Beate Baldry forages for exciting Asian ingredients that are readily available in Hong Kong, to discover their traditional uses, health benefits and ways to incorporate them into Western home cooking.
This month’s ingredient: Turmeric (Alias: Indian saffron)
What is it?
Turmeric is a perennial plant that grows five to six feet high; it is found in the tropical regions of Asia, but grows predominantly in India. Turmeric root resembles its relative, ginger, but its skin is tougher and a deeper shade of brown and the flesh is a bright yellow-orange colour.
In medieval Europe, turmeric became known as Indian saffron since it was widely used as a cheaper alternative to saffron.
The flavour is distinctly earthy, with a slightly bitter, peppery finish and a pungent aroma that immediately conjures up the Indian curries that it commonly flavours.
Where to find it
Most supermarkets here stock fresh turmeric, either loose or pre-packed, in the vegetable section. Turmeric powder can be found in the spices section.
- Fresh turmeric, which is more delicate in flavour than turmeric powder, is used in cooking throughout Asia in a similar way to ginger – the skin is peeled and the flesh sliced and added to stirfries, marinades, curries and soups.
- Turmeric powder is often used to add an earthy depth and colour to curries.
- In parts of India where turmeric is grown, the freshly picked leaves are used to wrap and cook food in.
- Indian women traditionally use turmeric paste as a cosmetic to improve the skin and keep it young. It is an integral part of bridal beautification ceremonies in India, Nepal, Bangladesh and Pakistan.
- Turmeric is used to colour foods such as mustard, baked goods, sauces, dairy products like cheese and butter, and canned beverages.
- It is used in marriage and other religious ceremonies in various parts of India.
- Commonly used in Chinese medicine as an anti-inflammatory to treat arthritis, it is also used to treat digestive and liver problems, skin diseases and wounds.
- Possessing antioxidant properties due to its active ingredient curcumin, turmeric is currently being researched for possible benefits to people with Alzheimer’s disease. Its potential efficacy in destroying bowel cancer cells in conjunction with chemotherapy are also being researched.
- It is a natural antiseptic and antibacterial agent.
Beware! Turmeric will stain everything it comes into contact with including your fingers and cooking utensils. Spilling turmeric-laced curry on your favourite shirt will leave a pink, permanently set stain if you wash it as normal. Here’s the remedy:
- Rub liquid detergent into the stain and allow it to sit for 30 minutes, then rinse with cold water.
- Apply distilled white vinegar to the stain, then blot dry.
- Fade the stain in the sun then launder as normal.
Try it in town
* Hin Ho Curry: A humble eatery but holder of a Michelin star for many years
(East Way Tower, 59-99 Shau Kei Wan Main Street East, 2560 1268).
* Veda: Tandooris and vindaloos in swish and sleek surroundings (G/F, 8 Arbuthnot Road, Central, 2688 5885).