Amanda’s note: Here is another wonderful article by Ramya Venkateshwaran who we found writing in India from her website WildTurmeric.net. I asked her to write about her family’s process for drying turmeric and I was blown away and immediately ordered dried turmeric root. You’ll see why. 😉
We Indians use turmeric powder in almost all our dishes. Every year during summer, we start the process of making a huge batch of turmeric powder for that year’s use in cooking. Especially in my home, it is ritual that I follow religiously. I have never used store-bought turmeric powder at all and, in my experience, most of the store bought turmeric powders are unnaturally “bright” due to processing. Since we are going to store and use the turmeric all year, we take great care in our own process. Each and every step from choosing the turmeric to grinding the turmeric powder is important.
Choosing good quality turmeric is critical. You can either buy fresh turmeric or dried turmeric for making turmeric powder. Fresh turmeric has a short shelf life and you have to immediately dry and powder it. It also takes a longer time to dry, so I always prefer to find dried turmeric for making turmeric powder. Even dried turmeric needs a good amount of sunlight to get crisp. If it is not dried crisp, you will not able to powder it finely and it will spoil easily. Try to buy organic, chemical-free turmeric from reputed sources. Pay attention when buying turmeric and choose big, smooth roots that are mold-free.
We always make turmeric powder during peak summer. Though we get plenty of sunlight in India throughout the year, only during the peak summer months does the turmeric dry very crisply. If you are trying to make a large batch, try to do it only during peak summer season and the turmeric has to be dried out directly under sunlight. This is especially very important, if you are making turmeric powder with fresh turmeric. (If you have an electric food dehydrator, you will be less limited by the outside weather.)
The turmeric has to be broken into small pieces before drying, this makes it easier for it to dry completely. We use a special instrument for breaking it, but you can use any hard instrument to break it into small pieces. Spread the broken pieces on a plate and cover it with a mesh to prevent dust settling on top. Sun dry until the turmeric is very crisp or your turmeric powder will spoil easily.
Since we make huge batches, we grind our turmeric in a flour mill. This makes things easier because the turmeric is ground smoothly and nothing is wasted. If you are making small batches, grind it in a spice or coffee mill. Sieve it and then grind the left overs again to a smooth powder. Make sure to grind it immediately after it has sun dried and while it is still crisp. This makes it easier to grind it finely.
After grinding the turmeric powder, spread it on a plate to cool completely. Once cool, tightly pack the powder in airtight glass bottles and store it in a cool place.
Many of us will skip the steps of growing and drying our own turmeric and will go straight to buying it dried. (Find a good option from our Amazon partner here.) Follow these simple steps:
Though it looks like a lot of work, you will be amazed at the flavor and smell of homemade turmeric powder. Since we are choosing the best turmeric and sun drying it, it brings out the best flavor in it. There is also a simple way to find out whether the store bought turmeric powder is unnaturally bright. Homemade turmeric powder will not produce very bright yellowish color to the dishes and gravy. We have to add a lot to bring a bright yellow color. If your turmeric has added colors, even a small pinch will bring a lot of color to the gravy. Watch out for added colors when using store-bought turmeric powder the next time you cook. You may find yourself making your own turmeric powder, for best flavor and health benefits.
Amanda’s note: Leave it to someone who has made her own turmeric powder her whole life to point out something obvious to the rest of us: commercial turmeric powder is “unnaturally bright.” First, turmeric powder colors may vary due to the variety of the turmeric root itself but the way turmeric powder is processed also affects its color. Because the root can harbor mold and foodborne pathogens, turmeric is typically irradiated to kill pathogenic bacteria. Irradiation also creates a brighter powder (read about that here). If you do not want irradiated turmeric powder, you have a couple of options:
Every year during summer, we start the process of making a huge batch of turmeric powder for that year’s use in cooking. Each and every step from choosing the turmeric to grinding the turmeric powder is important.
Break turmeric into small pieces so that it will dry completely.
Place the pieces on a plate and cover with mesh to keep dust from settling on it.
Sun dry until the turmeric is crisp.
Once dry, grind the turmeric in a food mill.
Strain the powder, putting larger pieces back in the mill.
Once the powder has cooled, store it in a jar with a tight-fitting lid.
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