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Borneo, Sarawak, Sarawak agriculture, Sarawak Economy

World famous chef recommends Sarawak’s peppercorns

FAMED chef Alain Ducasse, whose Paris restaurant Benoit turns 100 this year, is apparently the only chef to hold 19 Michelin stars throughout his career. (Michelin stars are the hallmark of fine dining quality with global restaurants reviewed anonymously using a three-star system since 1926 for Michelin Guides.)

Anyway when this world-famous French chef recommended gifts to Newsweek readers, guess what was on the list?

Pepper. Sarawak black pepper!

“Grown on the island of Borneo, Sarawak black pepper tends to have a pleasantly refined flavour and a relatively mild heat. Great for seasoning meats and poultry,” Ducasse is quoted as saying in the piece which can be found here.

Wow! I never realised that the pepper we’ve been enjoying all this time was regarded so highly!

I went to the site recommended to readers to order our State’s pepper and this was its description: “Malaysian Sarawak peppercorns are highly prized in the world of speciality spices for their high content of piperine. Using just a small amount of these peppercorns will give a beautifully aromatic heat to any dish.”

It also sells red, golden and white peppercorns under speciality peppers – all known as “highly prized in the world of speciality spices”.

As a Sarawakian, a Parochial Sarawakian, I couldn’t help but feel some pride reading that.

Apparently the peppercorns sold by that website “are hand-harvested from the Sarikei garden by one man (Mr Siew) and are processed within 24 hours of harvest (an unheard-of feat in pepper production). The fresh berries are kept intact and are washed several times with clean, cold water and then are dried in a rustic oven at 175F – 200F for 14 hours. The pepper is aged for between four and 10 years before release to ensure a fully cured and spectacularly flavourful pepper”.

Well done Mr Siew! What I am wondering though is if Mr Siew’s pepper can retail for US$9.95 (RM30) for a 90 gram pack and be considered a speciality item, how about the rest of the pepper our State produces? At that price, 1kg of pepper would retail for over RM333!

Hopefully we are getting top dollar for all our pepper exports. Hopefully our exporters are value-adding their products with better packaging, clever marketing and solid branding.

If a world-renowned chef recognises that Sarawak pepper is distinctive for its “pleasantly refined flavour”, then we should leverage on something like that don’t you think?

Sarawak still ranks amongst the world’s leading producers of pepper (piper nigrum L) and exports over 25,000 metric tons annually, making us the country’s top producer.

However, many of the State’s farmers are now more enthusiastic about growing oil palm and rubber.

Deputy Minister of Information. Communication and Culture Datuk Joseph Salang Gandum recently advised Sarawakian farmers not to neglect pepper cultivation.

The Julau Member of Parliament said the crop has time and again proven to be a good income-earner for farmers despite cyclical lows.

He pointed out that 1kg of black pepper had recently fetched RM18.

“This is quite a lot of money for the estimated 67,000 rural households still planting pepper,” said Datuk Salang.

Apparently over 14,453 ha in Sarawak are still dedicated to this crop, with the Pakan District among the State’s top pepper producing areas.

I am sure the clever people at the Pepper Marketing Board can capitalise on this latest endorsement by Chef Ducasse.

Hopefully my family members will work hard to ensure their pepper vines are productive again. Who knows? Perhaps some of our pepper might be used in a world famous kitchen one day.

The report from Bernama:

Sarawak farmers told not to neglect pepper cultivation

PAKAN: Sarawak farmers now enthusiastic about growing oil palm and rubber have been advised not to neglect pepper cultivation. Julau MP Datuk Joseph Salang said the crop, time and again, has proven to be a good income-earner for them despite its cyclical lows.

Speaking at a meet-the-people session at the Celement Nesau longhouse in Nanga Bayu, Kemalih, near here last night, the federal deputy information,communications and culture minister said a kilogramme of black pepper, for example, had recently fetched RM18.

“This is quite a lot of money for the estimated 67,000 rural households still planting pepper.

“The state, with over 14,453 hectares dedicated to the crop, produces over 25,000 tonnes of pepper annually and is still the country’s top producer,” he said.

Salang said the Pakan district here is among the state’s top pepper producing areas and, as such, he believed that the people had much experience with the crop.

On development, Salang said the Ministry of Rural and Regional Development had allocated an initial sum of RM43 million to build the much-awaited 28-km long Entabai-Rantau Limau Road in his parliamentary constituency.

“I talked to Prime Minister Datuk Seri Najib Tun Razak who suggested that the army through its ‘Jiwa Murni’ (heart and mind) project can help in its implementation,” he said.

He called on the people to be patient and not to be easily taken in by talk and flying letters by a certain group that he was against it.

Salang also said that he is prepared to defend his Julau seat for the fourthterm in the next general election provided he has the endorsement of his party,Parti Rakyat Sarawak, Chief Minister Tan Sri Abdul Taib Mahmud and Najib.

“I know there are attempts to try to discredit me with lies by a group notlinked to PRS or the Barisan Nasional. But I am very confident of retaining theseat as I have been serving the constituents regularly and Julau has always beena traditional BN stronghold,” he said.  — Bernama

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