Traditional organic farming in Meghalaya has yielded a better strain of the magic spice turmeric. The missing link was the technique to provide the best product for the market. See how this has been achieved now. It has been proven over and over again that the Meghalaya variety of organic turmeric is superior to similar varieties around India. It is not just the state’s traditional organic farming methods that make it special. It is also the special genetic strain of the spice with higher curcumin levels that make it a unique and healthy product.
With this in mind, the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) has been actively helping farmers to achieve the best possible out of their produce, giving modern ideas and detailed demonstration. This has brought out the best in not only in the way the farming is carried out in this hill state of India but also in the way the goodness of the rich organic spice is retained till it reaches the market.
Turmeric is the magic spice of India, and its huge health benefits are common knowledge. At Zizira, we wanted to see first hand how ICAR, in Umiam, Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya, was helping the farmers.
During a visit to ICAR, Dr Arvind Kumar, engineer, and Dr V. K. Sharma, a scientist, showed our team that while growing it with organic manure is critical for its value. The post-harvest preparation of the turmeric is as critical to not only keep its goodness alive but also to give it the rich yellow colour that is so much in demand by chefs and foodies.
ICAR has been helping farmers with knowledge and know-how on how to prepare the high-value turmeric for the market. The farmers who our team met were growing the Lakadong and the Megha 1 varieties of turmeric, both with high levels of curcumin.
During its visit, Zizira found that every stage, from cleaning to boiling to slicing and then drying is important of this has to sell the way it should. Join the Zizira explorers on its journey through the various modern processes.
Team Zizira has been on a discovery spree for the better part of the last one year and it is not only the unique produce that we have been discovering! We have had the great fortune to have met some amazing people who are passionate and driven to bring change to the lives of Northeast India farmers.
We recently visited the Indian Council of Agricultural Research (ICAR) facility in Umiam, Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya to learn modern ways of processing turmeric. The team was greeted by Dr. Arvind Kumar, who runs the engineering division in the facility. He also introduced us to Dr. V. K. Sharma, scientist – Horticulture, who looks into the post-harvest processing of turmeric, ginger and chilly. This part of the Ri-Bhoi district of Meghalaya has farmers growing both the Lakadong and the Megha 1 varieties of turmeric. Both of these turmeric varieties boast of curcumin levels which are far higher than that found in regular turmeric.
And without further ado, we were given a guided tour of the facility where turmeric was being processed. However, we were first given a brief on the post-harvest process to dry turmeric.
The turmeric rhizomes have to be cleaned thoroughly to ensure that there are no unwanted elements like mud, cow dung and the peel. Traditionally, the Northeast India farmers of Meghalaya use woven cane baskets to run the turmeric through running water. More often than not, this does not always clear away the mud, cow dung and other unwanted particles.
Unfortunately, the low demand for turmeric does not incentivize the farmers to boil the turmeric rhizomes. ICAR recommends that the turmeric be boiled for several reasons, one of them being that boiling lends a rich yellow color which is preferred by consumers. If not boiled, the turmeric’s yellow is a paler hue, which impacts their demand in the market.
Most importantly, boiling of the rhizomes extends the shelf life of the dried turmeric as well as the powder. The process is simple enough though. After bringing the water to a boil, the washed raw turmeric is put in and left to boil in the water for up to three minutes. This process accentuates the deep color that is preferred by chefs and consumers. It also doubly ensures that all the unwanted elements, which the washing didn’t get rid of.
For the rhizomes to be ground to powder in a fast and efficient manner, they need to be dry till the point where they are brittle. And to facilitate that, the boiled rhizomes are cut into thin slices. This ensures that the drying time is minimized and that each slice dries evenly.
Among the traditional Northeast India farmers, turmeric is sun dried, but that in itself is dependent on several factors. Sun drying usually takes five to six days and it also means that even the slightest delay in bringing them in from the sun at dusk could cause mildew to spoil the rhizomes.
ICAR uses electric drying machines which take only about 12 to 13 hours at 65-70°C. At this point, the peel of the dried turmeric also comes away which is then manually separated. In either case, over drying the rhizomes causes the colour of the turmeric to turn black, thus rendering them useless.
In order to ensure that powdered turmeric is of the finest quality, a sample quality check is done on the dried turmeric before the grinding. For this, a dried slice of the turmeric is broken in half manually and if the turmeric is found to be brittle, then it is ready! This part of the process is just as critical than the preceding steps. Reason being that this process is the culmination of the entire processing stages and hygiene is very important before the turmeric hits the market.
Special care is taken to ensure that there are no dust particles in the area of operation for an unblemished turmeric. Turmeric is the lifeline of several villages and their households and ICAR plays a key role to ensure that the turmeric growing Northeast India farmers are reaping the rewards of this miracle spice. We hope to see organizations like ICAR help the farmers of Northeast India by catering to the processing needs of this unique spice from Meghalaya!
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