Impressions of mangrove charcoal at Kuala Sepetang

Kuala Sepetang is a coastal fishing village, and it is famous for seafoods, mangrove forest, charcoal and now fire flies. The town is about 20km from Taiping town. A short drive brought me to the mangrove forest and it was my first vist to the charcoal factory.

The charcoal factory owned by Khay Hor Holdings Sdn Bhd has become a tourist attraction. The factory is situated right opposite the mangrove forest reserve. As usual, I did not join any tour so I could not relate the story to you, but I could imagine that it all started with a seed.

I found it when I walked into the reserve forest (free entrace). The seed belongs to one type of mangrove known as Bakau Minyak (according to the sign board), scientific name is Rhizophora apiculata. This type of mangrove has straight stem and grows at very slow pace. There is a healthy 60 years old tree in the park for display but the stem is just a little bit bigger than mango tree.

Nature is full of wonders (as usual). The stilt root of the mangrove tree is a natural stabilizer for soft sediments, and it has ways to allow the tree to breath during high tide, very innovative. Some species can excrete excess salts and toxic by letting the dying leave falls off the tree.

So much said about the nature, but human are ‘cruel’ and more destructive. Once human learn that the mangrove trees were excellent material to make charcoal, they ended up in the factory.

Luckily the business practice sustainable harvesting. They replant the trees being chopped off, and it takes another 20-30 years before the next harvest. The factory itself has huge compound, with more than 100 baking cones. The cones were handmade out of bricks, and it took 20,000+ bricks to construct and it lasts for 15 years.

It took great strength and experience to stack the tree trunk inside the cone. I was inside one of the cone. It was hot due to poor airflow, and very dim. Notice that the tree trunk was placed on top of the brick.

Once the cones was filled and the burning would last for 8 to 10 days.

The small opening will later be sealed and continue baking for around 2 weeks. I saw the black board with scheduling control.

After all the water has evaporated (I could feel the humidity and saw the vaporized smoke venting out from some of the cones), the product was ready for packaging.

After this visit, my opinion about charcoal is no longer the same. It is a long process and plenty of hardwork put into the end product. It is also a respect to the factory that insisting on traditional ways in producing charcoal. I think my next BBQ will taste different (in a better way).

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