The Hakka Camellia Oil Industry

Known as the “olive oil of the East,” camellia oil is extracted from the seeds of oil tea camellia, a general term for species of the Camellia (tea) genus whose seeds contain relatively high levels of oil and have economic cultivation value. Along with olives, oil palms and coconuts, it ranks among the “big four” main sources of vegetable oil. Oil tea camellia has a long history of cultivation in Taiwan and its value lies in its many uses. It has long been used for its healthy properties, from which a variety of healthcare products and cleaning products can be derived.
Camellia oil
(Photo: CNA)

Oil tea camellia normally favors growing in mountainous areas and plains with good drainage that are also suitable for cultivation. At present, the total area for oil tea camellia cultivation in Taiwan is more than 1,000 hectares, concentrated in New Taipei City, Chiayi, Nantou and Hualien counties, and Hakka townships in Taoyuan and Miaoli. It is a local specialty crop in Miaoli County in particular.
Oil tea camellia
(Image: Hakka TV)

In the daily life of previous generations, camellia oil was indispensable. In addition to its use for cooking, many women would use camellia oil for hair and skin care in the days before shampoo and lotions. However, because it took a long time to harvest – it took five years between a sapling being planted to its flowering and producing seeds – fewer and fewer people were willing to cultivate it. In addition, having to compete with over 90% of imported camellia seeds (the majority from China), Taiwan’s camellia oil industry gradually waned.

However, after Taiwan went through the tainted cooking oil controversy, more and more consumers started to pay attention to the high quality and nutritional value of freshly pressed camellia oil. With health concerns the paramount focus, its standing with the public grew day by day. The only problem was that the production of oil tea camellia seeds in Taiwan was insufficient to meet demand, and the industry was more than 90% reliant on imports. In recent years, to become more self-sufficient in camellia oil production and guarantee the safety of cooking oil, the Council of Agriculture formed a task force dedicated to researching oil tea camellia, to breed suitable varieties and improve cultivation techniques in order to improve quality and boost the yield. In addition, the Agriculture and Food Agency is also encouraging farmers to grow crops like oil tea camellia and sesame through its fallow land revitalization policy.

While the cultivation of oil tea camellia is becoming an industry in Taiwan, producers have also begun to develop creative brands. Producers are actively promoting their own-brand products and even developing recipes to teach everyone how to make dishes with camellia oil. Taiwan’s camellia oil industry is working with the government’s assistance to combine their research resources and guide the industry to raise the quality of its products, working together to put Taiwan’s high quality oil products in the international marketplace and build a global brand image of superior camellia oil.