31 May 2012
Workers at Orient Spice Company clean raw turmeric before processing. (photo: Peter Lemieux)
Trading in spices helped bring Christianity to India nearly two millennia ago, and the country continues to depend on spices for much of its livelihood. Many of the workers in processing plants are women, such as those shown above, who do the hard work of cleaning raw turmeric. Photojournalist Peter Lemieux looks at the spice trade in the May issue of ONE:
Since the 14th century, Cochin has served as the hub of the coast’s spice trade.
At first glance, the city’s spice industry today resembles that of a bygone era. A large safe harbor dominates the cityscape. A dense concentration of processing and warehousing facilities crowds the waterfront. Countless traders and middlemen walk the streets, going about their day-to-day business.
A timeworn port city, Cochin also represents Kerala’s melting pot, with its diverse religious communities, global marketplace and world-class tourist attractions. As always, its spices reach markets all over the world. In the past 20 years, exports to the United States in particular have doubled and now constitute the largest share leaving Cochin’s port.
But on closer look, it becomes clear how much the business has adapted to the modern world. Traders now sit in offices glued to their computer screens, monitoring up-to-the-second fluctuations in global prices. The ticker list of spices is lengthy and includes many new hybrid varieties, each offering something special — brighter color, greater flavor, a longer shelf life. Advanced technologies in processing, packaging and shipping have also transformed the business.
“Fifteen years ago, there were no quality standards in India for spice export. Any low quality item could be shipped,” explains Bobby Jacob Markose, owner of Orient Spice Company, over the hum of his spice grinders pulverizing raw turmeric. “But that phase is out. Technology is here now. ’Food Safe’ is the motto. Cleaning, grinding and steam sterilization are the facilities that can be sustained now.”
You can read more in the article Kerala’s Spice Coast.
Tags: India Kerala Indian Christians Thomas Christians