Dhom Makhu – natural and organic oil to soon hit market
In a month or two, Bhutanese consumers especially the Thimphu lot will get to taste natural, local and purely organic edible oil which the educated youth cooperative called Happy Green Cooperative in collaboration with the members of Goenshari Community forests management group in Punakha will be introducing in the market.
Locally known as Dhom Makhu, the oil is an extract of a certain wild berry, a berry fruit of a Symplocus tree. It is extracted by a traditional way of which the community used to do in the olden days. It is edible oil but its use not exhaustive. The oil is traditionally known for its effective body massage, cosmetics and others.
According to Chief Executive Officer of the cooperative, Sangay Rinchen, forests is a food bank and this so-called berry grows abundantly. “It was there growing in the forests from the time immemorial, but has not been explored.” Now with intervention of the Happy Green Cooperative, the oil will be extracted and sold in the market.
Traditionally, the community members of Drachukha village of Goenshari gewog in Punakha practiced such oil extraction technique making them self-sufficient of such need. However, the practice discontinued after industrial cooking oil flooded the market. “Cheap and readily available cooking oil in the market discouraged the farmers, killing such a unique tradition,” Sangay Rinchen pointed out.
But soon it will be revived and made the oil available in the market which will serve as a steady flow of income to the beneficiaries including the farmers. Happy Green Cooperative CEO Sangay Rinchen added that it is a green initiative focused towards employed youth and marginal farmers, which the group is governed by. “It is a need based initiative in conjunction with the available forest resources,” he said. He believes that Community forests should be a benefit-oriented, not solely focused on the conservation side.
A preliminary resource assessment was done to quantify the berry availability, which according to the exercise is substantive that the project is viable. “The fruit if left in the forests will fall to waste accruing no benefits to the communities living in the vicinity,” he said adding, “Rather we can reap lots of benefits from such a wild fruit.”
According to him, there is also not much of investment needed for the venture since majority of the household has the indigenous equipment to ooze out oil from the berry. A piece of plank, few boulders, bamboo basket and few pots and pans are all that is required for such an indigenous oil extraction process.
As practiced in the past, the berries are harvested from the forests and left to dry for few days. When it is dried to the right temper, then the fruit is pounded. The fruit needs to be steamed before it is finally pressed to ooze out the oil. The oil that flows through a curving on a small piece of wood is collected in an appropriate container.
The group is also in the process of branding and acquiring an Intellectual Property right. The product once in the market will be launched under the brand name, “Local Hero, inspired by Gross National Happiness.” The product will be professionally packaged in order to increase its shelf life.
This, Sangay Rinchen said, is to give a modern touch to the traditional product. Besides packaging, even the traditional method of oil extraction will also be blended with modern technologies. “There is also need to see the contents and other uses of such oil,” he emphasized.
But it will be a cautious approach. “Before jumping into mass production, we’ll have few trial products,” he said. He also went on to say that if the venture is successfully, the export is also within his mind. He is divulged that such natural oil will be catered to the customers through an organic restaurant at Changzamtog, Thimphu, which is the restaurant belonging to the cooperative group themselves.
An egg omelet fried in berry oil or a fern top pickled in the same oil. The recipe sounds as bizarre as his idea. But the professional chefs in the high-end hotel like Taj Tashi have shown positive response. “If their customers who mostly are foreigners come to like the menu, it is as good as exportable.”