To food connoisseurs in Sarawak, savouring the rich creamy and smooth texture of the Dabai with its slightly sour tinge, is like having an acquired taste.

Commonly known as the Sibu olive, the fruit is indigenous to Sarawak and found along the riverbanks in Sibu, Kapit and Sarikei divisions.

Due to Dabais potential as a specialty fruit, the Sarawak Agriculture Department is confident that the fruit could penetrate the overseas market after discovering a breakthrough in the method to prolong its shelf life.

Semongok Agricultural Research Centre fruit agronomist, Lau Cheng Youn said via a freezing technique, the highly perishable fruit is able to retain its freshness up to seven days and could last up to one year when kept in cold storage.

“We are also collaborating with the Universiti Putra Malaysia (UPM) in Serdang, Selangor to study the nutritional value of the local olive, which also has the potential to be exploited as a nutraceutical and functional food because of its high antioxidant properties and other value-added products,” he told Bernama here.

RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT

He said through the ongoing research and development (R&D), the department is hoping to venture into the commercialisation of Dabai as a Sarawak specialty fruit, which could easily fetch between RM16-RM24 per kg in major cities like Kuching.

At present Dabai only costs half this price in Sibu and Kapit.

Known botanically as “Canarium odontophyllum Miq.” Dabais popularity as an exotic and health fruit among the local populace has increased over the years with the department producing recipes for as pizza, fried rice, mixed vegetables, maki(dried seaweed roll), pickles as well as desserts and salad sauce based on the fruit.

Best eaten with a dash of salt or soya sauce and sugar after it has been soaked in warm water for about 10 minutes, the fruit has found the niche as a signature dish at many official functions held in restaurants and hotels particularly in the state’s central region.

NUTCRACKER

A nutcracker is handy to get the fruits edible seed, which is as tasty as fresh peanuts.

Lau said the department’s breakthrough would make the seasonal fruit harvest, which is usually towards the year-end together with the durian season, available all year round for local consumption as well as for exports to the Peninsula, Brunei and Singapore.

“Because it is perishable, Dabai normally gets wrinkled and dry after two days but now we can buy it in big quantities from the locals and supply them to the markets during the off season,” he said.

“I know some Sarawakians, who have air flown about 30-40 kg of Dabai to their friends in China and Korea,” he said, adding that the department would continue its R&D for improved commercially-viable techniques to penetrate the overseas markets.

So far the research centre, which started germplasm collection and varietal selection work to identify Dabai trees that bear superior quality fruit in the last 1980s, had produced two superior clones, namely the Laja and Lulong, for commercial planting.

“It is an arduous task because vegetative propagation of the Dabai tree is difficult. It involved many challenging trips to farms in the interior areas where the fruit is cultivated,” he said.

The clones begin to bear fruit five years after cultivation, with the initial yield of about 10 kg per tree. This gradually increased to 80-100 kg per tree after the tree reaches 10 years old.

Recently, visitors to the Sarawak AgroFest 2008 held at the State Indoor Stadium were able to savour some of the Dabai on display at a booth put up by the department.

— BERNAMA