same in your spice cabinet, there are actually a few different varieties to know about. The type of turmeric, where it is grown, and how it is processed can impact the color, smell, taste, and health benefits.
Main Turmeric Varieties
There are three main varieties of turmeric powder:
- Madras Turmeric: The most common supermarket variety. It has a mild flavor and pale yellow color.
- Alleppey Turmeric: A specialty turmeric known for its intense color and flavor. It has higher curcumin content.
- Wild Turmeric: Turmeric in its purest form. It has not been hybridized or altered. Wild turmeric is difficult find and quite expensive.
Other regional turmeric varieties like Lakadong, Erode, and Rajapuri also exist. We will cover these types in more detail below.
Key Takeaway: The three main varieties of turmeric powder are Madras, Alleppey, and Wild Turmeric. Alleppey is considered the highest quality for cooking.
What Gives Turmeric Its Color?
So what makes turmeric powder so vibrantly yellow? The color comes from curcumin, the main bioactive compound in turmeric. Curcumin is responsible for most of turmeric's health benefits and medicinal properties.
In general, the deeper the color, the higher the curcumin content. Alleppey turmeric has the deepest, brightest color because it contains 5-6% curcumin, compared to around 3% in Madras turmeric.
However, some disreputable sellers artificially enhance the color of their turmeric using illegal dyes. Always buy turmeric powder from a reputable source. High quality turmeric powder should have a natural rich yellow hue.
Madras Turmeric: The Common Supermarket Variety
If you buy turmeric powder from a regular grocery store, chances are you are getting Madras turmeric. This is the most widely available variety.
- Color: Light yellow, sometimes pale and dull in color
- Flavor: Mild and bitter
- Aroma: Earthy, slightly mustard-like
- Texture: Fine powder, may be a bit gritty
- Curcumin Content: 2-3%
Madras turmeric is grown in the state of Tamil Nadu in southeastern India. It is named after the city of Madras, now known as Chennai. This turmeric variety is dried extensively which reduces its essential oil content. The result is a milder flavor that is ideal for mass production.
Madras turmeric works well for coloring dishes like rice, lentils, and soups. Since the flavor is subtle, it will not overwhelm other ingredients. It does not have the robust flavor or vivid color of gourmet turmeric varieties.
Key Takeaway: Madras turmeric is the most common supermarket variety. It has 2-3% curcumin and a mild flavor.
Alleppey Turmeric: The Gourmet Choice
Alleppey turmeric hails from the tropical, lush region of Alleppey in Kerala, India. This specialty turmeric is cherished for its intense golden-orange color and robust, slightly peppery flavor.
- Color: Vibrant burnt orange to golden yellow
- Flavor: Warm, earthy, peppery
- Aroma: Citrusy, ginger-like
- Texture: Smooth, silky powder
- Curcumin Content: 5-7%
Alleppey turmeric has higher levels of essential oils, giving it a distinctive citrusy, peppery aroma. It also has a smooth texture and up to 7% curcumin content. This combination makes it the gourmet choice for cooking.
A little Alleppey turmeric goes a long way to give curries, soups, and stews a golden hue and exotic flair. It also enhances the flavor and nutritional value. You can also use it to make golden milk, turmeric tea, and other health-promoting beverages.
Wild Turmeric: Rare and Potent Variety
Wild turmeric is turmeric in its pure, unadulterated form. It grows naturally in the forests of South Asia without any genetic modifications or hybridization. Wild turmeric is organically cultivated without the use of chemical pesticides or fertilizers.
Its curcumin content can range from 5-12% depending on where it is harvested. This makes it significantly more potent than commercial turmeric powder. It also has a much richer flavor and aroma.
- Color: Vibrant burnt orange
- Flavor: Robust, peppery, pungent
- Aroma: Strongly aromatic, woody
- Texture: Coarser powder
- Curcumin Content: 5-12%
Wild turmeric is difficult to find and quite expensive. You may be able to find it at health food stores or specialty spice shops. Always check for certifications to confirm the authenticity and organic status of wild turmeric powder.
A little wild turmeric can add a spectacular golden hue and unique flavor to soups, curries, rice, and other dishes. It also makes a potent ingredient in golden milk and herbal teas.
Other Regional Varieties
Beyond the main three varieties, there are a few other regional turmeric types that are gaining popularity.
Here is a quick look at some of the other turmeric varieties you may encounter:
Lakadong Turmeric: Grown in the Lakadong village in Meghalaya, India. It has a staggeringly high curcumin content of up to 12%, even higher than Alleppey turmeric. Lakadong turmeric has a deep orange color and robust flavor.
