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Guadelupe Martín and David Ruiz harvesting turmeric in Torrox. E. Cabezas
A 'superfood' grown on the Costa del Sol
Agriculture

A 'superfood' grown on the Costa del Sol

A couple from the Axarquía harvest two thousand square metres of turmeric a year, of which 90 per cent is exported to other European countries, but they warn that the crop requires a lot of water

Eugenio Cabezas

Torrox

Tuesday, 30 January 2024, 11:43

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David Ruiz and his partner Guadalupe Martín are truly passionate about the countryside and this passion runs in the family; both their parents, grandparents and great-grandparents were already involved in agriculture.

Ruiz, 42, and Martín, 37, both work for a subtropical fruit company in the Axarquía, on the eastern stretch of the Costa del Sol, but they also spend their free time in the fields as they own avocado and mango plantations in Torrox, like thousands of others in the east of Malaga area.

However, for the last decade, Ruiz and Martín have also been cultivating turmeric. The 'superfood' has an intense yellow colour and unmistakable smell. The spice comes from the orange root of a herbaceous plant and like ginger, it belongs to the Zingiberaceae family which is native to India and Indonesia.

Its scientific name is 'turmeric longa' and it has a long historical tradition. There is evidence that its first uses date back to between 610 BC and 320 BC, when it was used as a dye for wool, thanks to its intense yellow-orange colour. Subsequently, it started to be used to add colour and flavour to Indian cuisine.

Medicinal properties

Thanks to its compounds known as curcuminoids, which include curcumin, demethoxycurcumin and bisdemethoxycurcumin, it is considered to have excellent medicinal properties. Volatile oils, proteins, resins and sugars also contribute to its healing and in addition it contains dietary fibre, vitamins C, E and K, niacin, sodium, calcium, potassium, copper, magnesium, iron and zinc.

Turmeric's beneficial properties include relieving stomach upset, treating liver disorders and being a potent anti-inflammatory. In traditional Chinese medicine, turmeric is used to treat depression, sadness and unhappiness. Turmeric extract, or turmeric powder, stimulates the nervous system, activates the immune system and boosts mood. It is ideal for reducing stress levels, as it produces an increase in serotonin. For this reason, it is widely used by people with depression, as well as other related disorders.

"I discovered it while reading on the internet, when I saw how harmful it is to health to consume chemical food colouring that is still sold in Spain, but is banned in most countries," said Ruiz, who got his first turmeric seeds and started with a crop "that is not very profitable if you count the hours of work involved, because you have to prepare the land very well with biodegradable plastic mulch, and then when harvesting, it takes a lot of hard work to clean the rhizomes, which are buried", explains Ruiz.

Despite the hard work, Ruiz and Martín have a loyal client base around Europe. The crop is sown in February or March and harvested between December and January. The couple's two sons, David, nine, and Javier, five, also have fun helping their parents with the agricultural work on the Torrox farm. They have a distributor who buys most of the produce, around a tonne a year, from them once it has been cleaned and it is sold on in European countries including France, Germany, Belgium, Holland and Switzerland. The remaining 10 per cent is sold in local shops and health food shops, as it is certified as organic.

The turmeric sells at between five and six euros per kilo via the couple’s website, Cúrcuma de Málaga (Malaga turmeric). "The turmeric that comes from abroad, from imports, is much cheaper, but it doesn’t compare to the freshness, flavour and smell of ours", Ruiz pointed out. He points out that it is not an ideal crop to cultivate in this area "because it requires a lot of work and water. Not as much as avocados, but more than mangos", he admitted.

For now Ruiz and Martín are able to continue to irrigate their turmeric as they get water from various wells in the irrigation community to which their farms, located in the Torrox-Costa area, belong. "We need it to rain a lot and soon, otherwise this is going to be a total ruin", Ruiz recognised. Ruiz is not the only farmer in Torrox who grows turmeric. Álvaro Bazán has also done so in recent years, with a plot of some 500 square metres, as featured by SUR in April 2021.

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