Turmeric is picked, cleaned, boiled, dried and polished before it is transported

It has a pungent, slightly bitter flavour and is used as the main ingredient in curries besides being a powerful antioxidant and anti-inflammatory herb. Related to ginger, turmeric is a kitchen spice in use for food and medicine for ages.

The banal life in urban pockets doesn’t allow many of us to see the amazing stages in which a farm crop originates and evolves before reaching the kitchen space. Farm workers in Iluru village under Thotlavalluru mandal in Krishna district on Wednesday were seen processing turmeric rhizomes with deep orange flesh which are dried and then ground to make the familiar vibrant yellow powder.

A.P. is the major producer

Andhra Pradesh is the leading state in producing turmeric followed by Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, Odisha, Kerala and Bihar.

The humble journey of this fine yellow power begins in the fields where well developed or split mother rhizomes are used for planting and treated before storing. “The crop needs to be mulched immediately with green leaves or sugarcane trash. Depending on the variety, the crop is ready for harvest in seven to nine months. The land is ploughed and the rhizomes are gathered by hand picking or the clumps are carefully lifted with a spade,” says Barma Venkata Subbarao, an agriculture worker engrossed in the task at Iluru.

“Harvested rhizomes are cleaned of mud and cured before marketing,” chips in Zareena Sultana, another farm worker, assisting Mr. Subba Rao.

“Curing involves boiling of fresh rhizomes in water and drying them in the sun. In the traditional method, the cleaned rhizomes are boiled in copper or galvanised iron or earthen vessels, with water just enough to soak them,” he says, pointing to the froth coming out of the white fumes giving out a typical odour. “Boiling should be stopped at this point,” he explains.

Removing four big containers filled with semi-boiled turmeric rhizomes from the fire, Mr. Subba Rao calls out on others for help. Half-a-dozen workers lend him a helping hand in carrying the containers to one side, unloading the rhizomes in heaps and spreading them evenly for drying.

The next 10-15 days, the rhizomes are allowed to dry before their appearance is improved by polishing the outer surface.

“Earlier it was done manually but now it is through mechanical rubbing,” he says. Last year, the farm workers say, the crop fetched ₹8,000 per quintal. “Now it fetches anything between ₹4,500 and ₹5,000 per quintal. The rates may improve, you never know. Because traders create artificial scarcity in the market sometimes,” he says with a fond hope.

Source: April 20, 2017, The Hindu