As Umeeda Switlo was on a trip to attend an Indian diaspora conference in Belize, she came across a group of people talking about the health benefits of turmeric. One farmer showed her the turmeric that grew wild on his land. It was the most vivid orange and the best quality Umeeda had ever seen! When she returned she spent months experimenting until she came up with the recipe for the world’s first wildcrafted, whole root turmeric paste – Truly Turmeric! Today, Truly Turmeric is a social enterprise that supports farmers to earn extra income, employ youth, improve health around the world, and produce products sustainably.
We chatted with the mother-daughter team, Umeeda and Nareena Switlo, to learn more about the health benefits of turmeric and find out how they do business with over 350 small farmers to produce their products.
WEHL: Tell us a little about yourself and why you became interested in wellness and starting Truly Turmeric.
NS: I went to Belize with CUSO International to advise the Government on youth and enterprise. I found that 75% of the population was under 29 and the unemployment rate was very high with young people leaving farms. The turmeric had exceptional curcuminoid percentage. How could we help? We checked the demand in Canada and saw that people really wanted to consume the best products and were really interested in turmeric. We could bring together our focus on community, environment and healthy eating all together.
WEHL: What is your philosophy on wellness?
NS: Both Umeeda and I really believe in eating whole, natural foods – as little as possible from a can or box. But everything in moderation, living a full life is important and to us that means focusing on creating a positive impact in the world.
WEHL: What is the difference between your turmeric paste and turmeric powder?
NS: Turmeric powder has been used for thousands of years, and it is a great way of preserving turmeric root without the need for refrigeration. To make turmeric powder the fresh root is boiled, dried, and ground. During this process natural oils from the root and a lot of the curcuminoids (the medicinal compound) are lost.
To make Truly Turmeric we first start with an incredible heirloom variety of wild turmeric from Belize. It has 7.6% curcuminoids about 3 times the global average of 2-4%. We then mix with natural ingredients that aid your body in absorbing the benefits of turmeric. It is easy to use and tastes incredible!
WEHL: What other ingredients do you add to your paste and why?
NS: We mix our fresh turmeric with cold-pressed coconut oil, fresh squeezed lime juice, and sea salt. We have a flavour with forest grown black pepper added to boost absorption.
WEHL: What are some of the health benefits of turmeric?
NS: Turmeric has many traditional uses in ayurvedic medicine. As a family of Indian ancestry, we often joke about putting turmeric on everything to cure it! But most commonly it is used for digestive health, for inflammation, and even as a skin brightener.
But most commonly turmeric is known as an antioxidant and anti-inflammatory.
WEHL: What’s the difference between curcumin and turmeric?
NS: Turmeric is the whole root spice, it is a cousin to ginger and is what we use in Truly Turmeric. Curcumin is a chemical compound found in turmeric. There are actually 3 types of curcuminoids and science is unsure if it is just curcumin or all the compounds found in turmeric that lead to the great health benefits of turmeric.
WEHL: What’s your favourite way to use Truly Turmeric?
NS: Of course our favourite way to use Truly Turmeric is in our family curries! But we love to encourage people to get creative with Truly Turmeric! I have recipes on our website that range from eggs benedict to turmeric ice cream. See all of the recipes on the website here.
WEHL: From the beginning, you had set out to start a social enterprise. What does that mean and what led you to do that?
NS: A social enterprise is a for-profit business that measures its success on profit as well as the impact on people and the planet. That is something that speaks to us.
Both Umeeda and I have worked in international development and business. We found that you can really create lasting and socially conscious impact by combining both. But I think it comes from our heritage. Umeeda grew up in Uganda and came to Canada as a
refugee in the 70s. Her mom used to race cars and run her own business, always focusing on trying to leave the world a better place.
WEHL: How many growers do you partner with and why is it important to do that? Do you have a little story you could share about visiting with the growers?
NS: We partner with over 350 small-scale growers in Toledo, Belize. Through our work in international development, we saw countless projects that were not owned by the communities and they rarely succeeded. We are also not farmers! So rather than come to Belize, buy a bunch of land and clearcut rainforest, we partner with growers that have turmeric growing on their lands – some for over 30 years!
Our turmeric is high quality, grown without the use of water or any agricultural inputs and families can earn extra income to invest in education, health care, and many other things – so the question is why would we do it any other way?!
Over the last 3 years, we have seen families send children to university, buy livestock, open new businesses, and receive medical treatment for chronic health issues. I remember one grower coming to deliver turmeric to our factory and crying saying thank you! My mom held her hand and said that it was us who should be thanking her. So yes we are a business, but we are a part of a great big family here in Belize and we are honoured.
WEHL: How is the turmeric grown and harvested?
NS: Turmeric is a wonderful crop! Our turmeric is grown in the wild or under trees like cocoa (biodiverse growing). It takes about 1 year to mature and then is dug up by hand, cleaned, and ready for processing.
WEHL: You were on Dragons’ Den. Tell us about that experience. What did you learn from going there?
NS: Dragons’ Den was a wonderful experience for us! Of course, it was nerve-wracking, you don’t know if you are about to make a fool of yourself on national television or walk out with a deal. The producers were incredible and really cheered us on. When we walked out of the Den it took us 3 days to really digest what had happened, and then we couldn’t tell anyone for SIX MONTHS!
WEHL: What do you enjoy the most about being an entrepreneur?
NS: The best thing about being an entrepreneur is being challenged to grow, and freedom. Those are also scariest aspects of being an entrepreneur!
WEHL: Do you have any advice for an entrepreneur who’s interested in building an environmentally conscious business?
NS: My biggest piece of advice is to find companies that you admire and pick up the phone and get a meeting with someone on their team! Anyone reading this is welcome to reach out to us, we would be happy to speak with budding entrepreneurs!
Connect with Umeeda and Naledo (Truly Turmeric) :
- Web: www.naledo.com
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