Turmeric is a spice made from grinding the roots of the Curcuma longa plant, also called curcumin. It is a prime ingredient in curry powder and figures heavily in Asian cuisines. Because it imparts a vivid yellow color to the food it is cooked with, it is often used to color as well as flavor condiments, rice dishes and sauces.
The active ingredient in tumeric is curcumin. It is thought to be an anti-inflammatory, as well as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are substances that are thought to help prevent aging by inhibiting the breakdown of cells by oxidation.
Recently, turmeric is gaining a lot of attention for its potential medicinal properties. Traditionally it has been considered a good digestive aid, and some cultures use the spice as a dietary supplement for this reason. Since those cultures also traditionally have a lower incident of certain cancers, such as cancer of the prostate, turmeric is now being actively studied as a cancer treatment and/or preventative, particularly for environmental cancers.
Recent studies indicate that turmeric slows the growth and spread of existing cancerous tumors. Because the populations that consume this spice in large quantities have traditionally had a lower incidence of Alzheimer's, turmeric is also being investigated as an anti-Alzheimer's medicine. Early animal studies are very encouraging.
While the results of the ongoing studies aren't conclusive yet, it certainly couldn't hurt for people to start incorporating more turmeric into their diet. It is often used as a substitute for the very expensive saffron, because of its similar flavor and the very strong yellow color it dyes the foods it is cooked with. Cooks can add a turmeric-rice side dish to the menu by using a recipe for saffron rice and substituting the spice. Because it is more strongly flavored than saffron, the cook will have to cut down on quantities, and some experimentation to get the spice just right will no doubt be required. It can also be added to stews, meat dishes, couscous and other dishes that would benefit from a bit of a curry flavor.