Although I’d been using turmeric for a few years now, I had only been using the standard yellow turmeric. Recently, I picked up some white turmeric to experiment with in some new culinary dishes. As with anything, fresh is always better than dried. For the longest time, I had only been using dried turmeric, but switched to buying fresh turmeric roots a year ago and have not looked back.
Yellow Turmeric (the root of Curcuma longa) also called poor man’s saffron or Indian saffron, will give your dish a nice yellow color and an earthly, warm and peppery flavor. It is also used in Indian and Chinese medicine due to its anti-inflammatory properties. Recent studies have even shown curcumin (the yellow/orange pigment) to be as efficacious as some over the counter anti-inflammatories. The turmeric powder, that most of us are familiar with, is made by boiling the root and then drying and grinding the root into power. Turmeric is also used as a dye, and, as one becomes quickly aware when working with it, will stain your clothing, utensils and skin.
White Turmeric (the root of Curcuma zedoaria – therefore also just called Zedoaria) has a smell reminiscent of mango and taste similar to ginger, although with a stronger pungent taste. I purchased these in the local Indian store where they were named Amba Haldi. I’ve found them useful in curry dishes – since they do have a stronger taste. In terms of traditional uses, these roots are also used to aid digestion and have some anti-oxidant potential. For digestion, try making a tea infusion with a piece of root grated and boiled in water for a few minutes.
Since I prefer to purchase my turmeric for around $2 per pound (and fresh) in the local Asian store, rather than $6 per pound (and not so fresh) in the local supermarket, I found a way to squirrel away some for future use, which is simply to freeze it. Buy extra roots, peel them, cut them to size and freeze. I’ve been using this method for both turmeric and ginger. For ginger, it has the added benefit of making the ginger easy to grate.
Here is a video that explains the difference between white and yellow turmeric.