Erode Turmeric: Cultivated near Erode, Tamil Nadu. Erode turmeric has 2-4% curcumin. It received a Geographical Indication (GI) tag certifying its quality and origins.
Rajapuri Turmeric: Grown in Maharashtra, India. It has an average curcumin content and is known for its large, intact finger rhizomes.
Sangli Turmeric: Another variety from Maharashtra. It contains 2-4% curcumin. The Government of India recognizes Sangli as a major turmeric production and trade center.
How to Choose High Quality Turmeric Powder
Not all turmeric powders are created equal. Here are a few tips for identifying and choosing high quality turmeric:
- Color: Opt for turmeric powder with a vibrant, natural golden-orange hue. Avoid dull, pale powder.
- Certifications: Look for certifications like USDA Organic, non-GMO, or Fair Trade. This indicates responsibly sourced, high quality turmeric.
- Aroma: High quality turmeric powder should smell aromatic, earthy, and slightly peppery. Avoid any powder with a musty odor.
- Origin: Opt for reputable turmeric growing regions like Alleppey or Erode for the highest quality.
- Texture: The powder should feel smooth and silky rather than gritty between your fingers.
- No additives: Check the label to ensure there are no artificial colors, flavors, or preservatives.
When shopping for turmeric powder, it often pays to spend a little extra for the highest quality powder you can find. The flavor and health benefits will be vastly superior.
Tips for Cooking with Turmeric Powder
Turmeric powder is extremely versatile in the kitchen. Here are some tips for integrating it into your cooking:
- For sauces, curries, soups, and stews use 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon of turmeric per serving. Adjust to taste.
- To make golden milk, combine 1/2 teaspoon turmeric with hot milk and other spices like cinnamon and ginger. Sweeten with honey if desired.
- For turmeric tea, boil water with 1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder per cup and let it steep for 5-10 minutes. Add lemon, honey or milk.
- Add turmeric when sautéing aromatics like onions and garlic to boost the flavor.
- Combine with black pepper to increase absorption. The piperine in black pepper enhances curcumin bioavailability by up to 2000%!
- Store turmeric powder in an airtight container in a cool, dark place away from sunlight. It will keep for up to 1 year.
- Be careful handling turmeric powder as it can easily stain clothes, countertops and cutting boards!
Health Benefits of Turmeric
Whipping up tasty turmeric-infused meals and beverages provides delicious flavor along with great health perks.
Here is a quick look at some of the top scientifically-proven benefits of turmeric:
- Anti-inflammatory: Curcumin is a potent anti-inflammatory compound that can help relieve joint pain, muscle soreness, and other inflammatory issues.
- Antioxidant: Turmeric neutralizes free radicals that cause oxidative damage and cell mutations leading to disease.
- Heart health: Turmeric improves cholesterol profiles, lowers LDL "bad" cholesterol, and prevents plaque buildup in arteries.
- Brain boosting: Curcumin boosts BDNF, a brain hormone that stimulates neuron growth and formation of new synaptic connections. It may help delay or reverse cognitive decline.
- Blood sugar control: Curcumin improves insulin sensitivity and reduces insulin resistance. This helps regulate blood sugar levels.
- Immunity: Curcumin stimulates the production of antibodies, T-cells, and other immune cells that protect the body from pathogens.
- Cancer prevention: Curcumin interferes with cell signaling pathways needed for cancer cell growth and proliferation. It can help prevent and slow the spread of cancer.
What are the differences between Alleppey and Madras turmeric?
Alleppey turmeric contains more essential oils and higher curcumin levels. This gives it a vibrant orange-yellow color, robust flavor, and greater health benefits. Madras turmeric is dried more extensively so it has a mild flavor and light yellow color.
Is turmeric the same as curry powder?
No. Turmeric is just one spice used in curry powder blends along with spices like cumin, coriander, mustard seed, fenugreek, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, etc. Turmeric is what gives curry powder its yellow color.
What does turmeric taste like?
Turmeric has a warm, bitter, earthy flavor. It is also slightly peppery and gingery. The flavor is more robust in high quality varieties like Alleppey.
Should I take a turmeric supplement or use the powder?
Both provide health benefits! Use turmeric powder in cooking and consider a supplement for higher therapeutic doses. Look for a supplement formulated for optimal absorption.
Can I use turmeric on my skin?
Yes! Mix turmeric powder with honey, yoghurt, or oil and apply it as a face or body mask. Let it sit for 10-15 minutes before rinsing. This can reduce acne, inflammation, and discoloration.
Turmeric powder is available in a diverse range of varieties - each with their own unique color, flavor, and health properties.
Seek out high quality turmeric like Alleppey for the most flavor and nutrition from this incredible, versatile spice.