Maran dries the coconuts the natural way, on wooden shelves, before extracting the oil.

Reviving the Wood-pressed Oil Industry for Healthy Living

Most of the edible oils that are naturally processed carry abundant nutritional value and resultant health benefits. However, in the pursuit of minimising cost and optimising profit, adulteration of edible oil seems to be an inevitable part of the oil industry.

In such grave situations, consumers are perplexed about what oil to choose to enhance their health. One consolation is the revival of traditional methods of extracting oil that cater to the needs of local consumers.

Sifting the oil through the bamboo vessel to clear the impurities.

Maran Letchuman from Kapar, Selangor, started the traditional oil extracting industry to carry on the tradition of his family, who had been in the industry on a small scale. “My grandfather was popularly known as ‘Chekkennai Sinnasamy’. Only at a later stage of my life did I come to know that the sobriquet ‘Chekkennai’ means ‘wood pressed oil’.

“I can still remember the nutty aroma of the oil that wafted through the air when my grandfather was busy extracting oil. The oil was used in cooking, oil pulling, oil massaging, bathing and for medication,” he reminisced.

Maran with castor seeds. Castor oil is traditionally used as a laxative, and externally applied to cool the body.

Maran, who is also the Director of the Welfare Department of Klang District, currently produces 14 types of oil through wood-pressed methods. Extracting the oil from a variety of seeds, filtering and bottling are all done manually.

Among them, sesame oil and coconut oil are the most popular. Unlike the modern, large-scale oil extraction industry, traditional wood-pressed oil is not subjected to extreme heat.

“As no preservatives and other chemicals are involved in the production of cold-pressed oil, the oil has a relatively shorter shelf life than commercial oil. However, it doesn’t matter because my oil caters to the needs of the local community and it reaches them within a short period of time after processing,” said Maran.

The oil is extracted from a variety of seeds.

Maran’s resolve to start this traditional industry can also be attributed to one of his sister’s conditions. “My sister had hearing and speech impairments. To take care of her and others with similar challenges, I took a house for rent. The house that started with 3 inmates now has 119 inmates.

“During that time, we used different kinds of ointments to relieve the pain and ease the movement of the inmates, and in several cases, we noticed a significant improvement in the inmate’s general health. This is how I got the drive to expand the traditional wood-pressed oil industry,” recounted Maran.

The by-product from the extracted oil, which still holds some of its nutrients, can be reused for various purposes. “I have buyers for all the seed meals as they are rich in nitrogen, which enhances soil fertility. Neem seed meal can be used to repel pests and rodents. For example, the fume from the burning of neem seed meal repels rats and mosquitoes.

An inmate assisting in the extraction of coconut oil.

“It is natural and does not leave behind any toxic residues as chemical sprayer does,” he said.

Maran says the possibilities are endless if one wants to serve society. “In the initial stages I produced 2 types of oil and now keep experimenting with more oil; most of it is a revival of what we have forgotten.

“The inmates are learning precious skills (besides other skills) to keep upgrading themselves. It is the repository of knowledge on holistic living left behind by our ancestors. We need to revive it to ensure the knowledge does not wane with the passing of time,” asserted Maran.

Agroecology Fund