The chemical - curcumin - has long been thought to have healing powers and is already being tested as a treatment for arthritis and even dementia.
Now tests by a team at the Cork Cancer Research Centre show it can destroy gullet cancer cells in the lab.
Cancer experts said the findings in the British Journal of Cancer could help doctors find new treatments.
Dr Sharon McKenna and her team found that curcumin started to kill cancer cells within 24 hours.
The cells also began to digest themselves, after the curcumin triggered lethal cell death signals.
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