getting a taste for
TURMERIC
A SOUTHEAST ASIAN SPICE STAPLE

featuring
TURMERIC

ARTICLE BY SELEFINA CREATOR: RENA SAK

the spice of life
Beware white t-shirts and countertops: if you want a spice that adds a warming earthiness and a golden color to your curries (and possibly whatever else it touches), please welcome Turmeric into your spice cabinet. Whether you pronounce it tur-me-rik, too-me-rik, or tyu-me-rik — the latter being my preference — this vibrant spice is more versatile than you might think.

Turmeric is often recognized as a spice used in South and Southeast Asian cuisines. As a half-Filipina who grew up in a strong Pakistani/Indian community in Chicago, Turmeric was no stranger to our kitchen. It continues to be a heavy staple in my kitchen today, especially with my half-Sri Lankan husband and his delicious curries!

Turmeric has an earthy, woody, and slightly floral flavor that serves well in complex blends where it can bring other flavors together. Often paired with cumin, coriander, and ginger, it is the base of many curry powders and masala blends.

You’ll commonly find this golden spice in Indian masala blends and certain Thai curry pastes. If you’re a fan of the Golden Milk drink as I am, you’ll likely be very familiar with its unique taste and color. Like many spices of this region, turmeric has journeyed via the Spice Routes and made its way to many areas of the world where it is used today.

The use of turmeric can be dated to over 4,500 years ago and its uses vary from consumption to coloring and more. Its staining abilities have been harnessed to add a yellow tint to items like cheese, butter, and cosmetics. Even clothing, such as Buddhist monks’ robes and South Asian saris have benefitted from its dyeing properties.


*This article is by food blogger and Selefina creator Rena Sak (A Girl and a Spoon). At Selefina, we believe that cooking should be about exploring and experimenting with new ingredients. We hope having our creators share what they've learned about a spice will inspire others to go on their own journey.

The rhizomes are harvested annually when the upper plant’s leaves turn yellow, and they are then boiled, dried, and sold whole or ground.

tropical turmeric
Although most may know turmeric best in its powdered form, this spice begins its journey to us as an underground stem called a rhizome. The turmeric plant, or Curcuma longa, is a leafy tropical plant in the ginger (Zingiberaceae) family that grows in the wild. The rhizomes are harvested annually when the upper plant’s leaves turn yellow, and they are then boiled, dried, and sold whole or ground.

Turmeric is grown natively in India, where 90 percent of all turmeric powder is produced. The city of Erode (aka Yellow City) in South India is the largest producer in the country, hence its nickname. The plant is also grown in China, Thailand, and the Philippines, amongst other countries in the region.

COLOR SHIFTS
Raw rhizomes have stronger staining power than the ground form (and they carry more of the citrus notes). The compound curcumin is what we can thank for this prized pigment - and, surprisingly, the hue can change depending on how it's used or stored.

Acids (e.g. lemon juice) will help maintain the yellow hue of turmeric.
Alkalines (e.g. baking soda) will turn turmeric into more of an orangey-red color.
Iron (e.g. frying in an iron pan) will cause turmeric to become brownish.
Light exposure will destroy the pigment. Keep it in a dark cabinet.
Turmeric rhizomes actually look similar in shape to ginger rhizomes, although they are smaller and thinner with darker skin and yellow-orange flesh.

turmeric's travels
Nearly 4000 years ago, turmeric was noted for both its culinary use and religious significance during India’s Vedic period (late Bronze Age/early Iron Age), although evidence shows it has been consumed even longer than that. It still carries heavy significance in Indian culture, from medicine to cooking to religious and spiritual applications.

Turmeric appears to have traveled to China and then through Africa from the east before making its way to the Caribbean. Even Marco Polo supposedly marveled at how this vegetable showed qualities similar to saffron. In fact, turmeric is also known as “false saffron” or “Indian saffron.”

Turmeric had a particularly strong influence in Persian and North African cooking dating back to the pre-Christian era as it traveled along the Spice Routes. Ottoman traders later introduced it into Europe, where it was used as a cheaper alternative to saffron.

The word ‘turmeric’ comes from the words terra merita, meaning ‘meritorious earth’, referring to its color resembling a mineral pigment.
Due to its pungency, turmeric is often used as a base to help bring together other flavors.

TUNING TURMERIC
Turmeric has very dominant - and unique - earthy notes thanks to the flavor compounds turmerone and ar-turmerone. Due to its pungency, turmeric is often used as a base to help bring together other flavors. If used alone, I recommend using it in small amounts or it can be bitter.

Ground Turmeric   is the most commonly found form of turmeric, ground after the rhizomes are boiled and dried. Our ground turmeric has a mild earthy-sweet flavor with a hint of pepper.

Ground turmeric is typically used in combination with other spices, either as a base for a pre-mixed curry powder or in addition to other spices while cooking. Frying turmeric in temperatures above 266° F (130° C) disperses the compound molecules and new ones are formed. So, adding turmeric early to hot oil can influence the flavor!

    Get Creative with Ground Turmeric
  • Make your own curry powder blend: experiment with adding other earthy spices like paprika and cumin, and/or pungent ones like ginger and black pepper
  • Mix into soup bases, like a pumpkin or carrot soup. Try this Spiced Turmeric Coconut Soup!
  • Use in a rice dish, such as Paella, Risotto, or a rice porridge/congee instead of saffron or safflower
  • Mix into a drink, such as the warming Golden Milk or a refreshing Turmeric Tonic
  • Add to desserts, such as Sfouf, a Lebanese turmeric cake, or a semolina pudding with nuts



Chopped Turmeric   is made from fresh peeled turmeric that is chopped and dried. It has a mustard-like aroma and a slightly bitter flavor which will soften with heat. This form is great for infusing into liquids. Use tea or spice bags to infuse into hot liquids and remove before serving, or add directly in and remove pieces with a slotted spoon.

