Hainan Mirror: the Secret Treasure of Grapefruit Oil

By / / Updated: 19:24,23-February-2023

p>Camellia Oil, when you hear the Chinese name, which means “mountain grapefruit”, no one would fault you for thinking it comes from a fruit. In reality, it comes from a plant that looks very similar to grapefruit and this name is merely a habit of Hainanese people. The Camellia plant and its products have a more than 2,000-year history of being used in China. One of China’s domestic oil-producing trees—along with olive oil, palm oil, and coconut oil—is one of the world’s four major oil-producing trees. The product which Hainanese people call “grapefruit oil” comes from pressing the kernels of the Camellia plant and extracting their oil.

How and when did the Camellia come to Hainan Island? Zhu Yuanzhang—the first emperor of the Ming Dynasty and one of the earliest people to actively work at developing the island—referred to Hainan as a “mysterious wonderland to the far south.” Bringing their relatively advanced agricultural techniques and products with them many people from Fujian, Guangdong, and Guangxi made the decision—with his encouragement—to uproot themselves and resettle on Hainan Island. It was perhaps at around this stage in time that the Camellia came to Hainan.

Hainan has a lovely warm climate with lots of sunlight. This makes it an excellent place for planting Camellia. Even so, the development of the Camellia Oil industry in Hainan has a long history of taking one step back for every two steps forward. Looking at the development history of the industry, there have been three obvious waves of flourishing and contraction. In the 1960s and 70s Camellia was a popular cash crop primarily planted in the central and northern parts of the island. From there, it spread across the region to Tunchang, Chengmai, Wenchang, Qiongshan, Lin’gao, Dan, Ding'an, and Qiongzhong counties.

By the 1980s and 90s, changes in the market, overplanting, and falling prices led to a decrease in acreage under cultivation and it was replaced by more profitable crops such as rubber and betelnut. By the turn of the century, increased research and development led people to gradually discover the incredible benefits of Camellia Oil and prices once again started to go up. Acreage expanded rapidly and Camellia welcomed a new renaissance.

With an over 90% rate of unsaturated fatty acids (such as oleic acid and linoleic acid), Camellia Oil is roughly 7% higher than the "liquid gold” of olive oil. Culinarily, it's an essential part of the dipping sauce used for Hainan chicken. Separate from that, locals regard it as a universal cure for minor cuts and bruises. In some areas of Hainan, people have got the habit—prior to drinking—of taking a bit of Camellia Oil to help prevent a hangover. Because a rich fatty oil holds connotations of nourishment and harmony, Camellia Oil also shows up as a traditional local wedding gift. Basically, no matter what angle you use to look at things, Camellia Oil is an indispensable part of Hainanese people's diet and living habits. While it's possible that a historical lack of materials or medical knowledge led people to accidentally discover the efficacy and unique value of Camellia Oil, it has now evolved into part of Hainan's customs, culture, and heritage.



Having questions about living or working in Hainan? Leave it below. 

Our Privacy Statement & Cookie Policy

By continuing to browser our site and use the services you agree to our use of cookies, Privacy Policy and Terms of Use. You can change your cookie settings through your browser.

I agree