Decolonizing Turmeric with Diaspora Co.

By Sofie Sherman-Burton, Marketing & Membership Manager and Comanager

The prospect of building alternatives to totally unjust food systems built on the exploitation of people and the land for the benefit of a handful of corporate executives is… really daunting. Lucky for all of us, Sana Javeri Kadri wasn’t too intimidated to take on the spice industry. 

Sana founded Diaspora Co. turmeric in the summer of 2017. A year before, after graduating from college, she had seen turmeric exploding in popularity and questioned who was benefiting from this boom. So Sana flew home to India to find farmers growing turmeric to start her own single origin spice company.

At first, finding a farmer that was growing exceptional turmeric using sustainable growing methods was harder than Sana anticipated. Many turmeric farmers, stuck in the cycle of industrialized agriculture, spray their turmeric crops with pesticides. Thankfully, Sana connected with the Indian Institute of Spices Research, who had both seeds for heirloom turmeric and connections with farmers that were willing to grow it for her. 

Sana ended up partnering with Mr. Prabhu, a fourth generation turmeric farmer who grows his turmeric without the use of pesticides and is in the second year of the organic certification process, which takes three years. The heirloom turmeric that he grows requires less water and is higher in curcumin, the chemical that makes turmeric so yellow and delivers the spice’s health benefits; about 4.6% compared to less than 2.5% in most commercial turmeric (if it has any at all). Diaspora Co. turmeric is also super fresh. Batches of turmeric grown in the last year are milled three times annually which is great for making sure that turmeric’s floral flavor is intact and helps maintain the curcumin potency. 

Mr. Prabhu’s farm is run by his family except during the harvest season when he pays the workers he hires considerably more than neighboring farms. All of this is reflected in the price that Diaspora Co. pays him for his turmeric: $1.50 to $1.50 per pound, which is significantly higher than the market rate of 15¢ per pound. 

But that’s not even all of it. As a queer woman of color, Sana wanted to be sure to make social justice a central part of Diaspora Co. Paying Mr. Prabhu so much more than the conventional spice market and prioritizing heirloom, organic turmeric is part of that. Those efforts work to decolonize and disrupt the corporate spice trade, with its history mired in colonial conquest. Paying Indian farmers generously also creates a less exploitative system of buying and trading an indigenous, culturally significant crop. Sana is also always looking at other ways to make Diaspora Co. radically inclusive in everything from hiring to business operations. That means hiring queer folks and people of color and deciding to pack all of the turmeric in-house instead of hiring a larger packing company to do it for her. It also means wrestling with decisions like selling Diaspora Co. on Amazon and being transparent about why. 

When I get down thinking about just how bad our food system is and all of the powerful structures that keep it in place, companies like Diaspora Co. give me a little faith that we can build systems that are better for people and the planet. The only question is, how can I eat way more turmeric? Luckily, Diaspora Co. compiled a sweet zine of recipes, including the two hot beverages below.

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Turmeric Coffee

This little recipe finally convinced me to put butter in my coffee, and now I am a zealot! It tempers the effects of the caffeine and is gentler on my guts. The Ancient Organics ghee is particularly delicious and offers delicious nutty notes. If you don’t have a blender, I’ve found that vigorously shaking this mixture in a mason jar (wrapped in a towel I don’t mind staining with turmeric) works pretty well. 

  • 1 cup brewed coffee

  • 1 ¼ teaspoon ghee

  • ¼ teaspoon turmeric

  • ½ teaspoon coconut sugar or 1 ½ inch piece of jaggery

  • Pinch of ground cardamom (optional)

  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened hemp or almond milk

Add your hot coffee to the blender along with the ghee, turmeric, sweetener of choice, and non-dairy milk. Add a pinch of cardamom if you’re feeling like it! 

Give it a quick high-powered blend (about 30 seconds), just to make sure the ghee emulsifies and the mixture becomes foamy. 

If you over blend, you risk the fat separating, which will give you a weird gloopy drink. Gloopy drink woes can be remedied by adding a splash more boiling hot water or coffee to the blender to melt the ghee back into the mixture. 

Pour the ghee coffee into a mug and enjoy!

Turmeric Tonic Tea

  • 3 inches whole fresh ginger, peeled and sliced 1/8-inch pieces

  • 1 heaping teaspoon turmeric

  • 2 lemons, juiced

  • 2 cups filtered water

  • 1 ¼ teaspoon organic apple cider vinegar

  • 1 teaspoon raw honey (optional)

Add the ginger to a saucepan over medium-high heat, along with the turmeric, lemon juice, apple cider vinegar, and water. Bring the mixture to a boil. 

Allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes to steep and infuse the ginger and turmeric. If you are sick or want a more fiery and strong tonic, increase the heat back up to medium high and bring the mixture to a rolling boil, reduce the heat and allow it to simmer for 2-3 minutes. Repeat the process of boiling and simmering three more times. Then strain the liquid into a mug and enjoy!