What's the Deal with...White Turmeric


You know that thing? That thing that sounds like something you should already know about, so you don’t really want to ask? Well, we know about it, and we’ll give you the intel. Welcome to What’s the Deal With.


Photo credit: Instagram/thepumpernickel

Not all turmeric is bright golden-orange, ground to a fine powder, and lurking in the back of your spice cabinet. There’s another kind of turmeric—white turmeric—and it lives on the opposite end of the flavor spectrum.

Here’s its deal:

Defining Characteristic: Though it’s sometimes called “mango ginger" for its mango-like flavor and striking resemblance to common ginger, white turmeric is actually more closely related to common turmeric (aka the turmeric you already know and love). But whereas common turmeric is pungent, earthy, and slightly bitter, white turmeric is bright and slightly sweet. 

And, of course, white turmeric has a near-white hue. Like common ginger and turmeric (and galangal), it’s a rhizome—a fibrous plant that grows underground and sprouts roots and shoots.

Where It Comes From: White turmeric is popular in Southern and Eastern Asian cuisines, most notably in India and Thailand.

How It’s Used: In India, it’s often used to flavor chutneys, relishes in curries, and in Thailand one often finds thinly sliced raw strips of it in fresh salads. Chef Andy Ricker serves one such Northern Thaistyle herbal salad, seen above, called yam samun phrai. It’s available at the New York City outpost of his eatery, Pok Pok.

Where to Find It: Unfortunately, white turmeric is tough to find in the Western hemisphere. But don’t be discouraged! In his restaurant’s 2013 cookbook, Ricker suggests checking out Indian specialty markets or ordering white turmeric online at Indianblend.com. If you’re really in a pinch, wrote Ricker, substitute two parts peeled parsnips and one part peeled young ginger for white turmeric.

Why It’s a Game Changer: Introducing the recipe in his book, Ricker whimsically described the Chiang Mai (a sprawling Thai city) dish that first inspired it: 

"I took a bite: boisterously sweet and slightly tart, crunchy and crispy, rich and bright," Ricker wrote. "I had no idea what I was eating, but I don’t think I’ve ever encountered anything that tasted this unique but also this immediately approachable."

Now that’s something worth hunting down.