Turmeric and curry powder look very much alike. In fact, they can be similar enough that you might mistake one for the other. However, the fact that these are very different ingredients will be evident once you start cooking with one or the other. Let’s take a look at how these two seasonings compare to each other in this SPICEography Showdown.
How does turmeric differ from curry powder?
Turmeric is a rhizome related to ginger. It looks like ginger, especially before you peel it. It is relatively mild in flavor; in fact, you may not get a lot of flavor or aroma unless you use a lot of it. The aroma and flavor that you will get from it are subtly reminiscent of citrus and ginger but it has the potential to be bitter if used in excess. Turmeric is best known for its very bright yellow. It is the ingredient that gives curry powder its distinctive color.
Turmeric’s origin is in the East; it is a common ingredient in Indian cooking while also being famous for its medicinal benefits. It is often used as a substitute for saffron due to its color and relatively mild flavor. These days, turmeric is still commonly used for its health benefits. It has become a trendy health food as a result of its anti-inflammatory properties, which mostly result from a compound it contains called curcumin.
Curry powder consists of multiple spices, not just a single one like turmeric. While turmeric is always among those spices, it is present mainly because of the color. Curry powder will have multiple pungent spices like fenugreek, coriander, and cumin. In other words, most curry blends have too many strong flavors for the subtle notes of turmeric to stand out. Curry powder may not be as renowned a nutritional supplement as turmeric but most blends are made up of many nutrient-rich ingredients. Curry powder will give you the nutrients from turmeric as well as from the other spices.
Can you use turmeric in place of curry powder and vice versa?
Turmeric by itself will not make a good curry powder substitute in any applications where you want the taste of curry powder. As noted above, it lacks the complexity of flavor and the pungency that you would get from the typical curry powder blend. On the other hand, turmeric can be a workable substitute if what you mainly want from your curry powder is its bright yellow color and not much else. Note that while it does not have the flavor of curry powder, it is an essential ingredient in a homemade curry powder blend. Use it to make your own curry powder.
Curry powder can be used as a turmeric substitute in dishes where the added flavor will not be a problem. You may not want to add curry powder to a smoothie but it can work as a seasoning and coloring agent for vegetables, rice or meat.
When should you use turmeric and when should you use curry powder?
The traditional uses of turmeric revolve around its color. Its yellowness makes it a great addition to pickles as well as to soups and some sauces. You can also use it as a health supplement by adding it to smoothies or fruit juices. Curry powder is necessary if you are making classic anglo Indian curry dishes and can be used in other applications that call for a specific set of pre-measured Indian spices. You can use it as a dry rub for meat as well as a seasoning for fries.