Wednesday, May 21, 2008


To most of my Malay friends gambier is just an ordinary product which older folks eat with their sireh and pinang. But there is a rather mysterious usage that most women do not know.

Actually,gambier or Kan Mi (Foochow),unknown to many, is a word whispered amongst the Foochow men. In Sibu this product is not as openly sold as in Kuching. The shops in India Street Kuching display packets of gambier openly on the low tables in the available spaces in the five foot way. Women, children , young men and old men do have fun looking at them. Some of course will buy them.

Some friends have written about them and praised them.

So gambier is very oriental, very Sarawak. And it seems that the natives of Borneo have been keeping this precious knowledge for many centuries.

Gambier Sarawak has also found its way into the e-market and folks as far as New York know about it.

This herb ,which is very similar to the hibiscus plant, is used by the people of the Philippines, Indonesia, West Malaysia and Brunei. It has been used to cure external minor injury, help men with their disabilities and sexual inadequacies and even reduce tooth ache!!

Apparently one pack of the processed gambier ,on the net costs US$5.00. that's quite a hefty sum. In Kuching you can get one packet I heard for about 10 ringgit. Please do be advised that I am not promoting it!

And I do caution any one against using it.

According to a very precious volume of "Centenary of Teochew in Sarawak" ,this plant was a popular cash crop during the Rajah Brooke era. And about 20 Singapore Chinese actually invested in this crop,at first with Brooke encouragement. But somehow, after a few years, these Singapore merchants lost money and then lost faith in the then Brooke government. They then left Sarawak and abandoned the cash crop in 1873.Only the Teochew in Kuching area grew a little of the crop. The Malays who have the habit of eating sireh and pinang, have to buy the imported gambier from Singapore.

In the past when the Foochows first came to Sibu, Sarawak, they too grew gambier alongside rubber. But when rubber became the golden crop they forgot all about this plant.

Additional note from Wikipedia: Scientific note on Gambier The scientific name for Gambier is Uncaria gambir (Kingdom: Plantae;Division: Magnoliophyta;Class: noliopsida
Order: Gentianales ;Family: Rubiaceae ;Genus: Uncaria ,Schreb., 1789

Uncaria is a genus of flowering plants in the family Rubiaceae, native to Asia, Africa, and South America. They are known colloquially as Gambier, Cat's Claw or Uña de Gato.

Malaysian Gambier (U. gambir) is a large tropical vine with typical leaves, which are opposite and about 10 cm long. At the base of the leaves is a cat-like claw, so the South American U. tomentosa is called Uña de Gato. There is also a Chinese species, U. sinensis. The flowers also originate at the base of the leaves; each pair of leaves may have a pair of globular inflorescences.

Cat's claw (U. tomentosa) and the Chinese species are used medicinally. The glycosidic compounds have recognized anti-inflammatory properties, while the alkaloids increase the reactivity of lymphocytes, granting higher response to viral infection. Cat's claw has two varieties depending on whether the alkaloids have four rings or five. The five-ring alkaloid variety is medicinal and is called "savéntaro" by the Asháninka.

Gambier (U. gambir) is used in Malaysia for chewing with areca and betel, for tanning, and for dyeing. It contains many catechins which are known to have many medicinal properties and are components of Chinese herbal remedies and certain modern medicines. To make gambier, the leaves are first boiled in water. They absorb it and turn brownish in color. The leaves are then pressed mechanically to squeeze and extract liquid. This liquid is then dried into a semi-solid paste and molded into cubes, which are dried in the sun. Gambier is generally packed in 50 kilogram multilayered packing (PP Bags inside and gunny bags outside).

From another source:

Gambier trees grow near rivers and forests. Leaves and branches can be collected after one year. Three to four harvests are done every year. Bark could also be collected but it has the effect of killing the tree.

Gambier was of great importance for tanning during the XIXth century. At its zenith, 49,000 tons were imported by European tanners and chemicals companies in 1896.
After the discovery of other extracts such as Quebracho and the predominance of chrome tanning in the XXth century, it became into disuse.
With the recent fashionability of « Eco Friendly » tannage, Gambier culture is becoming again interesting as it is one of the softer extract in the market.
We could mention here that Gambier is sometimes misused to name derivatives of cutch which grow in India and Birman. Actually this above extract belongs to Acacia Catechu family and is mainly suitable for medicine, chewing, since it will give a too strong brown shade in tanning.

Gambier belongs to catechic group. It contains catechic, epicatechic group along with anthocyanidol which give the characteristic reddish brown shade of Gambier. Impurities are glucoside and silicate compounds which are added when the liquid Gambier is pourred into mould or to facilitate the spray dryeing.

Gambier extract, when used alone, gives a reddish brown shaded leather with full hand, mellow touch and soft character.
The relatively high percentage of glucoside enhances the glazability of the leather and gives the advantage of avoiding grain crackiness. That’s why Gambier extract is the best solution for producing box calf, glazed kid, burnish leather.
On the other hand, full vegetable tannage with Gambier only will give too much spongy leather of strong brown color.
Another particularity of this extract is that it is an excellent auxiliary for dyes, specially the black ones.
Gambier of Acacia Catechu family is commonly used to « cut » the blue tone of black dyes and mordant the fiber of collagene to enhance the reactivity with basic dyes and the dispersion of anionic dyes.
Depending on which brand and origin used, each commercial product will highlight some special qualities of the Gambier.

The most versatile Gambier extracts for soft retannage. The fairly content of insoluble gives a nice fullness to leather. Due to the small size of particles, RETAN FG 211 and RETAN FG 212 penetrate very fastly into the inner layer of the leather. Compared to RETAN FG 211, RETAN FG 212 has a tendency to give a softer leather.

It is harder than other qualities but still softer compared to the other vegetable extracts families. RETAN FGC gives an average softy but not stretchy leather what makes it particularly recommended for shoe upper and glazed kid. In the final stage of retanning of the wet blue leather, using 1-2 % RETAN FGC provides extra gloss as well as improvement of finishing process adhesion.

These Gambier are specialities and high technology is required to provide such extracts in liquid form to the tannery without the formation of phlobaphene or insoluble catechin polymer.
RETAN GL and RETAN GP/SP are the best for high quality leather. They give very pleasant touch, extra gloss and could be used in finishing mixture in the case of burnish and glazed articles. RETAN GL is one of the only vegetable extract which could be used in garment and glove manufacturing as it does not affect the « run ».

These extracts belong to Acacia Catechu family. They have very good affinity for textile, natural fibers and of course leather what make them very interesting for improving levelling and yield of dyeing.

These are Gambier extracts which have the characteristic of increasing the viscosity of the retanning bath. They could be used to notably increase the thickness of poor leather such as baby lamb, loose kid and calf.

3 memories:

Gaharuman said...


Gambir has an analgesic effect. I suspect it has the effect of numbing things. That is one of the reson why it is used for tooth ache.

Sarawakiana said...

I think its uses may be more important in view of world desire for leather goods! In the future anything that is organic would be considered of great value. When leather becomes a scarce commodity,inflation will set and there will be chaos. There will be risks and there will be good business opportunities for those involved. Some one will run to the bank laughing.

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