Old Favorite, New Form: What Is This Mystery Spice?

(Image credit: Apartment Therapy)

Browsing through a local spice shop recently, I spotted a jar of knobbly, bright yellow twigs. They looked very mysterious, until I realized they were a familiar spice in a very unfamiliar form. Can you guess what it is?

Turmeric! The mustard-yellow color should have given it away, but until I saw it in its dried, whole form, I never knew powdered turmeric was once the rhizome of a plant in the ginger family. In South Asia, where the turmeric plant grows, the rhizomes are used fresh, or are boiled, oven-dried and ground into the more familiar powdered form.

The turmeric I bought has been boiled and dried, and can be grated fresh for recipes on a microplane. Each rhizome is quite hard, and leaves behind a faint trace of powder on my fingers when I touch it. After grating, the smell of the turmeric powder is a bit more fragrant than the pre-ground stuff in my spice cupboard, but since turmeric has a fairly subtle scent, the difference isn’t huge. I have a feeling whole turmeric isn’t going to be a staple for me, but I’ll have fun playing around with this new version of an old standby.

What would you make with a piece of whole turmeric?