Turmeric or haldi is an essential ingredient in most Indian cooking. And now, the Indian diaspora is taking it to foreign markets.

And they’re lapping it up.

In 2017, Sana Javeri Kadri spotted an opportunity and used her $2,000 tax refund to start the aptly named DiasporaCo—a spice company serving a largely American clientele. The brand’s prodigal product is the single origin ‘Pragati’ turmeric, organically-grown in Andhra Pradesh, sold online and at hip locations in the US, like Berkeley’s Third Culture Bakery. 

With a roster of four farmers today who also supply other spices like chili and cardamom, DiasporaCo is developing ties with 15 more, carefully testing their crops for pesticides.

Celebrity food writer Samin Nosrat even included it in her list of favourite food-related holiday gifts for 2019. “You can’t get fresher than this,” she said to People magazine. “It was better than any turmeric I have tasted,” wrote one New York Times editor earlier this year.

Instant exotic appeal.

DiasporaCo’s turmeric, priced at about Rs 850 ($12) for a mere 70gm, could come as a bit of a price tag shock to the average Indian home cook. In India, the average retail price of turmeric is Rs 200 ($3) for 1kg. This puts Diaspora’s turmeric at about 60X the price.

DiasporaCo, set to launch in India in mid-2020, plans to price its offerings more suited to Indian buyers. The company is also piloting a programme that will provide healthcare for the workers of any farmer who supplies it with more than two tonnes of spices.

Can Javeri Kadri’s model make it in a price-sensitive market like India’s? 

Mohan Kumar, General Manager at Nani Agro Foods, one of the largest players in the turmeric market (with clients such as Everest, MDH, Aachi Masala and Haldiram’s), doesn’t think so. “Our culture was born with turmeric, and almost all of our cuisine uses it. But for culinary purposes, we don’t need such high curcumin values (the highest is usually 3.5%). And, therefore, we won’t be willing to pay such high prices.” He justifies his views by distinguishing between culinary turmeric and turmeric used for commercial, medicinal and cosmetic reasons.

However, the quality of turmeric in India is often not at DiasporaCo’s levels. Turmeric has a very opaque supply chain. Farmers are often not given fair market prices; shortcuts—like blending different types of turmeric powders, and adding bright yellow dyes—are the norm, and by the time the final product reaches neighbourhood stores or supermarkets, it has passed through the hands of many middlemen. “The spice industry in India is extremely adulterated, and turmeric is no exception,” says Darshan Ashok, Managing Director of Park Impex Inc, a Madurai-based spice wholesaler. 

AUTHOR

Sindhuri Nandhakumar

Sindhuri Nandhakumar is a freelance journalist and Erasmus Mundus scholar. Past experiences include working as a reporter from The Hindu's Chennai bureau.

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