We’ve Got A Taste For Turmeric at BabylonstorenJanuary 2nd, 2020
Food sleuths and clued-up plantophiles will have noticed the presence of certain little rhizome that we are especially fond of here at Babylonstoren and that, despite its unassuming appearance when harvested, is one of the world’s most celebrated culinary ingredients.
Noted for its distinctive aromatic flavour that settles somewhere between earthy and spicy, with notes of citrus and ginger, turmeric is widely used for its powerful health benefits as well as its intense colour that infuses food with a golden glow – hence the term ‘Indian saffron.’ Turmeric is also a plant of extraordinary intrigue and beauty when in bloom, with pink- and yellow-tinged white flowers in shapes that bring to mind the crowns of pineapples.
The root of the matter
Though having only recently entered the mainstream as the ingredient du jour, turmeric – or Curcuma longa as it’s known by its biological name – has been used for millennia everywhere from China and India to Jamaica and West Africa. While it’s likely that just about every bite of curry you’ve tasted in your lifetime contains turmeric, there is archaeological evidence indicating its use over 4 500 years ago. It has also long been used as a sacred root for body embellishment during cultural ceremonies. The Hindu tradition of Haldi, for example, sees the bride and groom having a tincture of oil, water and turmeric applied to their bodies as a blessing before their wedding.
Other than its gastronomical and religious uses, turmeric was grown and harvested as a natural textile dye – for centuries the distinctive yellow of Buddhist robes got their colour from turmeric. In contemporary fashion circles, one of the world’s largest fashion dye houses, Tintoria di Quaregna in Italy, has made headlines for its return to plant-based formulas with turmeric featuring prominently. Hip cosmetics brands such as NARS, Kiehl’s and Urban Decay have also been inspired by turmeric’s ancient cultural use as a beauty aid (it’s said to get skin glowing) and incorporated it into everything from make-up and foundation to face masks and moisturisers.
And then there is the evidence-based healing and health properties of turmeric, long used in the practice of natural medicine – in particular Ayurveda, the Indian system of holistic healing. Curcumin, the compound responsible for turmeric’s vivid colour, is known to have potent antioxidant, anti-inflammatory and anti-bacterial properties. This is a plant that packs a lot of punch!
Turmeric from farm to fork
At Babylonstoren the relationship between the garden and our kitchens is utterly symbiotic and central to a culinary philosophy that celebrates fresh, seasonal flavours. Thanks to our gardeners, our food team is well supplied with fresh turmeric and it makes several appearances on our menus: from Babel and the Bakery to the Greenhouse and adjoining Spice Garden.
Turmeric-laced must-try’s at the Spice Garden include: warm, spiced turmeric root tea or coffee; curry leaf and turmeric bread slathered with our signature handcrafted farm butter with ginger, curry leaf and turmeric (heavenly); and chef Jaco’s delectable charcuterie that incorporates aromatics such as fennel, oregano, smoked paprika, chilli oil, cloves, pepper, coriander and turmeric root.
How to use turmeric
Turmeric is versatile, mild and earthy. At Babylonstoren we use it for salad dressing to tea and everything in between. Our chefs always like to use it fresh and in season.
- Concoct a warm tea or iced tea with thinly sliced fresh turmeric and ginger, sweeten with honey.
- Make your favourite curry paste using turmeric and coconut oil. Store in a jar in the refrigerator and use in a sauce or when you make chicken, prawn or any other curry
- Add a bit of grated turmeric and cardamom to hot chocolate for a mild earthy flavour.
- For a pick-me-up a wellness shot mix grated turmeric, ginger and freshly squeezed orange juice. Add a little cayenne pepper at the end. Fresh mango or pineapple juice works just as well.
- Mix turmeric and paprika and sprinkle over cauliflower florets. Season with salt and pepper and a drizzle of olive oil and lemon juice. Roast in the oven at 180 degrees in the oven on a tray until golden brown. You can do the same with butternut or pumpkin.
- Add to carrot, pumpkin, corn or sweet potato soup.
- Spice up breakfast by adding a teaspoon or two of freshly grated turmeric to your flapjacks recipe. Serve with ginger and honey.
- Garnish your favourite cocktail with a ribbon of fresh turmeric just before serving and watch the colour change. Magic!
- Add a bit of turmeric to your Asian style broth or any mash such as potato, sweet potato, pumpkin or carrot and potato.
- We’ve been growing turmeric at Babylonstoren for at least five years and have around fifty turmeric plants that are on rotation for our restaurants – initially it was in pots in the Greenhouse, but now also have them in the grounds of the Spice House. The plants are very happy in this new tropical environment and are multiplying rapidly.
- Turmeric is a fast grower, shooting new growth from the tubers in early summer (November in South Africa). They can quickly grow up to two metres within a few weeks.
- Turmeric is easy to grow during the warm summer months when plants will need regular watering. Grow tubers in pots with a fertile compost mix that drains well. Tubers should be kept dry when they are dormant.
- We love turmeric because it’s such an easy grower. The leaves are very attractive but it’s the flowers that are the real show-stoppers. They’re like hidden gems between tall, lush growth.
- It’s a little known fact, but the flowers also taste good!