Archive for February 2015

More fishy tales

As relatives gather to celebrate Chinese New Year, topics of ... new-born babies, health of new mothers, death of elderly folks, career changes, new boyfriends and girlfriends brought into the family ... are usually raised.

A few distant relatives of mine had just given birth to big, bouncy babies. 

As usual, the elders will dish out advice of special diet that promotes wound-healing during the month following childbirth.

The snakehead fish (“sang yue” in Cantonese, haruan in Malay language) is believed to have wound-healing properties. 

The elders specifically “prescribed” sang yue for women who had just given birth or anyone who has had to endure open wound surgery.  

A quick search on some scientific papers on the Internet revealed sang yue contains high levels of essential amino acids and a good profile of fatty acids that improves tissue growth and speed up wound-healing. Wow!

As the conversation among the elders get more intense, they 'drill into me' that sang yue can be stir-fried, cooked with porridge or double-boiled into nutritional soup. 

Since I'm the only journalist in the extended family, I was tasked to 'put it down in record'. I was lazy to take notes or even use my smartphone to video-record. So, I willed myself to remember as much as I can. Ha! Ha!

In making this nutritional soup, the elders said sang yue is sliced into fillet and double-boiled with herbs. A dash of palm cooking oil helps bring out the flavour and fragrance of the ingredients. 

The time-consuming double-boiling process is necessary to distill the fish's medicinal properties. Mmm ... the sang yue soup is delicious to the very last spoonful!

The elders noted sang yue tastes just as good when stir-fried. The best cooking oil that is heat stable to stir-fry is the affordable and yet nutritious palm oil. 

the sang yue are stir-fried in quick, high heat (in Cantonese, it is known as wok hei), these fillet become tender and succulent. The ginger and spring onion garnishing enhances the freshness of the fillet.

Lo Hei! Lo Hei!

The raw fish salad is a 'unity forging' appetizer eaten together in big groups during Chinese New Year. The higher its freshly prepared ingredients are tossed in the air with chopsticks, the better your luck! 

Yu sheng (鱼生) sounds like the Chinese word “abundance” and eating it is considered a symbol of prosperity and vigour. When the yu sheng is served on the table, New Year greetings like gong xi fa cai (恭喜发财) meaning “congratulations for your wealth” and wan shi ru yi (万事如意) “may all your wishes be fulfilled” are offered. 

Since Malaysia is multi-cultural, restaurants are serving yu sheng with the gustatory traits of Thai, Japanese, Indian and Peranakan cuisines. Halal and vegetarian versions are also available to meet any diner’s requirements.

In welcoming good luck and blessings, here's a 10-step guide to Lo Hei:- 

1. Add the fish, usually thinly sliced local snakehead fish (in Cantonese, it is called sang yue) or if you like, salmon. Nian nian yu yue (年年有余) means “abundance year after year”, as the word “fish” in Mandarin also sounds like “abundance”.

2. Add the pomelo pulp, which symbolises adding luck and auspicious value. Da ji da li (大吉大利) means “good luck and smooth sailing”.

3. Add a dash of pepper, which symbolises the hope of attracting more money and valuables. Zhao cai jin bao (招财进宝) means to “attract wealth and treasures”.

4. Pour the palm cooking oil, circling the ingredients to encourage money to flow in from all directions. Yi ben wan li (一本万利) means “Make 10,000 times of profit with your capital”. Cai yuan guang jin (财源广进) means “numerous sources of wealth”.

5. Add the carrots, which indicate blessings of good luck. Hong yun dang tou (鸿运当头) means “good luck is approaching”.

6. Add the shredded green radish, which symbolises eternal youth. Qing chun chang zhu (青春常驻) means “forever young”.

7. Add the shredded white radish, which symbolises prosperity in business and promotion at work. Feng sheng shui qi (风生水起) means “progress at a fast pace” and bu bu gao sheng (步步高升) means “reaching a higher level with each step”.

8. Add chopped peanuts and sesame seeds, which symbolises flourishing business. Sheng yi xing long (生意兴隆) means “prosperity for the business”.

9. Add the plum sauce, generously drizzle over the entire dish. Tian tian mi mi (甜甜蜜蜜) means “may life always be sweet”.

10. Add deep-fried flour crisps, which come in the shape of golden pillows and symbolises a floor filled with gold. Man di huang jin (满地黄金) means “floor full of gold”.

“Nian Nian Yu Yue”

Fish signifies 'nian nian yu yue' in mandarin. It brings about positive sentiment of yearly abundance and prosperity. The steam fish is a must-have and the central dish for Chinese New Year. 

The different Chinese dialect groups steam their fish in different ways. 

The Teochews will steamed their fish with preserved mustard, sour plum, tomatoes and scallions; the Cantonese prefer their fish quite simply with soy sauce, a pinch of rock sugar, garnished with sliced ginger; the Hakka use pickled mustard greens that infuse the fish with a briny flavour. 

