When it comes to cooking with turmeric you have several options. Do you choose fresh turmeric, whole dried pieces, or the ground spice? I tend to prefer punchy, fresh turmeric in sautés and smoothies and ground turmeric for its color and ease of use in roasted vegetables and rice pilafs. Here’s a quick guide to fresh and dried turmeric and how to substitute one for the other.
Fresh turmeric rhizomes (often called roots) look similar to ginger, a close relative. Like ginger, fresh rhizomes have a livelier flavor than dried. Turmeric’s bright orange flesh is earthy, peppery, and slightly bitter. Depending on how tender or mature the it is, you may want to scrape off the peel before using it. Like ginger, turmeric may be cut into coins, matchsticks, or cubes; grated with a microplane or cheese grater; and juiced or thrown into smoothies.
Fresh turmeric may be found in the produce section of well-stocked grocery stores, health food stores, and Asian and Indian grocery stores. Choose firm rhizomes and avoid soft, dried, or shriveled ones. Store fresh turmeric in the refrigerator in a plastic bag or airtight container for a week or two, or freeze it for several months.
Dried turmeric is made by peeling, boiling, and drying the rhizomes, which are then sold whole or ground. Turmeric loses some of its essential oils and pungency in the drying process but it can still provide warmth and color. For the best flavor use whole fingers and grind them as needed using a microplane or spice grinder.
When purchasing dried turmeric look to ethnic and specialty spice shops that often have fresher stock and faster turnover than regular grocery stores. Aroma is often a better indicator of quality than color, which can vary from yellow to orange. Store dried turmeric in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to a year.
As a general rule of thumb:
1 inch fresh turmeric = 1 tablespoon freshly grated turmeric = 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
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