John Warren of Spade & Clover was hardly the first farmer to find himself with more harvested turmeric than he could sell before it passed its peak. So following the lead of generations of growers before him, he dehydrated and ground his surplus crop, creating a poly-chromatic lineup of fresh turmeric powders.
Warren’s powders have been the buzz of the Charleston Farmers Market, where they debuted last month on opening day. To draw shoppers’ attention to the local spice, he asked a friend to dye a tablecloth with his Hawaiian red turmeric “so it’s kind of part of the whole spread.”
A longtime turmeric enthusiast, Warren says the project has created new routes of exploration for him.
“I’ve gotten some challenging questions for sure,” he says, adding that buyers have inquired about pigment strength and curcumin content. “It’s opened up a Pandora’s box.”
Although many eaters fail to connect dried spices with a certain time of year, Warren points out mass production methods largely wipe out the benefits that accompany seasonality. In Southeast Asia, it’s not uncommon for producers to boil turmeric before processing it in order to soften the plant and flush out parasites. According to Warren, the turmeric is then laid out on black tarps to dry.
“I don’t think I could get that DHEC-approved,” he jokes. Instead, Warren skips the boiling step and puts his cut-up crop in a large-scale dehydrator that he sold to Chris Wilkins of Root Baking Co. and then bought back again. He pulverizes the dried turmeric in a traditional Chinese spice grinder, which was the only capital investment required for the new endeavor.
“I bought it off Amazon for like 100 bucks,” he says. “It’s very loud.”
Previously, Warren had experimented with a coffee grinder, but he wasn’t satisfied with the coarse particles it produced. “It wasn’t very interesting,” he says.
Now, though, Warren has the tools he needs to better understand the qualities each turmeric variety exhibits in powdered form. The green and black turmerics are rich in menthol and camphor, while the white turmeric is noticeably sweet. “When I was doing the grinding, I was gagging,” Warren says. “But I wanted to have the diversity.”
Once Warren settles on a mix of turmeric to cultivate for preservation, he may adjust his approach to processing so he can handle bigger batches. Currently, he can only process about 25 pounds at once.
Still, he says, “With my powder, I like how fresh it tastes. I’m hesitant to try to make it so that it’s super-duper shelf-stable so it lasts for years and years.”
In addition to the Charleston Farmers Market, Spade & Clover is selling its turmeric powder at the Sunday Brunch Farmers Market on James Island and directly to restaurants. For more information, visit instagram.com/spadeandclover.