I acquired a taste for turmeric early in life. At the time I didn't have a clue I was eating turmeric. When my age was still in single digits my mother would make a special treat for me - a slice of homemade white bread slathered with yellow mustard and topped with a generous sprinkling of sugar.
(Turmeric is the spice that gives mustard its bright yellow colour.)
Have you ever had one of those conversations where you've reminisced with friends about the food treats of your youth? Well, next time, if you're looking for a horrified reaction, just tell them your mother fed you bread with mustard and sugar on top.
I've never run into another living soul who shares my memory. I have no idea where Mom came up with the idea but I loved it.
I remember sitting outside on sunny days chomping down on my bright snack and getting my face absolutely full of yellow.
It was manna from heaven.
Turmeric comes from a root that looks a lot like ginger root. The flesh is orange. After the root is boiled and dried, it's ground into a powder.
That orange powder is what we see bottled in the spice section of the supermarket. It colours food in the same way saffron does but is much less expensive than saffron.
It tastes different, too. Turmeric powder straight from the bottle is quite bitter. Afterward, however, you'll find your tongue and mouth will have a nice warm feeling. Turmeric looks, smells and tastes exotic.
That young Venetian with a yen for travel, Marco Polo, is said to have introduced turmeric to the West. He, apparently, found it in China in the year 1280 and described it as follows:
"There is also a vegetable which has all the properties of the true saffron, as well as the colour, and yet it is not really saffron."
While Polo may have found turmeric in China, most turmeric these days comes from India - about 90 per cent, in fact. It's mostly used in food, especially Southeast Asian curries.
Along with many other spices (including cinnamon, ginger and cumin) turmeric adds flavour and, most importantly, colour.
In our neck of the woods we like to add turmeric to rice and salad dressings or we shake it on top of salads. Some of us like to sprinkle it over hard cooked eggs.
It's also used as a colouring agent in foods as diverse as cheese and booze (I guess that's not exactly food) to mustard pickles.
Mmm, that reminds me. What would Jigg's dinner be without the proverbial spoonful of mustard pickles? What's that special flavour you ask? Why, turmeric of course!
Hundreds of years ago turmeric was big for a few other reasons.
It was used to dye textiles. People also used it cosmetically and in religious rituals.
Turmeric is sacred in the Hindu religion. Some Hindu women moisten turmeric with limejuice and dot their foreheads with it.
At Indonesian wedding ceremonies the happy couples would paint themselves with turmeric.
Recently I became aware of turmeric's medicinal properties. According to the book, "You on a Diet," by Dr. Michael F. Roizen and Dr. Mehmet C. Oz, turmeric can "reduce inflammation."
Through further reading I learned that many who promote natural healing remedies believe that turmeric can relieve or cure several ailments involving inflammation.
If that's the case, it probably explains why ancient peoples bathed in it to get rid of skin blemishes.
It's useful to know that turmeric has anti-inflammatory potential.
That gives us another reason to pluck it from the spice rack. Although we consume hidden turmeric in our hot dogs with ballpark mustard and in our beloved mustard pickles, I suspect turmeric is an underutilized spice in many Newfoundland homes.
I recommend experimenting with it.
Try making a curry with some turmeric and individual spices of your choosing.
Or, you can try the recipe I prepared recently with chicken and turmeric.
8 plump chicken thighs (bone in)
2 tbsp light soy sauce
2 tbsp liquid honey
Half tsp salt
Quarter tsp pepper
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp finely chopped ginger
Place chicken thighs in large stainless bowl with soy sauce and mix well with hands to coat. Next add honey and mix again. Finally add remaining ingredients, mixing well to coat all thighs. Marinate in fridge for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Place chicken on baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove from oven and serve with your favourite rice.