Turmeric is a rhizome of a perennial plant of the ginger family. Its rhizomes are boiled for several hours and then dried in hot ovens, after which they are ground into a deep orange-yellow powder commonly used as a spice in curries and other South Asian cuisine, for dyeing, and to impart colour to mustard condiments. Its active ingredient is curcumin and it has an earthy, bitter, peppery flavour and has a mustardy smell.
In non-Indian recipes, turmeric is sometimes used as a colouring agent. It has found application in canned beverages, baked products, dairy products, ice cream, yogurt, yellow cakes orange juice, biscuits, popcorn-colour, sweets, cake icings, cereals, sauces, gelatines, etc. It is a significant ingredient in most commercial curry powders. Turmeric is used to protect food products from sunlight.
Turmeric is used extensively in the East and Middle East as a condiment and culinary dye. In India it is used to tint many sweet dishes. Apart from its wide use in Moroccan cuisine to spice meat, particularly lamb, and vegetables, its principal place is in curries and curry powders. It is used in many fish curries, possibly because it successfully masks fishy odours. When used in curry powders, it is usually one of the main ingredients, providing the associated yellow colour.
Turmeric is a mild digestive, being aromatic, a stimulant and a carminative. An ointment based on the spice is used as an antiseptic in Malaysia and Sri Lanka. Turmeric water is an Asian cosmetic applied to impart a golden glow to the complexion. In Yarlpanam, this is used extensively in deep fried dishes with the belief that it reduces the fat absorption.
Turmeric is currently used in the formulation of some sunscreens. Turmeric paste is used by some Indian women to keep them free of superfluous hair. Turmeric paste is applied to bride and groom before marriage in some places of India, Bangladesh, and Pakistan, where it is believed turmeric gives glow to skin and keeps some harmful bacteria away from the body.
Researchers have long been aware of the health benefits of the curry spice turmeric, which is the source of curcumin (or turmeric extract). In fact, in India where turmeric is used daily Alzheimer's disease is nearly absent (per the population size). Curcumin is the same thing as turmeric extract. It is a powerful antioxidant and it has powerful anti-inflammatory properties. Inflammation is one of the most destructive processes that damage our cells and organs, leading to disease and aging.
Among other benefits, turmeric extract has antibacterial, antiviral, and anti fungal activities. This is not said lightly, and should not be overlooked as a minor benefit, particularly in wound healing. Of all the benefits of curcumin or turmeric extract, it is the prevention and treatment of cancer that has most scientists admire with fear.