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Turmeric flowers grow from the center of the plant at the base of the leaf stems. The inflorescence is comprised of layers of fleshy bracts arranged in an upright, cylindrical to conical formation, and each bract is bright to pale green with a pointed appearance. The entire inflorescence can reach up to twelve centimeters in length. In between the bracts are small, funnel-shaped blooms that range in color from white, yellow, to pink-purple, depending on the variety. The bracts are smooth, thick, and succulent, while the petals are velvety, delicate, and tender with a crisp consistency. Turmeric flowers and their green bracts are edible and release a robust and sweet fragrance. The flowers and bracts have a mild, delicate, and vegetal flavor with a subtle piquant-like spice reminiscent of the turmeric rhizome.
Turmeric flowers are available throughout the year in tropical climates, with a peak season in July through August in sub-tropical climates.
Turmeric flowers, botanically a part of the Curcuma genus, are rare blooms found on the turmeric plant, belonging to the Zingiberaceae family. The flowers grow between fleshy, layered bracts that form in the center of the plant and are low to the ground, often camouflaged or hidden between the elongated leaves. Turmeric flowers are cultivated worldwide, but they are challenging to find in markets as a culinary ingredient. The flowers and bracts are primarily sold on a limited basis through local vendors in the plant’s growing region. The flowers have a short shelf life and are generally foraged and consumed the same day. Turmeric plants also do not consistently flower and are dependent on their growing environment to produce blooms. There are many species of turmeric, and the most popular species used for culinary purposes is Curcuma longa. Turmeric flowers are an unusual but highly valued ingredient incorporated fresh and cooked in culinary preparations.
Turmeric flowers have not been studied for their nutritional properties. Like other flowers, the blooms may be a source of fiber to stimulate the digestive tract and vitamin C to strengthen the immune system. Turmeric flowers do contain curcumin, a compound containing antioxidant-like and anti-inflammatory properties. In natural medicines of Southeast Asia, Turmeric flowers are consumed after childbirth to heal the mother’s body and are believed to be an anti-aging ingredient.
Turmeric flowers have a vegetal, subtly sweet, and lightly peppery flavor suited for fresh and cooked preparations. The flowers should be washed, and the green bracts and petals are edible, able to be tossed into salads, sprinkled over cooked dishes, or chopped into side dishes. Turmeric flowers can also be incorporated into chutney or delicately served with soups, dips, or fresh herbs. In Malaysia and Indonesia, Turmeric flowers are known as Bunga Kunyit and are traditionally consumed in preparations known as ulam, a type of salad. There are many variations of ulam prepared, depending on the region, community, and available ingredients, but the salad is often comprised of flowers, herbs, leaves, and shoots native to the surrounding area. Turmeric flowers contribute a refreshing flavor and are often consumed raw to highlight their crisp, succulent nature. The blooms are also mixed into sambal, a chile paste, sprinkled into kerabu, a salad served with rice, or tossed into budu, a fermented anchovy sauce. Beyond fresh preparations, Turmeric flowers can be lightly sauteed with vegetables as a side dish, simmered into curries, or steamed to develop a soft, savory-sweet texture. Turmeric flowers may also be cooked with rice to impart an aromatic fragrance. Turmeric flowers pair well with aromatics such as onions, shallots, garlic, and red chile peppers, mango, coconut paste, spices including cumin, coriander, mustard seeds, and fenugreek, long beans, bean sprouts, and peanuts. The blooms are highly perishable and should be used immediately for the best quality and flavor. To store Turmeric flowers, place them in a bag in the refrigerator, where they will last about one day.
Turmeric flowers are a sacred bloom valued for their subtle beauty in Hawaii. Turmeric is known as ‘Olena in Hawaiian, translating to mean “yellow,” a descriptor of the rhizomes saturated pigment. The rhizomes are considered one of the twenty-four canoe plants carried with the first Polynesian voyagers on their sail to Hawaii and were widely used in medicines, rituals, and natural dyes. As the plants were introduced throughout the islands, the flowers became revered for their secretive nature, forming between the leaves and growing low to the ground, often camouflaged. This quiet beauty inspired the well-known musical Lim family to write a song entitled Pua ‘Olena, meaning Turmeric flower. The entire Lim family performs Pua ‘Olena, and a hula was also created for the song, embedding it into the repertoire of traditional performers across the islands. Turmeric flowers are described as a hidden beauty in the song, only revealed through the wind. The flowers are depicted in whimsical imagery, including lyrics such as this, a translation from Hawaiian: “Leaf ‘Olena, leaf that shelters and protects, hiding the blossom unfolding, the wind whispers, show your beauty. ‘Olena blossom, ‘Olena blossom.”
Turmeric flowers are native to tropical and subtropical regions of Asia and have been growing wild since ancient times. Experts believe the plants may have been first discovered in India, Bangladesh, and Sri Lanka and were introduced to regions of Southeast Asia, China, and Japan in the early ages. The rhizomes were also carried and planted in Sumatra and Java, becoming a widespread medicinal plant throughout Indonesia. Turmeric was later taken to Europe through trade routes and was viewed as a valuable medicinal ingredient and spice throughout the Middle Ages. Today Turmeric flowers are a rare, secondary crop from the turmeric plant and are seasonally gathered from wild and home garden plants in Asia, specifically in Southeast Asia. The plants are also found in Hawaii, other regions of the United States, Central America, the Caribbean, Oceania, and Australia, but the flower’s use is limited, only found in home preparations or sold on a small scale at local markets.
Recipes that include Turmeric Flowers. One is easiest, three is harder.
|Zizira Explorers||White Turmeric Flower Salad|