KUCHING: To savour the creamy and smooth texture of the dabai fruit, with its slightly sour tinge, one needs to have an acquired taste.
Commonly known as the Sibu olive, the fruit is indigenous to Sarawak and found along riverbanks in Sibu, Kapit and Sarikei divisions.
The Sarawak Agriculture Department sees potential in the dabai as a specialty fruit that can penetrate the overseas market after discovering a method to prolong its shelf life.
Semongok Agricultural Research Centre fruit agronomist Lau Cheng Youn said, via a freezing technique, the highly-perishable fruit could retain its freshness for up to seven days and up to one year when kept in cold storage.
“We are collaborating with Universiti Putra Malaysia in Serdang, Selangor, to study the nutritional value of the local olive, which has the potential to be exploited as a nutraceutical food because of its high antioxidant properties,” he said here recently.
The department was hoping to commercialise dabai as a Sarawak specialty fruit, as it could fetch between RM16 to RM24 per kilo in cities like Kuching, he said.
Dabai costs only half this price in Sibu and Kapit.
Known botanically as canarium odontophyllum miq, the popularity of dabai as an exotic and health fruit increased over the years with the department producing recipes for pizza, fried rice, mixed vegetables, maki (dried seaweed roll), pickles, desserts and salad sauce based on the fruit.
Best eaten with a dash of salt or soya sauce and sugar after being soaked in warm water for 10 minutes, the fruit has found a niche as a signature dish at official functions in restaurants and hotels in the central region.
A nutcracker comes in handy to pry out the fruits edible kernel, which is as tasty as fresh peanuts.
Lau said the department’s discovery would make the fruit, usually in season at yearend together with the durian, available all year round for local consumption and export to the peninsula, Brunei and Singapore.
“Because it is perishable, dabai gets wrinkled and dry after two days. But now we can buy it in big quantities from locals and supply it to markets during off-season periods,” he said.
“I know Sarawakians who have air flown 30kg to 40kg of dabai to their friends in China and South Korea,” he said, adding that the department would continue with research and development to improve the commercially-viable technique.
The Semongok Agricultural Research Centre, which started germplasm collection and varietal selection work to identify dabai trees that bear superior fruit in the 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 involves challenging trips to farms in the interior where the fruit is cultivated,” he said.
The clones bear fruit five years after cultivation, with an initial yield of 10kg per tree. This gradually increases to 80kg to 100kg per tree after the tree reaches 10 years.
Recently, visitors to Sarawak AgroFest 2008 at the State Indoor Stadium savoured dabai on display at a booth set up by the department. — Bernama