Below is the recipe for the Cantonese style of steamed fish.

Steamed White Pomfret

1 medium-sized white pomfret
1-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled and sliced
1/2 tsp salt and dash of white pepper
3 tbsps soy sauce
1 tbsp oyster sauce
1 tsp sugar
3 tbsps hot water
1 tsp sesame
1 tbsp palm cooking oil
dash of white pepper
coriander, scallion and spring onions for garnishing


1) Remove gills from fish, rinse well and pat dry with kitchen paper towels. Place it in a heatproof deep dish.

2) Marinate fish with the teaspoon of salt, few shakes of pepper and a dash of sesame oil.

3) Arrange the ginger slices and scallion on top and below fish.

4) Heat up 1 tbsp palm cooking oil in the wok, stir in the oyster and soy sauce. Pour the heated soy sauce over the fish. 

5) Bring water to boil over high heat in a steamer, and place the fish inside for 15 minutes. By now, you should see the eyes of fish are all popped out and the fins should be open. 

6) Lift the fish from the steamer. Garnish before serving immediately.

Serves 8 people

Palm oil can help minimise cancer risks

This is written by my colleague Zaidi Isham Ismail.

BUKIT JALIL, Selangor: IN the past few decades, cancer has fast become a dreaded disease that threatens human lives. However, a number of treatment approaches to prevent it at an early stage are also gaining momentum.

One of the preventive approaches, which has been tested in many cancer models, is through the use of palm-based Vitamin E tocotrienols.

There are two forms of vitamin E — tocotrienols and tocopherols. They exist naturally in vegetable oils.

Palm oil is a rich source of tocotrienols and tocopherols — 70 per cent of the vitamin E in palm oil is tocotrienols while the remaining 30 per cent is tocopherols.

In addition to the supervitamin E variant called tocotrienols, palm oil is also rich in other phytonutrients.

International Medical University Malaysia (IMU) immunologist Professor Ammu K. Radhakrishnan said joint research on the benefits of palm tocotrienols in cancer prevention carried out by the university in the past 15 years have yielded encouraging results.

“We have carried out research on the palm oil-based tocotrienols in the past 15 years and our studies have revealed that palm tocotrienols could reduce risks of deadly cancer activities.

“Palm tocotrienols have anti-cancer properties and we are currently looking at how this vitamin boost our natural defense system and fight infections, as well as its response during the healing process,” said Ammu.

She added that scientists are looking at how tocotrienols stimulate the immune system to fight cancer as they are more potent than tocopherols and appear to be able to boost the immune system and keep the balance.

Ammu said there is a misconception that cancer comes from external sources when, in fact, it starts when one’s body cells fail to regulate growth and become abnormal or “rogue”.

Cancer cells also require nutrients and other substances to grow and sustain their growth. For this, the cells will secrete chemicals that promote new blood vessels.

Palm tocotrienols seem to be able to inhibit the growth of new blood vessels. So,this is seen to be one of the mechanisms being used to fight cancer.

According to Ammu, studies using experimental models involving laboratory mice have shown palm-based tocotrienols are able to kill cancer cells and enhance their immune system.

A 2011 clinical trial involving 120 humans showed palm-based vitamin E is very effective in boosting immune in response to a vaccine.

Tocotrienols have other beneficial health effects such as anti-diabetic, cardioprotection, hypocholesterolemic, anti-oxidant, neuroprotective and anti-inflammatory.

Ammu highlighted that tocotrienols, extracted from palm oil is able to minimise risks of chronic cancer, Parkinson’s disease and diabetes.

She went on to advise that prevention is better than cure. One should lead a healthy lifestyle by not smoking cigarettes, eating a balanced diet and exercising regularly.

According to Ammu, palm oil is fast gaining traction among medical practitioners in the fight against cancer.

“The research is still ongoing and we have to see how to disseminate all these beneficial findings to the public,” she added.

More workers needed to harvest oil palm fruits

KUALA LUMPUR: Sarawak Oil Palm Plantation Owners Association (Soppoa) reiterated the industry’s need for more workers to harvest oil palm fruits at the fields.

Soppoa estimated that millions of tonnes of fruit bunches are wasted in the fields as planters lack manpower to harvest them. 

It had estimate for harvest 17.5 million tonnes of oil palm fruit bunches or 3.5 million tonnes of crude palm oil this year.

Assuming there is a 15 per cent wastage or loss of 500,000 tonnes of crude palm oil, that works out to 2.5 million tonnes of fruit bunches left rotting across Sarawak's oil palm fields. 

At a conservative pricing of RM2,200 per tonne, it translates into at least RM1.1 billion loss in export opportunity.

