Turmeric is the ginger-like rhizome best known in the West for giving curry powder its bright yellow color. You may be able to find the fresh variety in grocery stores that cater to an Indian clientele. Turmeric powder is common enough that you may be able to find it in the spice aisles of most Western grocery stores. If you want to make certain Indian dishes or are looking for an affordable alternative to saffron, fresh and powdered turmeric are your best options but you should learn what is different about each form of the spice before choosing one. Find out about them in the SPICEography Showdown below.
How do fresh turmeric and turmeric powder differ?
When you use them in moderation, both fresh turmeric and turmeric powder have a mild taste and are virtually indistinguishable from each other in cooked dishes. In an uncooked dish, you might be able to detect a little bit of gingery heat from the fresh rhizome if you use a lot of it. Fresh and powdered turmeric are different versions of the same rhizome. Turmeric powder is simply fresh turmeric after it has been dried and ground so the main difference is simply one of texture.
Fresh turmeric also differs from turmeric powder when it comes to shelf life. Fresh turmeric can last a few weeks if you store it in a refrigerator. Turmeric powder can last years but you will also have to store it in an airtight container and away from light.
Indian cooks have been using turmeric for a long time; however, it has recently become popular among Western eaters because of its health benefits. Turmeric is loaded with antioxidants, which leads to one of the main differences between fresh turmeric and powder: bioavailability. The nutrients in fresh turmeric are more easily absorbed and used by the body when compared to those in the dried and powdered variety. In particular, the main antioxidant compound in turmeric — called curcumin — is more easily used by the body.
Can you use fresh turmeric in place of turmeric powder and vice versa?
While you may be able to get a little extra brightness from the fresh spice in a raw application, heating tends to eliminate any major differences. As a result, they are usually interchangeable. You can use either one in a dish and get essentially the same results; however, you will have to adjust the quantities used.
One of the drawbacks of fresh turmeric as a turmeric powder substitute is the moisture. If you grind it, fresh turmeric gives you a paste with a similar texture to grated fresh ginger. This means that it will not be as effective if you are making a curry powder or want to use it in a dry rub. You can get around this simply by drying the turmeric. You can dry turmeric in a food dehydrator or a low oven. You can then grind the dried turmeric in a spice grinder.
When using fresh turmeric in place of turmeric powder, you will want to use three times as much of it. If the recipe calls for a tablespoon of turmeric powder, use three tablespoons of fresh in its place. Similarly, you will want to use a third of the amount if you are replacing fresh turmeric with turmeric powder.
When should you use fresh turmeric and when should you use turmeric powder?
A simple rule is simply to use the fresh rhizome when you are making a raw preparation like a smoothie or if you are adding it to pickles. You will be able to get the benefit of the flavor in a raw dish. Use the powdered form when you are cooking. For example, you can use it in a homemade curry powder.