Hainan Camellia: the "Olive Oil" of the East

By / HICN / Updated: 20:45,07-September-2022

Editor's note:

Hainan Mountain Grapefruit' is the common name of the Camellia plant in Hainan. The Camellia is a woody oil-bearing tree native to China. The oil extracted from Camellia seeds is known as 'the olive oil of the Eastbecause of its rich nutritional value and health benefits. It is also favored by many people in the industry and is considered to be a strong competitor in the global high-end oil market.

This year, the Eighth Party Congress of Hainan Province report proposed to further develop the market for products of the six trees, which are coconut palm trees, rubber trees, betel nut trees, yellow rosewood trees, agarwood (also known as eaglewood) trees, and camellia trees. These six trees could also be called Hainans money trees - they are the source of much economic prosperity for the rural residents of the island. 

Wu Gui, the subject of this article, is an entrepreneur. Three years ago, he resigned from his job in Beijing and returned to his hometown in Hainan. He established the Qionghai Earth Mother Camellia Oil Cooperative to promote the development of the Camellia product industry in Hainan.

On July 3, Wu Gui drove from Qionghai to Haikou to discuss working with Xie Jiansheng, a shareholder of a camellia company in Fujian. Wu was there to promote Hainan Camellia (also known as Hainan Mountain Grapefruit Oil), a kind of camellia oil produced in Hainan.

Workers separate Camellia fruit components and peel the seeds for oil extraction. [Yuan Chen / Hainan Daily]

Hainan Camellia’s unique features make it suitable for industry development

The camellia oil agricultural base covering an area of 33.33 hectares (500 mu) at Ma'anling, Wanquan Town, Qionghai City, was first cultivated in 2006 by Wu Yue, Wu Gui's father. "My father's uncles are overseas Chinese living in Malaysia. Every time they came back to worship their ancestors on Tomb-Sweeping Day, they buy some Hainan Camellia Oil and take it abroad," Wu Gui said.

Many Hainanese people appreciate local camellia oil for its golden color and rich fragrance. Along with salt, it makes the perfect flavoring for white-cut chicken, which is both a tasty and nutritious dish. The oil can also be applied to the skin for burns or to relieve skin allergies.

"Hainanese people call camellia oil ‘Hainan Mountain Grapefruit Oil’, as it is a plant that grows on mountains and resembles grapefruit," said Zhou Yadong, Chief Engineer of the Forestry Department of Hainan Province.

Zheng Daojun, the Chief Expert and Researcher of the Tropical Camellia Resources Cultivation and Innovative Utilization Team of the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Sciences explained that camellia oil is higher in monounsaturated fatty acids than olive oil. In addition it also contains squalene, tea polyphenols, and theosin. Due to the oil’s excellent nutritional value, health benefits, and other unique qualities, it is known as 'the olive oil of the East’.

At present, the three main types of camellia are common camellia oil, small fruit camellia oil, and Vietnamese camellia oil. The research team of the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Sciences has shown that Hainan camellia oil is a special ecological type or variety of Vietnam camellia oil, and differs from the camellia oil in other Chinese provinces on the mainland. Hainan Camellia oil seeds contain 74 unique flavor substances. Due to the oil’s excellent quality, it is suitable for industry development.

Workers stir-fry Camellia seeds and use local methods to hot-press Hainan Camellia Oil. [Yuan Chen / Hainan Daily]

Camellia oil processing optimization increases the value of Camellia fruit

Hainan Camellia Oil is hot pressed, which is different from other areas, where the oil is generally cold pressed. Hot-pressed camellia oil is high in value. "Last year, freshly pressed camellia oil sold for 380 RMB per half kilogram," said Wang Xiayang, Chairman of the Qionghai Hot Spring Fafu Camellia Farmers Professional Cooperative. In addition to being sold to fixed-order buyers, it is also available on e-commerce platforms.

During his years of working in the industry, Wu Gui found that hot pressing camellia oil with local methods was inefficient and highly dependent on manpower. The company he runs is jointly developing optimization technology with the Hainan Tropical Ocean Institute to extend the shelf life of camellia oil and improve processing efficiency in a way that will retain the local pressing method while also automating the process.

In addition to producing oil, what else can Camellia fruit do? After studying how it is used in other provinces, Wu Gui mixed brown sugar, fish meal, soybean meal, and fermented oil meal to produce a new organic fertilizer.

"Last year, profit from sales of organic fertilizer reached 600,000 RMB. The fertilizer is mainly purchased by Hainan dragon fruit growers. This year, we have received an order for enough organic fertilizer to cover 66.66 hectares (1000 mu) of dragon fruit fields." Wu Gui said that he was going to apply for a patent for this fertilizer production technique.

Camellia fruit looks like grapefruit, which is why it is also known as ‘mountain grapefruit’. [Yuan Chen / Hainan Daily]

Science and technology increase production and local specialties become international brands

Hainan Camellia Oil has a high market value. This is due to its superior quality as well as the scarcity of Camellia fruit, which results in supply shortages.

Zheng Daojun said that the Hainan Academy of Agricultural Sciences is focusing on cultivating large, high-oil fruit varieties. For example, the "Qiong Ke You" series of excellent clones of Hainan Camellia cultivated by the Provincial Academy of Agricultural Sciences has a fresh fruit oil yield of more than 2.5 times that of the existing varieties.

Due to consumers from other provinces’ low awareness of Hainan Camellia, Dai Jun, Director of the Qionghai Tropical Crops Service Center, believes that attention should be paid to the branding of Hainan Camellia. 

At present, there are about 12 registered camellia oil trademarks in Qionghai. "To sell better internationally, I recommend establishing a well-known  'Hainan Camellia Oil' or 'Hainan Mountain Grapefruit Oil' brand to enter the market uniformly," Dai Jun said.

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