I had an old plastic bag of turmeric kicking around in my cupboard and I hardly ever used the spice. Deciding it was stale and useless, I pitched it and made my way down to The Spice Trader in Toronto for a new batch. What a revelation in the taste! Since then, I have been slipping it into all kinds of things, such as stews and tomato sauce. As it turns out, it was a smart thing to do.

In Cooking with Foods that Fight Cancer (2007, DK Adult), authors Richard Beliveau and Denis Gingras have a section on herbs and spices, with turmeric appearing to be quite a powerhouse. I learned all kinds of things about this beautiful, bright, yellow spice from this book.Turmeric is a member of the Zingiberaceae family, which also includes ginger. The spice is high in anti-inflammatory molecules that are "able to reduce inflammation pf the cell environment in which precancerous tumours are found, thus preventing these microtumours from benefiting from a climate favouring their growth." Apparently, daily doses of ginger in patients suffering from rheumatoid arthritis also allays inflammation and painful symptoms. Studies also show that turmeric and ginger may directly target different types of cancer cells and that they may block the development of different cancers, especially colon cancer.

Turmeric must be stabilized in oil before it can be absorbed into the body, according to Beliveau and Gingras. So add it to onions, garlic, or ginger, while sautéing in oil, before you add any other ingredients. They also suggest that you should always add black pepper to a recipe containing turmeric because it "dramatically" increases the absorption. If you use it in salad dressings, add it to the oil first. If you add it to vegetable juices, mix it with oil to make a paste before adding it to the juice.

I made this Turmeric Curry Chicken and discovered that you could be very flexible with this recipe. If you have children, they will love the sweetness and the wild colour. I felt it was a bit too sweet for my taste (but then I don't eat dessert either) and would cut down the amount of brown sugar from two tablespoons to one next time, but my husband disagreed and liked the sweetness. There was a lot of sauce, and I threw in a couple of carrots which cooked along with the chicken. Spoon it over some basmati rice, add a green vegetable, and you have have a great dinner.

If you have someone in the family who doesn't eat meat, then split the sauce between two pots and add tofu for a vegetarian dinner. We had the chicken last night and today for lunch I am heating up the leftover sauce and tossing in tofu and mushrooms. I expect it will be even more flavourful today than it was last night. There is no ginger in this recipe, but you could certainly add some to the onions if you wanted to. As a note, don't wear your best clothes when using turmeric, it stains. Also use a plate to sit your stirring utensils on, otherwise it will stain your countertop.

Turmeric Curry Chicken

4 chicken breasts with fat and skin removed

2 tbsp olive oil

3 garlic cloves

4 shallots, sliced

2 tsp curry powder

1 tsp ground turmeric

2 tbsp fish sauce

2 tbsp brown sugar

2 cups coconut milk

freshly ground pepper

1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet. Sauté the garlic and shallots 2 to 3 minutes over medium heat. Add the turmeric and curry powder and stir.

2. Add all other ingredients and mix well. Let simmer slowly for approximately 20 minutes.

Difficulty level: Easy