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Sarawak's King of Spices

By Catharine Goh

Harvesting the pepper.

Pepper fruits.

Emas 4.

Pepper, being the "King of Spices," is invariably popular as an ingredient in sauces, seasonings and condiments and among the best known is Sarawak Pepper.

Over the last hundred years, Sarawak Pepper has been exported throughout the world from Sarawak on Borneo island.

It has gained international recognition by chefs and gourmets as one of the favourite pepper ingredients due to its distinctive flavour and taste perfected through years of government funded agro-research.

This product development effort is also complemented with state-of-the-art pepper cleaning and steam sterilisation plants to meet the requirement globally.

Sarawak Pepper is now packed under GP brand for three major user segments, including the household, food service and industrial food processing sectors with full range packaging developed to accommodate all the major end users.

More recently, through the initiative of the Pepper Marketing Board (PMB), Malaysia is going into the production of Specialty Pepper to meet specific requirements of end users.

At the same time, a number of pepper-based products like products from green pepper are being developed by PMB, a government agency under the federal Agriculture Ministry. Other products being developed included green pepper pickle, black pepper sauce, green pepper sauce, asam pedas paste, green pepper vinaigrette and five-spice seasoning.

Under its Sara Spice label are pepper perfumes like "Amila" and "Sensasi" as well as pepper-flavoured candies and sweets, almost always a hit as souvenir items by tourists visiting Sarawak.

Under the same brand name are white pepper berries, which is sold at RM19 per kg, white pepper powder at RM20 per kg, black pepper berries at RM12.10 per kg and black pepper powder at RM3 per 200 gramme.

Given the vast potential in the health markets, product development work on spice extracts like essential oils are now being carried out.

Essential oils from pepper can be used as flavours in beverages, sauces and dressings besides as fragrances in perfumes, toiletries, detergents and air fresheners as well as in aromatherapy.

In fact pepper or "Piper Nigrum" is grown in Malaysia predominantly in Sarawak, which accounts for 95 percent of the production with some plantings in neighbouring Sabah and Johor.

Hence it is not surprising that pepper of Malaysian origin is traded in the world market as Sarawak Pepper, which exports over 90 percent of its annual production of around 25,000 tonnes.

In Sarawak, pepper is planted by smallholders on an estimated 10,000 hectares of mainly fertile hill slopes.

Its tropical climate is ideal for pepper cultivation and harvesting stretches from April to September with the peak season in May and June each year.

Traditionally up to 80 percent of the harvests is turned into white pepper, which naturally fetches better prices due to its better quality.

Source: Borneo Bulletin Weekend

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