Appears in

Oxford Companion to Food

Oxford Companion to Food

By Alan Davidson

Published 2014

  • About

turmeric a spice and colouring agent obtained from the rhizomes of Curcuma longa, a herbaceous perennial plant native to India or SE Asia. It is now widely cultivated in the tropics, but India remains by far the largest producer. The plant was taken into cultivation in very early times, probably in the first instance for its dye, and no longer occurs in its wild form.

The double role of turmeric in food preparation is matched only by paprika among the common spices. However, it is more often compared with, or substituted for, the expensive saffron. When Marco Polo found turmeric in China in 1280, he described it as ‘a vegetable which has all the properties of true saffron, as well the smell as the colour, and yet it is not really saffron’. This was an exaggeration, since aroma and flavour are not alike, but the yellow of turmeric does resemble that of saffron. This accounts for the French name safran d’Inde and other similar names.