Turmeric fields are expansive across the Coromandel and Malabar Coast, as well as the Northern Plains and the Northeastern States. From the 30 varieties that are commercially found, some are native, while others are cultivars and improved varieties that have been developed by human intervention to generate higher yields and resistance.
In India, about 30 Turmeric varieties are commercially grown and available in the market. Some of them are native, while others are cultivars and improved varieties that have been developed by human intervention to generate higher yields and resistance. These improved varieties are widely adopted by farmers and governments due to higher levels of curcumin content that is known for its medicinal and coloring properties. However, some farmer groups and individuals are also working to preserve the native varieties of the golden spice.
Turmeric fields are expansive across the Coromandel and Malabar Coast, as well as the Northern Plains and the Northeastern States. These fields spread over an increasing number of acres as the cash crop is comparatively resistant to pests and diseases, which has made its cultivation popular in most regions of India. Each variety is native to a region and has differing levels of curcumin and oleoresin, and the majority of these varieties derive their name from their local regions.
The most famous ones include Salem and Erode Turmeric from Tamil Nadu, Rajapore and Sangli Turmeric from Maharashtra, a highly colored and fragrant Alleppey Finger from Kerala, and a darker and earthier Nizamabad Bulb from Telangana that is often used as a coloring agent. The Himalayan Range too has a wide range of Turmeric species growing, with some growing at an altitude upto 2000 metres. The two most prominent varieties in the region of Kumaon are Suvarna and Pitambari, and both are known for their purity, high curcumin content, and earthy aromas. To protect the varieties and authenticity, a few of these States have also procured Geographical Indication (GI) Tags for their local varieties. Kandhamal Haldi, grown in Southern Odisha, obtained a GI Tag in 2019 and is known for its distinct fragrance and high medicinal value. Erode in Tamil Nadu, known as the manjal maanagaram or Turmeric Capital with loamy red soil, also obtained a GI Tag in the same year to preserve the local variety, as did Waigaon Turmeric from Maharashtra.
The ICAR- Indian Institute of Spice Research, Kozhikode, have also developed varieties such as IISR Pragati and IISR Pratibha that are more resilient. IISR Pratibha found success in the Northern Plains but was overshadowed by CIM Pitamber that was developed by the scientists at the Central Institute for Medicinal and Aromatic Plants in Lucknow. As compared to the usual eight to nine months for cultivation, Pitamber takes 180–190 days, is resistant to the Leaf Blotch disease, and has an extremely high curcumin content, proving it to be much more valuable for North American and European markets. Turmeric is usually a Kharif crop (monsoon crop) yet these advances have enabled farmers to use fewer inputs such as water, and benefit with high productivity in a shorter time.
A variety that is gaining popularity and recognition is the Lakadong Turmeric. It grows in the dark and airy soil of Meghalaya and is said to rival other Northeastern varieties such as Sikkim Local, Manipur Local, and Megha-1. Lakadong Turmeric grows in the Nongbah-Shangpung belt of Jantia Hills in Meghalaya. Two other varieties that grow in this region include Lasyein and Lachein, but Lakadong has a distinctive aroma and an exceptionally high curcumin level of 7–9%. The GI Tagged Lakadong Turmeric has been promoted by the ‘Mission Lakadong’ and provides employment to a cottage industry that employs around 1000 farmers.
As more people become discerning towards the different beneficial properties of Turmeric and demand continues to rise, farmers across India work collaboratively with research institutes to preserve local varieties while also improving their farming practices. Next time, we will see the applications of Turmeric in Ancient Indian practices.