Turmeric is traditionally used as a spice and coloring in foods. It is an important ingredient in curry and gives curry powder its characteristic yellow color. As a consequence of its intense yellow color, turmeric, or curcumin (food additive E100), is used as a food coloring (e.g. mustard). Turmeric contains the curcuminoids curcumin, demethoxycurcumin, and bisdemethoxycurcumin. Recently, the health properties (neuroprotection, chemo-, and cancer prevention) of curcuminoids have gained increasing attention. Curcuminoids induce endogenous antioxidant defense mechanisms in the organism and have anti-inflammatory activity. Curcuminoids influence gene expression as well as epigenetic mechanisms. Synthetic curcumin analogues also exhibit biological activity. This Review describes the development of curcumin from a “traditional” spice and food coloring to a “modern” biological regulator.
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