Manjal thool / Haldi / Turmeric powder – Key spice in Indian cooking

Hello my dear readers,
Few things have kept me little busy and hence I was away for a little time from blogging. My mom left to India two weeks back. So you can empathise how hectic it would have been for us to juggle between work, commute and taking care of my little one. Gladly my inlaws have arrived couple of days back and I feel so peaceful at work and definitely life looks more under control. So that was one thing which kept me occupied all these while and another news to share is about the launch of my cooking class at Whole foods, Cupertino. Yay! I know you guys will be excited for me. Hence I want to share the news with you all right away. Thanks for all the love, kind words and support. Love you all!
I did my first session on 18th May and class kick started well. I must accept that I was pretty nervous, I made silly mistakes, my mind went blank seeing the crowd but  finally I survived. I hope I will do a lot better in the following classes. I talked about the different spices used in an Indian kitchen followed by simple recipe for lemon rice and cumin scented potatoes. Since few of them requested me to write posts about spices used in Indian cooking, here I am writing about the most key spice – Turmeric powder. You see more posts about Indian spices here.
My next class is on 9th June and its about “Indian vegetarian cooking with ayurvedic insights”. I will update this space about the class in the days to come but I can assure that it’s a hand-on cooking session with lots of interactions.

It is known as manjal in Tamil (my mother tongue) and haldi in Hindi (my national language)


Now moving on to our spice:Turmeric powder, soul of Indian cuisine is made from the dried root stems of turmeric plant. It belongs to ginger family. It has a beautiful yellow color and when used sparingly, brings a pleasing yellow hue to the food. Turmeric powder has a pungent, acrid and mild bitter taste. Curcuma longa is the botanical name for turmeric. Curcuminoids  are phytonutrients which has powerful antioxidant properties that are capable of fighting the damage caused by free radicals in the body. Consumption of turmeric powder can improve blood, liver functioning, makes knee joint healthy and helps to the skin glow and be radiant.  After harvest, the turmeric plants are boiled and peeled, sundried for several days before being ground to a fine powder. They are sold ground and you can find small packets in Indian stores and international food aisles of  departmental stores like Whole foods, Safeway, Safemart, Walmart. In certain homes back home in India, the dried roots are ground to a powder at the grinding store to get the texture right. Every family has one store who does it for them generations together. I am sure we can make small batches with a coffee grinder.
This yellow dust is an antiseptic and in most Indian homes, grandmothers will suggest making a paste with water and applying it on cuts and wounds. It is also an antibiotic and hence we rub it on the meat, chicken and seafoods during washing. It kills the bacteria and helps to reduce the odour of meat/seafoods. Turmeric is also a preservative and is also used in pickling. They prevent the food from getting spoilt. Due to its medicinal significance, turmeric is given special importance in Ayurveda. For individuals suffering from gall stone and bile disorder, it is recommended not to consume turmeric. A glass of warm milk seasoned with little turmeric powder and crushes pepper corns helps to soothen cold, cough and fever. I have been including turmeric milk in my South beach diet menu . Turmeric is an excellent source of iron, manganese, vitamin B6, fiber and potassium.
Turmeric powder is blended with other spices powders like chili, cumin, fenugreek to make curry powder and tandoori pastes. Its color stains the hands when handled during cleaning and cooking. It just lasts for a day or so. Just washing with hand soap is good enough to get rid of the stain fast. Generally I add turmeric to the browned onion mixture that was sauteed in the oil perfumed with spices. Some may add it to the hot oil before the main ingredients and in that case, you will see a dark yellow color in the oil. But once you throw in other ingredients in succession, the colour become mild, close to light lemon shade.
The colors yellow and orange are auspicious to Hindus. Since these two shades are associated with the Sun and solar system, these colours are part and parcel of Hindu mythology. Since India has predominant Hindu population, the usage of turmeric powder to decorate the diyas, walls and temples is a common sight. The word turmeric is synonymous to fertility and prosperity. Before the day of the wedding, turmeric paste is applied to bride and groom’s face and body. Since its a preservative, it is a tradition to cleanse and purify the couples before the wedding. My grandmother also says that turmeric keeps the bride/groom from the evil eyes. In South Indian homes during the festival of Navaratri or any auspicious day, turmeric roots/powder are given along with kumkum, flowers and fruits/coconut (picture here). 
Turmeric has so many significance so make it a part of your daily life to enjoy its goodness like we do.  This spice is easily available in the grocery store all over the country. However, there are conflicting views about the purity of the powder and some say it gets mixed with carcinogenic contents. To get the purest form, I would shell out few more dollars to buy the organic varieties.
For more cooking ideas with turmeric powder, hop over to see my quinoa salad with turmeric vinaigrette.

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  1. Awesome! cooking classes are fun. Have a good time and just enjoy yourself and what you need to say will come easily. Will try to come to your classes when I visit cupertino.

  2. YAY on the cooking class sweetie 🙂 That's a lot of useful information on turmeric.. great write up!

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