Dabai (Canarium odontophyllum) is an indigenous seasonal fruit which grows naturally in the wild and can only be found in Borneo Island, especially Sarawak. It is commonly known as ‘Sarawak olive’ due to its resemblance to olives. However, it is not botanically related to the olive family. It is also called ‘Sibu olive’ since it is found in abundance along the along the Rajang River basin, especially in Sibu divisions in Sarawak.
The dabai tree grows upright (up to 20 m), is medium-sized and has large pinnate leaves. With an economic lifespan of about 40 years, mature dabai trees can yield up to 300 kg of dabai fruit per season, which are May – June and December – January depending on the weather pattern. Dabai fruits can fetch premium prices at the beginning of the harvesting season.
The edible dabai fruits is oblong 3-4 cm long and 2.5 cm wide, and has a thin dark purple to black coloured skin. The yellowish flesh (called aril) is 4-7 mm thick and covers a hard angular seed. Fruits of good quality are characterized by big size, thick aril, nutty aroma and fine creamy texture.
Traditionally, dabai fruit is prepared by soaking in warm water for about 15 minutes and then eaten with salt or soy sauce, as part of a meal or as a savoury snack. Dabai fruit is very nutritious with high energy (339 kcal), protein (3.8%), fat (26.2%), minerals such as potassium (810 mg), phosphorus (65 mg) and vitamin E (257 ppm). The fatty acid composition has a high ratio of polyunsaturated fatty acids to saturated fatty acids (PUFA:SFA), higher than the ratio of standard cardiovascular disease prevention, namely, 1.0. Dabai fatty acid contents are similar to that of palm oil with the main compositions consisting of palmitic acid (42%), linoleic acid (35%) and linolenic acid (11%). The fruit oil also has anti-hypercholesterol and antioxidant activities. The high nutritional value of dabai, coupled with high contents of fatty acids suggest that the fruit is highly suitable to be promoted for wider use, specifically as a source of healthy oil and other nutraceuticals.
Being a popular indigenous fruit in Sarawak, dabai has good potential to be marketed as s specialty fruit since it has also been identified as a Geographical Indication product. Today, dabai is widely cultivated in dusun plots all over the state of Sarawak. Domestication studies of dabai are well documented and commercial planting using superior and selected quality material is promising. The prospect of growing dabai as an economic crop in the state is bright.
Nevertheless, dabai fruit is very delicate and highly perishable. The short shelf life of the fruit presents a major limitation to its distribution and marketing. The export market for fresh dabai fruit is currently limited only to nearby towns in Sabah and Brunei. This limited market usually results in an over-supply of dabai during peak crop seasons and this may lead to crashes in dabai prices.
In order to fully exploit the potential of dabai, MARDI Kuching has conducted studies on physico-chemical assessment of several dabai genotypes, product development and storage as a way to increase the use of dabai. Value-added products that are successfully developed include dabai pickles, frozen pulp, dipping sauce, seasoning paste, mayonnaise and drinks. The development of these new food products helped to diversify the use of dabai while ensuring the supply of the fruit during the off-season. It will thus help to develop the processing industry of the local fruits.
The two basic products, namely, dabai pickles and frozen pulp were developed to ensure the supply of dabai in the off-seasons. Enabling the processing of dabai to be carried out throughout the year. Dabai pickles which are preserved in salt can be stored for one year at room temperature. Dabai frozen pulp helps to maintain the fresh flavour longer than one year.
The dabai dipping sauce and seasoning paste were developed using dabai pickles as the main ingredient. The dipping sauce is a liquid form flavour enhancer that can be used similar to chili and pepper sauces. The dabai seasoning paste is a ready-to-use concentrated seasoning which can be used for preparation of various dishes such as dabai fried rice which is very popular in Sarawak.
Dabai mayonnaise and dabai juice are two value-added products that can be produced from the dabai frozen pulp and provide alternatives to consumers who love mayonnaise and fruit drinks.
By: Dr. Chua Hun Pin and Nicholas Daniel – Food Technology Research Centre, MARDI
More at: Scientia MARDI – Vol. 008