A familiar gnarled brown root is one of several foods to turn to gold in the worldwide pandemic.
Ginger has long had a reputation as a magical root and it is now being conscripted to fight against Covid-19.
As the pandemic continues to rage, people around the world have sought to guard against illness by turning to so-called “halo” foods. These are foods which have gained reputations on social media as having a “health halo” which may fend off viruses.
Although scientists dismiss many of these claims, it’s great business for halo food growers as prices for their crops surge.
Prices for ginger in Nigeria and acai berries in Brazil have leapt while exports of Indian turmeric and Chinese garlic soared in the past year as people boiled ginger with turmeric and garlic as a potion to take in the fight against Covid-19.
Increasingly health-conscious consumers have given an already buoyant global spice market a further boost during the pandemic, heightening investor interest in the sector, Reuters is reporting.
Singapore’s Olam International bought major US spice manufacturer Olde Thompson last month while Norway’s Orkla took a controlling stake in Indian spice exporter Eastern Condiments in March.
In Nigeria, a 50kg bag of ginger now sells for 15,000 naira (US$39), up from 4,000 naira two years ago.
Prices began rising last year but since January they have taken off due to pandemic-related demand, said Florence Edwards, national president of the Ginger Growers, Processors and Marketers Association of Nigeria.
She said there has been demand from all over the world, citing India, China, and Europe among popular markets.
“However many tonnes you have, they will buy it,” she said. “People want it and they cannot get it.”
There has also been a surge in demand for acai, a fruit rich in antioxidants hyped as a halo food. The Amazonian state of Para in Brazil is the world’s largest producing region.
Paulo Lobato, a 52-year-old producer of acai told Reuters that supplies were unable to keep pace with demand as prices soared by over 50% in April.
“In the past 32 years, I’ve never seen anything like this,” Lobato said. “During the pandemic people are just going nuts.”
As export demand has risen, however, the staple fruit has become harder to find at local markets.
“The local consumers are the first to be hit,” said Florence Serra, from Brazil’s food supply agency Conab. “These days, people go to the street market and find none.”
Like ginger, garlic has components that can help the body fend off bugs and it too is in demand. China exported over two million tonnes of garlic bulbs in 2020, up 30% on 2019.
Indian exports of turmeric, which can help in the treatment of conditions involving pain and inflammation, also received a near 40% pandemic boost in 2020.
“The concept of immunity boosters is very much influential these days not only in India but across the globe, and turmeric is a natural immunity booster,” said Abhijeet Banerjee, a spices analyst at Indian financial services company Religare.
“The government and Ayurveda practitioners recommend consuming turmeric daily for better post-Covid management,” he said.
Farmers such as Ravindra Dere, who cultivates turmeric on two acres in the western state of Maharashtra, are happy.
“After many years, we are making decent profit,” he said. “I hope prices will remain firm.”
As long as turmeric retains its halo in the time of Covid-19, that shouldn’t be a problem.