Used in cooking since 600 B.C., turmeric is the root of a tropical plant related to ginger. Though native to the Orient, this spice is now also cultivated in India and the Caribbean. It has a bitter, pungent flavor and an intense yellow-orange color. In Biblical times, turmeric was often used to make perfume, a comment on its rather exotic fragrance. Today it's used mainly to add both flavor and color to food. Turmeric is very popular in East Indian cooking and is almost always used in curry preparations. It's also a primary ingredient in mustard and is what gives American-style prepared mustard its bright yellow color. Powdered turmeric is widely available in supermarkets. As with all spices, it should be stored in a cool, dark place for no more than six months.
From The Food Lover's Companion, Fourth edition by Sharon Tyler Herbst and Ron Herbst. Copyright © 2007, 2001, 1995, 1990 by Barron's Educational Series, Inc.