In a month or two, Bhutanese consumers especially in Thimphu will get to taste or apply a natural, local and purely organic edible oil. The product once in the market will be launched under the brand name, “Local Hero, inspired by Gross National Happiness.”
This oil will be brought to you the Happy Green Cooperative in collaboration with the members of Goenshari Community forests management group in Punakha.
Locally known as Dhom Makhu, the oil is an extract of a wild berry fruit of the Symplocus tree. It is extracted in the same traditional way used in the olden days. It’s use is not limited to cooking. The oil is traditionally known for its effectiveness in body massage, cosmetics and others.
According to the CEO of the cooperative, Sangay Rinchen the berry grows abundantly in the local forest.
Traditionally, the community members of Drachukha village of Goenshari gewog in Punakha practiced such oil extraction techniques making them self-sufficient in oil. 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.
Happy Green Cooperative CEO Sangay Rinchen said that it is a green initiative focused towards employing youth and marginal farmers. “It is a need based initiative in conjunction with the available forests resources,” he said.
A preliminary resource assessment was done to quantify the berry availability, which according to the exercise is substantive enough to make the project viable.
According to Rinchen, there is not much investment needed for the venture since the majority of the households have indigenous equipment to press 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.
The berries are harvested from the forests and left to dry for few days after which the fruit is pounded. The fruit needs to be steamed before it is finally pressed using the boulders and planks.
The group is also in the process of branding and acquiring Intellectual Property rights. The product will be professionally packaged in order to increase its shelf life.
But it will be a cautious approach. “Before jumping into mass production, we’ll have a few trial products,” he said. He said that if the venture is successfully, they would export the oil. The oil will be made available through an organic restaurant at Changzamtog, Thimphu.
Professional chefs in high-end hotels like Taj Tashi have shown a positive response. “If their customers who mostly are foreigners come to like the menu, it can be exported.”