Where are the organic pomegranates in Biotta pomegranate juice grown? How are they processed and what happens before the juice arrives in Tägerwilen? Clemens Rüttimann, Managing Director of Biotta, travelled to Turkey to find out. Field report.
Turkey is a huge country. This becomes abundantly clear when, from Istanbul, there's still another two hours’ flying to reach the south east of the country. A modern infrastructure has sprung up in recent years. Cities such as Adiyaman or Erzincan now have modern airports. From Adiyaman, the journey continues for a further two to three hours by car on well-maintained roads, to the far south east of the country close to the Syrian border. For climate reasons, pomegranates are primarily grown around the Mediterranean. Turkey is one of the biggest producers. Today, most organic pomegranates originate from the area around Kozan (Adana province) or further north in the region of Erzincan. It was here where a number of innovative companies commenced cultivation some 20 years ago. Targeted reforestation has resulted in the creation of pomegranate orchards of around 50 hectares in size, each managed by one farmer. Cultivation is strictly regulated, and is closely monitored and documented by the state agricultural authority. Each field is surveyed precisely and registered with the Regional Department of Agriculture, and has fertilisation and irrigation plans. In addition, the fields are subjected to an annual quality control and certification of processing by Bio-Suisse.
Manual labour and a trained eye
The pomegranate trees are pruned from January to February. Flowering begins shortly afterwards, during which the trees are a blaze of magnificent crimson. During the growing season, which lasts until the end of August, there is important work to be done in the fields: Pest control, for example, involves placing traps as no pesticides are used in the cultivation of organic pomegranates, and repeatedly freeing the soil from grass and weeds to ward off soil-borne pests. After pollination, around 50 – 100 kg of fruit grow on each tree depending on the level of pruning, with the heaviest fruit weighing up to 700 g. Pomegranates grow at different rates, which is why not all are harvested at the same time. The farmers can tell simply by looking at the fruit's calyx whether the pomegranate is ripe or needs more time. This requires a trained eye.
All parts of the plant are used
The pomegranates are harvested between the end of September and mid-November. Juicing always follows within 48 hours of harvesting – despite the enormous transport distances that can be involved. After washing, the pomegranates are cracked open and pitted. The red seeds go into the juicer and are gently pressed. The pomegranate juice for Biotta is pasteurised, packed in 200-kg containers and placed in cold storage immediately. With cheaper juices, storage costs are lower as the juice is concentrated down to an eighth of its volume after juicing by evaporating out all the water. During this process, however, important secondary plant compounds are lost. This is why Biotta juices are all “not from concentrate”. After cold storage, the barrels are shipped to Biotta by sea and rail via Rotterdam. The pomegranate seeds that not used for the juice are dried in production after pressing. The seeds can be further processed as raw material for the cosmetics industry. For this process, the oil is pressed out of the pips. The remaining matter and the pomegranate peel are used for animal feed and fertiliser for organic fields.
Biotta values long-term relationships throughout the entire value chain. This allows the farmers to plan better over the long term and guarantees acceptance at fair conditions. Personal contact is therefore crucial. The orchards and processing facilities are known to us and are regularly visited by the management and/or purchasing managers. We maintain close contact with the growers to allow us to discuss seasonal fluctuations and other challenges.