Mostly grown in monsoonal forests, turmeric’s been found to thrive in our driest state, fetching up to $60/kg

Mostly grown in monsoonal forests, turmeric’s been found to thrive in our driest state, fetching up to $60/kg

The borderline desert climate of South Australia’s Riverland is a far cry from the native climate of turmeric in the monsoonal forests of tropical South-East Asia.

But Peter and Ann Brooke have found growing turmeric in their dry region has been a success, receiving up to $60 a kilogram for the root that produces a bright yellow or orange spice.

While about 80 per cent of the world’s crop is grown in India, a handful of Australian farmers have invested in production as its popularity rises due to its health benefits and culinary uses.

Most of the turmeric grown in Australia is from Central Queensland, where the average rainfall is about 900 millimetres.

In contrast, the Brookes receive about 270mm of rain a year at their organic farm at Barmera, where they grow two varieties.

Peter Brooke and his wife Ann also grow wine grapes, garlic, sweet potatoes, and cherries at their organic farm.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

Mr Brooke uses a digger to loosen the crop, and then his wife and their farmhands dig the root and stem out by hand.

The soil is then blown off with an air compressor, and the turmeric root is dried in a shed before being transported about three hours to a farmers’ market in Adelaide.

“We sell them in 100 gram lots for $6, and people use them to make a tonic or grate them into smoothies,” Mr Brooke said.

“My wife and I have a teaspoon every day, but I mix mine with a little bit of orange juice.”

The Brookes said they blended turmeric with black pepper, honey, and lemon to make a tonic.(Supplied: Ann Brooke)

Mr Brooke said they started growing turmeric about seven years ago after initially planting it alongside some ginger, which is from the same family.

“They were crops that everyone wanted, but you couldn’t buy locally,” he said.

“All our ginger died because it was too dry, but the turmeric grew beautifully.”

While temperatures in the region can soar to more than 40 degrees Celsius, Mr Brooke said the plant survived with very little irrigated water from the Murray River.

“They get about two litres a day from a drip line, but when it’s not hot, I don’t water them,” he said.

“That’s about a tenth of what our grape vines get.”

Turmeric flowers can be used for bouquets.(Supplied: Ann Brooke)

Despite the crop’s hardiness and a growing demand for spices from home cooks, Mr Brooke said the market was tough.

This is even taking into consideration the spice plant’s wider range of uses, including the turmeric flowers for wedding bouquets Mr Brooke has sold.

“We can’t compete with the scale in Queensland,” he said.

“We just grow a little bit, enough for our own market.”

Home cooks spice search

So, how much spice is grown in Australia?

About 97 per cent of Australia’s spices are imported, primarily from Asian and African nations, while local production was valued at $494 million in 2021.

Turmeric is a bright yellow spice derived from a plant that is part of the ginger family.(ABC Rural: Eliza Berlage)

A research trial titled Spicing up Northern Australia, now in its fourth year, has found several spice crops that could be grown locally to better compete in the $30 billion global market.

But do consumers really care where their spices come from?

Turmeric has been touted as a superfood for its anti-inflammatory, antioxidant, and anti-carcinogenic properties.(ABC Rural)

Stacey Casford runs the Australian company Spice and Co, which has featured its products on TV cooking shows.

She said the demand for spices had grown considerably thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic and the prominence of social media recipes encouraging home cooks to get adventurous.

Ms Casford said that while consumers would like to buy Australian-grown products, she was unsure if they would be willing to pay a higher price for domestic products.

“I only know of coriander and saffron grown here in commercial quantities,” she said.

“Other spices are probably not grown at the volumes needed.”

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