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Turmeric tales: How good old haldi is polarising India & the West but starting a dialogue

Turmeric is a superfood in the West now & golden milk turmeric latte, which Indians know as their regular haldi doodh, is being called a healthy alternative to coffee.

Turmeric tales: How good old haldi is polarising India & the West but starting a dialogue
Turmeric (representative image) | pixabay

New Delhi: A popular ingredient in your grandmother’s kitchen is now a global health fad, prompting Indians to remind everyone where the “trend” originated from.

At the heart of the conversation is the humble turmeric, which has now been declared a superfood — with a version of it, the golden milk turmeric latte, championed as a healthy hipster alternative to coffee.

The West, it seems, isn’t just content with the turmeric latte and is now discovering even more therapeutic and medicinal benefits of the traditional Indian spice that is an integral part of every Indian kitchen.

From supermodels swearing by turmeric face packs, Hollywood celebrities such as Gwenyth Paltrow offering their favourite turmeric latte recipes, to people on the internet claiming that every possible illness can be cured by the spice, turmeric has become a huge lifestyle trend in the First World, while India looks on with confusion.

The trend has even made its way to supermarkets that now offer all kinds of unusual turmeric-based products. Turmeric cold-pressed juice, vegetable and turmeric soup, turmeric green tea, and turmeric tonic are all now available at prices that would seem exorbitant to any regular Indian for whom turmeric is a humble staple in the spice rack at home.

It is ours, say Indians

And on cue, there has been a pushback from Indians.

“Americans Are Once Again Obsessed With Something That Indians Have Been Having For Years”, “Turmeric Was India’s Cure-All Long Before Hipsters Made It A Latte“ read headlines that have tried to exasperatedly tell Americans that their overpriced turmeric lattes are actually just regular good old haldi doodh (turmeric milk) and before they exotify the spice so much, they need to credit where it comes from.

The debate emerged on Twitter again Monday, as a health blogger mocked America’s obsession with turmeric being a “magical healing spice”, and another chiming in to say even though her community had been consuming turmeric for centuries it didn’t necessarily mean that they were completely free of all illnesses.

The fad is fuelling a market

As the debate about whether the West is culturally appropriating haldi doodh and how magical the effects of the spice really are, the fact remains that Americans love to buy turmeric — a lot of it.

According to Trade Promotion Council of India (TPCI), India is the world’s largest producer and exporter of turmeric, with exports pegged at $236 million in 2018, and North America is its largest market. TPCI Chairman Mohit Singla said curcumin, a substance found in turmeric, is now in huge demand from pharmaceutical, food and even cosmetic industries, which has driven up global demands of the golden spice.

This has prompted entrepreneurs such as Sana Javeri Kadri to see a business opportunity. A Mumbai native who was completing her graduation in America, Kadri was curious with this phenomenon and wanted to know where all this turmeric actually came from.

After spending five months travelling in India to understand how the spice was grown, how it entered the supply chain and finally made its way to America, she decided to start her own company, Diaspora Co. She told Forbes last year, that her intention was to “decolonise” turmeric, take back its narrative, promote it as a ‘Made in India’ product and disrupt its convoluted supply chain that had multiple middlemen barely paid its farmers. She now sells organic, fair-wage turmeric that even The New York Times stands by.

Topic: #turmeric
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