"There is little alternative but to seek hiring of foreign workers," said Soppoa chairman, Paul Wong, in a telephone interview from Miri yesterday.

Wong expressed gratitude for Sarawak government’s plan to bring in 12,000 Bangladeshi workers for the state’s plantation sector.

He also highlighted that many Native Customary Reserve landowners are starting their own estates and they in turn look for workers to help out.

Sarawak’s mega projects at Similaju Industrial Park, the oil and gas industry and others are also attracting locals to work there, which substantially reduces the number of Malaysian manpower.

Hence, plantation firms have no choice but to turn to hire foreign hands to overcome labour shortage, he said. 

"When we hire foreign workers from either Indonesia or Bangladesh, the companies must fulfill various conditions including placing advertisements in radio, print media and with the Labor Department Sarawak, and to undertake commitments for proper housing, bank guarantees and other labor law requirements stipulated for engaging these workers.

"We have no choice. All these obligations in hiring foreign workers, including levies and other incidental recruitment add costs for companies involved in hiring foreign workers," he said.

All this while, oil palm planters have been paying minimum wages, cooking oil cess, research and marketing cess, sales taxes to Sarawak governments, on top of the usual corporate tax and foreign worker levies.

As the highest taxpayers on a sectorial capita basis, Wong said it is timely that due recognition be given to oil palm planters' critical contribution to Malaysia's economy. 

"The palm oil industry forms the backbone of Malaysia's economy. We earn US$20 billion per year in palm oil exports. Facilitative support in the right direction is very much needed to value add this industry," Wong said.

FERRERO ROCHER & Tic Tac patriach dies

ROME, Italy: Michele Ferrero, Italy's richest man and the owner of a global chocolate and confectionery empire, died yesterday aged 89, the company said.

His death opens the question of succession and potential tie-ups at the family-controlled Ferrero group, which has sales of around €8 billion and continued to grow through Italy's longest recession since World War 2.

Ferrero dreamt up the chocolate-hazelnut Nutella spread, Ferrero Rocher pralines, Kinder eggs and Tic Tac sweets, turning a provincial chocolate factory into what is widely seen as Italy's most valuable privately-owned company.

The billionaire died at home in Monaco after months of illness, the group said in a statement.

Italian President Sergio Mattarella said he was deeply touched by Ferrero's death, calling him a "born entrepreneur".

Twitter was flooded with messages from people who thanked Ferrero for "sweetening up" their lives.

Ferrero's son Giovanni became chief executive of the chocolate empire after his older brother Pietro, the chosen heir, died of a heart attack in 2011 while cycling in South Africa.

In late 2013, Giovanni denied suggestions that the company had been approached by the Swiss-based multinational Nestle, saying Ferrero was not for sale. 

But industry insiders say he is less interested than his brother was in running the company.

Ferrero senior was a man of few words who shunned publicity, turning a local business from the Piedmont region into a global giant. 

He had a reputation as a forceful leader but also as one who maintained generous working conditions and gave back to his community. Ferrero's motto was "work, create, donate."

Usually seen in public in dark glasses Michele Ferrero is reputedly a devout Catholic who has infused the group with a strong sense of social responsibility.

In 1996, he was unexpectedly ambushed by a TV crew. When asked, "What was the secret of Ferrero's success?" he humbly replied, without slowing his walking away pace: "Our Lady of Lourdes".

Until a few years ago, Ferrero commuted by helicopter every day from his Monte Carlo villa to company headquarters in Alba, northwest Italy, to taste and help design new products.

He never let outsiders buy into the company, which his father set up in 1946. 

The group, which toyed with the idea of making a bid for its British rival Cadbury a few years ago, is present in 53 countries.

Ferrero Group is the world's fifth-largest confectionery company by revenue after Mars, Mondelez International (formerly known as Kraft Foods), Nestle and Meiji.

Forbes magazine described Ferrero as "the richest candyman on the planet", putting him and his family in 30th place on their list of the world's wealthiest people, with a net worth of US$23.4 billion. 

Three years ago, in 2012, French Senator Daudigny had proposed a tax increase on palm oil from €100 to €400 per metric tonne. 

At 20 per cent, palm oil is one of Nutella's main ingredients and the tax was dubbed "the Nutella tax" in the media.

Nutella, a bestseller of Ferrero Group's confectionery offerings, is a very popular chocolate spread and a breakfast staple in Europe. 

Nutella's main ingredients are sugar and palm oil, followed by hazelnut, cocoa solids, and skimmed milk.

In response to this proposed draconian and discriminatory tax, Ferrero Group, the maker of Nutella said, it will not change the recipe even if France, its biggest market, endorses proposals to quadruple the tax on palm oil.

Frederic Thil, French director for Ferrero, the Italian company that makes the spread, told Le Parisien: "The arguments are unfair and the repercussions would be catastrophic."

