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The price of the queen of spices will leave a different taste in your mouth

The loss of taste, if you have noticed it lately, could well be because the maker of the tea or the chef fixing the dum biryani for you has been less generous with the use of elaichi, the queen of spices and the most flavourful of them all, as its price has seen an unprecedented hike.

Written by Atikh Rashid | Pune |
June 2, 2019 4:50:45 am
The price of the queen of spices will leave a different taste in your mouth Murad Ali has cut down on the use of elaichi in his popular masala chai. (Express photo)

Have you noticed that the masala chai that you used to gulp down at the thela round the corner suddenly seems to have lost some of its flavour? Or the biryani that you last ate didn’t have its usual richness? Well, don’t worry! Nothing is wrong with your palate and your tastebuds need no medical attention.

The loss of taste, if you have noticed it lately, could well be because the maker of the tea or the chef fixing the dum biryani for you has been less generous with the use of elaichi, the queen of spices and the most flavourful of them all, as its price has seen an unprecedented hike.

In the retail markets of Pune, cardamom is being sold at Rs 3,200-3,500 a kg, nearly three times higher than its average price of Rs 1,200-1,300 in the last few years. The reason for this hike — the devastating Kerala floods of August 2018, which damaged local cardamom crops badly, reducing production by an estimated 55 to 60 per cent.

The floods caused major damage to cardamom plantations, uprooted the plants and washed away cardamom pods. The calamity led to a fungal infection in the crops, causing capsule rot and tiller decay, reducing the yield further.

Kerala accounts for 95 per cent production of green elaichi, or Elettaria Cardamomum, in the country, with most of it produced in Idukki district. The cardamom produced in Idukki and Wayanad districts, known as Mysore Green Elaichi, is used for its medicinal qualities. It is also a household spice in the Indian subcontinent and Middle East and is used in perfume and paan masala industries as well.

S V Subramanian, president of the Cardamom Planters’ Association, Kerala, said the cumulative damage to crop reduced the yield from an average of 25,000 metric tonnes a year to just about 12,000 to 15,000 metric tonnes in 2018-19.

“There is an acute scarcity of green elaichi in the market, and this led to a rise in prices in wholesale markets over the last few months. The price reached unprecedented heights due to hoarding and re-pooling by traders at auctions,” said Subramanian.

According to data with the Spice Board of India, the average rate for cardamom in wholesale markets in Kerala at present is Rs 2,300-2,400 per kg while it was about Rs 850-900 per kg in the same period last year.

In Pune, the meteoric rise in the price of elaichi — retail prices range from Rs 3,200 to 3,500 per kg — has caused the city’s omnipresent tea sellers to curb their use of the expensive spice. “I am using elaichi sparingly. This affects the taste and customers point out the change but it can’t be helped. Considering the price, we can’t use elaichi liberally,” said Muraad Ali, a tea seller in Shivajinagar.

Pravin Thakur, who supplies elaichi to about 150 tea sellers in the city, said his customers buy much less of the product. “Tea sellers are not even buying half the quantity that they used to earlier,” said Thakur, who said he is hopeful that the prices will come down by the end of this month.

Subramanian, of the Cardamom Planters Association, was not so optimistic. He said the delay in the arrival of monsoon may mean that the fresh crop, which generally arrives by the end of July, will be pushed to the middle to last week of August.

“It seems that picking of fresh pods will start only by the end of August, which means that people will have to pay much more for cardamom for at least two more months,” said Subramanian.

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