Production of opium in Afyon

Production of opium in Afyon

Wilco Van Herpen
Production of opium in Afyon

The production of opium is more industrialized and very strictly regulated. The farmer has to fill in many forms to apply for the cultivation of the opium plants.

Last week I was in the Aegean province of Afyon and my aim was to learn more about afyon. Maybe this word does not ring a bell to you but when I say that “afyon” means opium I think I will get your attention. Not so long ago, afyon was free to cultivate but it was in 1974 that, under pressure of the U.S., Turkey started restricting the cultivation. Nowadays you can still find opium in the province of Afyon (and even more provinces) but the cultivation is very restricted and you have to fulfill strong and strict regulations.

Everybody knows the pictures from television where the drug lords in Afghanistan and Pakistan show their crops. Farmers cut the capsule with a small and thin knife and directly a white liquid comes out of the capsule. This is the very valuable opium that those drug lords want and that is brought to the market under the more familiar name of heroine. Nowadays the production of opium is more industrialized and very strictly regulated. The farmer has to fill in many forms to apply for the cultivation of the opium plants. The government looks at the field of the farmer and calculates how many tons of capsules the area can give. If the farmer at the end of the season comes up with more or less than the calculated amount of capsules, the government knows that something is wrong and starts an investigation. Nowadays the cultivation of the poppy has become more industrialized. Not the handiwork as it once upon a time used to be but a far more practical and efficient method is used to extract the opium from the capsule. In October or November the seeds are sown and soon they start growing. In May or June the beautiful white, lilac or purple flowers open and give the plains of Afyon a beautiful romantic touch. It is as if Vincent van Gogh touched the plains with his magic brush and changed it into an Alice in Wonderland-like painting. After the flowers lose their hypnotizing effect on the landscape slowly the flowers make way for the capsule. Small in the beginning, it rapidly grows into a capsule that traps hundreds of seeds. The plants slowly dry up and all that remains are the hollow capsules with the seeds. When the capsules move in the strong wind you can hear a frisking sound as if Babazula (a famous Turkish rock group) was composing a new song and using the capsules as a rattle.

Opium extracted from crushed capsules

I am in Bulanık village, half an hour’s drive away from Afyon. Around eight people are walking in the field with a big bag attached to their belt. They pick the dried capsules at an incredible tempo. I join them and shortly after my hands are cut by the dry and sharp capsules. I ask them what they are going to do with all those capsules and one of them explains what is happening now. After picking the capsules they throw the capsule into a machine that separates the seeds from the rest of the capsules. The machine spits out the seeds at one side and at the other side the capsules, or what is left over from it. The crushed capsules go to a factory where they extract the opium from the capsules. Unfortunately I was not allowed into the factory to see how they were doing this. Nobody, even people who have lived and worked in that area for years, is allowed into the factory.

For me though, something else was far more important; what can we do with the seeds? In Afyon, people have found three ways of using the seeds. The first one are the seeds themselves, the second a kind a paste made of the seeds and the third one is oil. This oil is beautiful; it has got a very strong aroma and a beautiful taste. They make it by grinding the seeds and then heat the seed paste in an oven-like machine with a scoop that turns around. Once the seeds are roasted they take out this paste and press it while it is still warm. Speed is very important here because once this roasted paste cools down you cannot extract as much oil from the mixture as when the paste is warm. The oil can be used for frying or to spice up your salads but be careful, the specific taste has a tendency to be dominant so just use a little bit. The hashas as they are called in Turkey is a very healthy product with its minerals, vitamins and many more ingredients that make it useful to consume. Especially for children the paste, mixed with honey, builds up their immune system. In every program I make for IZ TV, I prepare a dish with the ingredients I have made a program about. This time I wanted to make something of the poppy seeds. I came up with the next dish; chicken breast schnitzel. It is very easy to prepare and (I was in shock as well because I did not expect it) it was beautiful as a taste. First pour salt and pepper on the chicken breast then put it in the flower. After that you dip the breast in a beaten egg mixture. Let the surplus of egg drip off your breast and then cover the breast in the poppy seeds. Use the light seeds so you follow up the cooking process. Heat the pan and add a little bit of butter and a bit of olive oil. Then fry your chicken breast and… Afiyet olsun.