    Get Creative with Chopped Turmeric
  • Infuse into hot water- or milk-based teas or drinks. Combine with other chopped spices, like chopped ginger root, for more complexity.
  • Infuse into a sauce or gravy, like a turmeric cream sauce to pair with seafood, or a turmeric gravy for poultry.
  • Infuse into a hot pudding or porridge, such as a coconut rice porridge or cinnamon turmeric oats.
Ground turmeric is typically used in combination with other spices, either as a base for a pre-mixed curry powder or in addition to other spices while cooking.

a quick collection of
TURMERIC
+ TURMERIC SPICE PAIRINGS

Turmeric’s dominant flavor compounds are not found in many other spices, so pairing spices with its minor compounds gives much more flexibility to explore.

    For more...
  • Earthiness add cumin, paprika, or black cardamom
  • Floral/Menthol Notes add bay leaf, star anise or nutmeg
  • Freshness add cardamom or coriander
  • Heat and Pungency add ginger or black pepper
5.0
chopped
A warming spice with slightly astringent earthy-sweet flavor notes, chopped turmeric is ideal for infusions where it adds savory flavor and vibrant color.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
2.1 oz - JAR$5
2.1 oz - REFILL$4
8 oz - REFILL$12
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
5.0
ground
Ground turmeric will impart your dish with a vibrant yellow hue; it will also imbue a mild earthy-sweet flavor with a slight edge of pepperiness. Famously found in curry spice blends.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
2.5 oz - JAR$5
2.5 oz - REFILL$4
10 oz - REFILL$14
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.9
whole
These oblong light-brown seeds are distinctively earthy, musky, and almost charred in flavor. They are aromatic and respond particularly well to toasting.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1.25 oz - JAR$4
1.25 oz - REFILL$3
6 oz - REFILL$9
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
5.0
Spanish
powder
This version of Spanish paprika has only a very mild amount of heat, with a slightly sweet and slightly smoky flavor. It is a deep red color with flecks of yellow and has a smooth, fine granular texture.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
2 oz - JAR$7
2 oz - REFILL$6
8 oz - REFILL$15
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
5.0
black pods
whole pods
Black cardamom is robust, smoky and slightly bitter, with a strong, slightly sweet aftertaste. It is is commonly used in Asian and Middle Eastern cuisine.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1 oz - JAR$8
1 oz - REFILL$7
4 oz - REFILL$19
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.7
whole pieces
Star anise pods are as aromatic as they are visually distinctive. Star anise is warm and sweet with an intense licorice flavor that also reveals notes of mint and clove.
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
5.0
whole
Whole nutmeg is a hard ovate seed kernel that is used grated or ground as a warm, slightly sweet spice with a pungent fragrance.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1.7 oz - JAR$6
1.7 oz - REFILL$5
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.9
green pods
whole pods
Aromatic and flavorful, whole green cardamom pods can be lightly crushed to further enhance flavor in cooking.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1.3 oz - JAR$10
1.3 oz - REFILL$9
6 oz - REFILL$24
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
5.0
whole
A versatile spice with a bright citrusy flavor. Coriander seed is found in dishes from many cultures: Tex-Mex, Indian, Middle Eastern, etc. Whole seeds are also found in pickling spices.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1 oz - JAR$5
1 oz - REFILL$4
4 oz - REFILL$13
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.9
ground
Dried ground ginger is an aromatic and pungent spice with citrusy, even woodsy, notes. Used in baked goods and ginger-flavored favs.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1.6 oz - JAR$6
1.6 oz - REFILL$5
6 oz - REFILL$13
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.9
vietnamese
whole
Our Vietnamese whole black peppercorns have an intense aroma, but a more mellow taste with woody flavor notes.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
1.8 oz - JAR$6
1.8 oz - REFILL$5
8 oz - REFILL$13
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75
4.9
vietnamese
fine ground
A fine ground version of our Vietnamese black peppercorns. Complete with the same intense aroma, and flavor notes of wood. This fine grain form is perfect for table use.
TRY ME - SAMPLE$0.75
2 oz - JAR$6
2 oz - REFILL$5
8 oz - REFILL$13
TRY ME - SAMPLE $0.75

recipes that use
TURMERIC
Turmeric-Orange Honey Cake
with Orange Icing
a sweet treat recipe using:
by Kimberly Dennison
RECIPE SAMPLER
AVAILABLE
a sweet treat recipe using:
by Karine Eludut
RECIPE SAMPLER
AVAILABLE
a soup recipe using:
by Christine Loertscher
a snack / dip / spread recipe using:
by Shibi Thomas
a dinner recipe using:
by Kimberly Dennison
a snack / dip / spread recipe using:
by Shibi Thomas
a snack / dip / spread recipe using:
by Jayalakshmi Rangarajan
RECIPE SAMPLER
AVAILABLE
a drink recipe using:
by Karyn Maier
a cocktail recipe using:
by Karyn Maier
Kerala Egg Roast Toast
with Cilantro Coconut Chutney
a breakfast recipe using:
by Shibi Thomas

DECEMBER 2023

Turmeric is a special spice to me - and a good-quality powder is something I invest in. I enjoy taking in its earthy-sweet scent when opening up a spice jar or bag, and I particularly enjoy watching its coloring magic when I add some to a little hot oil for my curries. It is a spice that can overwhelm easily when not balanced, and I think that’s what I really like about it. It takes some experimentation to find out how you particularly like it (and how to pair it). I encourage you to get creative and have fun experimenting with this vibrant spice - it’s more versatile than you think! — Rena Sak