He strongly emphasised Ferrero would do all it could to limit the hit from any tax rise for consumers.

Nutella's website says that it supports responsible palm oil use, only using palm oil which is harvested and processed from eco-friendly oil palm plantations in Malaysia.

French people consume an average of 2kg of palm oil a year and the country as a whole 126,000 tonnes. 

After much debate, the French Senate rejected the Nutella Tax. If the tax had been adopted then, it would have added €40 million a year to France's state health insurance pot.

Smear campaign hits home ground

THE Australian "Don't Palm Us Off" smear campaign against the palm oil industry has hit Malaysia in its homeground. Palm oil industry leaders are enraged and seeks remedial action. OOI TEE CHING writes.

Palm Oil Refiners Association of Malaysia (Poram) chairman Wan Mohd Zain Wan Ismail looked dejectedly at photographs of carpet cleaning spray solutions sold at local supermarkets. 

The products' front labelling had stickers with orangutan icons appealing for “Palm Oil Free” products. 

He shook his head. “In the world of vegetable oils trade war, this reputation attack in our frontyard is uncalled for and totally out of line," he told Business Times in an interview.

Last year, in Singapore, this same supermarket chain had also prominently displayed "Palm Oil Free" signages for an infant milk manufacturer.

"You don’t go around smearing other people’s image to unscrupulously grab market share and curb market access. The spreading of twisted half truths and lies about oil palm cultivation is hurting our reputation, our business and our livelihoods," he said. 

Wan Zain held up the carpet cleaning spray solution with on-the-front 'Palm Oil Free' labelling. "The importer and the retailers of this product with negative labelling are equally guilty. 

"Action must be taken against these defamatory acts that are hurting our oil palm industry's image and the livelihoods of many people along the palm oil's sprawling value chain," he said. 

"The culprits must be taken to task for hurting and discrediting our national economic security crop. The palm oil industry forms the backbone of Malaysia's economy. We earn US$20 billion per year in palm oil exports," he said.

"The public is being misled into believing that oil palm cultivation is being carried out at the expense of wildlife when in reality, the oil palm is the world's most sustainable oil crop," said Incorporated Society of Planters (ISP) chief executive officer Azizan Abdullah, in a separate interview.

Unknown to many, Azizan said oil palm planters have, for the past decade, established the Malaysian Palm Oil Wildlife Conservation Fund (MPOWCF) that is contributing to wildlife conservation and research.

Azizan said these defamatory campaigns against the palm oil industry are very much fuelled by trade politics of soyabean and rapeseed producers in the western world.

Wan Zain concurred, saying that it is not a coincidence that defamatory campaigns on palm oil originate from rival oil-producing continents which have lost global market share to palm oil, as Malaysia and Indonesia expanded their oil palm plantings. 

Malaysia and Indonesia, which contribute 85 per cent of global palm oil output, produce around 20 million tonnes and 33 million tonnes, respectively.

This year, global palm oil output is expected to total 63 million tonnes while soya and rapeseed oils are anticipated to touch 47 million tonnes and 27 million tonnes, respectively. 

In the 15-year period to 2015, Oil World and other authoritative statistics show global palm oil output expanded two times faster than soya and rapeseed oils. As global palm oil usage increased over the years, so did trade rivalry. Hence, the coveted smear campaigns on the oil palm industry.

According to the Australian Export Grains Innovation Centre, Australia is the world’s second-largest rapeseed exporter, shipping 2.12 million tonnes a year, mostly to the European Union (EU).

"Australia's No.1 rapeseed client is the EU. It is not a coincidence that the Australia's "Don't Palm Us Off" orangutan campaign is similar to “No Palm Oil” labelling in France and Belgium," Wan Zain said. 

Since December 13 2014, the European Union Food Information for Consumers Regulation had mandated specification of vegetable oils (i.e. palm, rapeseed, sunflower, soya) on the ingredient list. 

But food firms had also inserted “No Palm Oil” on the labels, which falsely insinuates palm oil is bad and needs to be avoided. 

In Europe, these discriminatory labels are being promoted by chocolate maker Galler and supermarket chain Delhaize. 

“Since there is no scientific proof that palm oil is bad for health, it is deceptive and malicious for these food manufacturers to go on using the ‘No Palm Oil’ labels,” he said.

These insidious smear campaigns on palm oil has one clear objective, which is to kill the growth of oil palm plantings and reduce palm oil consumption in the global market.

As more and more defamatory campaigns such as the “Palm Oil Free” and "No Palm Oil" labelling on food and cleaning products tarnish the image of the palm oil industry, Wan Zain said exporters from Malaysia and Indonesia are denied equal opportunities to trade.

"We must stand up for our rights to equal opportunities to trade. We must fight on to dismantle trade barriers which have manifested into many facets," he said, adding the bigger the palm oil industry grows, the easier it becomes an unfortunate target.