Sangli located in the western part of Maharashtra is considered to be the largest and most important trading centre for turmeric in Asia. Popularly known as the ‘Saffron City’, Sangli has been cultivating its world-famous turmeric since the 1900s. It is said that large quantities of Sangli turmeric used to be exported through the Rajapur harbour port and also became famous as Rajapuri turmeric. A historical and progressive auction system was established in 1910 which helped Sangli turmeric gain international recognition.
Sangli district has rich fertile soil and dry weather conditions that are extremely well-suited for growing turmeric. The southern part of Sangli namely Miraj, Tasgaon, Palus, Kadegaon, Walwa, Vita, Khanapur and Chinchali are the major turmeric producing areas. The average trade per year at Sangli is about 1,39,965 quintals which forms almost 80 percent of the total turmeric trade in India. The turmeric grown in the southern part of Sangli and Walwa is regarded to be superior as they possess higher sugar content and their halakunda (a clove of the root of turmeric) can be broken easily.
The unique colour and aroma of Sangli turmeric is derived from the physical characteristics of the black soil and most importantly from their ingenious underground storage system commonly known as “Peve” which has been in use for more than a century.
Turmeric rhizomes are taken out during the dry weather and the halakunda is broken off and kept as seed material for the next season. These are dried in the shade and stored in a pit covered with turmeric leaves or plastered over with a mixture of earth and cow dung. The bottom of the pit is filled with dry sand and dried grass.
The crop is sown between April – July. There is good water supply in this region from the Krishna and Warna rivers which helps the farmers tremendously as this crop needs to be periodically irrigated. Organic fertilizers like cow dung, Neem paste and farmyard manure are used. Turmeric crop is harvested when the leaves start turning yellow and drying up which is about ten months after plantation. Fresh rhizomes have an attractive dark and sometimes light orange colour.
After the rhizomes are dug up and cleaned, they are separated and boiled or steamed in copper or earthen vessels. This process is necessary as it will increase the content of curcumin and substantially improve the quality of the turmeric. The saffron hued turmeric is then spread out on a clean floor and left to dry in the sun.
The fully dried turmeric becomes hard and the broken pieces are graded to be sold in the market. The most remarkable feature of Sangli turmeric is the natural underground storage warehouse where turmeric is sometimes stored for two years. “Peve” is a conical underground pit with a narrow circular opening at the top (2.5 metre in diameter) and a wider space in the bottom (4.5 – 5.5 metre in diameter). Usually this pit is about 6 – 7.5 metres deep and can hold about 24 to 32 tons of turmeric. This “Peve” is coated with cow dung paste from inside and padded with a thick layer of paddy or sugarcane straw. It is called as katta bori in the local language. Generally, this pit is filled to only 75 percent of its capacity with turmeric and then covered with a layer of straw and black soil. The soil is not packed in tightly to allow the air from inside the pit to flow out so that gradually the pit has very less oxygen and becomes airtight. This natural preservation technique enhances the quality of the turmeric rendering it a distinctive colour and aroma as well as prolonging its shelf life.
Sangli turmeric has a Curcumin content percentage of 3.45 which is very high and lends it an earthy, slightly bitter, a little hot peppery flavour and a mustardy fragrance. This deep saffron coloured turmeric received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2018.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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