Previous  Next  Home

Healthy haldi (on turmeric), Claude Alvares

Some events stay with you always, however old you get. Both my grandmother and mother used haldi ‘fingers’ when preparing their masalas. I still recall bashing up the small, dull-looking, haldi sticks on a stone as we prepared the recipe of the day.

The crushed haldi gave off a distinct aroma. While most of us are aware that vegetables and fruits sold in the market contain pesticides and poisons, too few consider today’s haldi as a health hazard even though we handle and use it every day.

Haldi is manufactured from the root (or rhizome) of the turmeric plant. Before chemicals and the use of pesticide sprays arrived in Indian fields, farmers grew turmeric with liberal quantities of farmyard manure composted from straw and cowdung. That haldi was pure and good for use even in liberal quantities. Besides food, it was also used as a medicine, in rituals and for cosmetics. Today’s turmeric— from seed to spice—is a different ball-game.

Farmers use a battery of dangerous chemicals to grow it. What’s more, it is then adulterated. The seed material is first treated by farmers with fungicides and systemic pesticides (copper oxychloride; dithane M-45; Bavistin: all implicated in sperm damage).

Some farmers soak the root pieces in these chemicals which eventually become part of the mother plant. Nutrients used include diammonium phosphate, a chemical fertiliser. During their life of nine months, the haldi plants are regularly sprayed with these chemicals to protect them from damage by sucking insects and fungus. Strong chemical weedicides are also used.

Once the haldi is ready, it is cleaned, boiled, dried, polished and sold to traders in the form of ‘fingers’ or bulbs. But none of these simple operations succeed in removing the toxic chemicals implanted in the product.

turmeric pdrFurther, people today prefer powdered haldi as it is more convenient to use. However, while haldi fingers and bulbs can be painted yellow with lead chromate, powders are far easier to adulterate.

Traders too prefer to sell powdered haldi. By adulertating it, they increase its weight. Haldi sold in stores is mixed with starch powder or saw dust dyed yellow with coal tar dyes (including metanil yellow) or with extremely toxic substances like lead chromate which is cheaply available.

The lead can cause or worsen anaemia, abdominal pain, neurological problems, kidney damage, hypertension and foetal distress—all symptoms of lead poisoning. You wouldn’t even associate them with the haldi you use.

How to buy safe haldi

Buy organic haldi. Here from seed to powder, no chemicals or pesticides are used. Buy it from certified organic growers or organic food stores. As expensive as regular haldi. Rs 15 for 100 gm.

You can also get haldi fingers or bulbs and grind them in a mixie.
Check prices of powdered haldi from different sources. Lower the price, more the chances of adulteration.

There is a standard method for testing haldi: ask a consumer group to test a sample.


Claude Alvares is associated with the organic farming and safe food movement in India for the past two decades. He is editor of the Organic Farming Source Book and is director of the central secretariat of the Organic Farming Association of India. This article was originally published by PINK--Healthy Living magazine, supplement of India Today, in 2008.

Previous  Next  Home

How you can participate...


Enter your email ID and get updates...