A bite-sized recap of Johor’s mangrove charcoal industry

Johor in particular was a major supplier of Malaysian mangrove charcoal due to its rich reserves of swamp land -- Gelang Patah was an important source of the state’s mangrove charcoal.

In the first half of the 20th century, mangrove charcoal -- made from a local tree known as the bakau minyak -- was a valuable commodity in this region. The process of making this form of charcoal involved harvesting mature trees and smoking their stems inside an igloo-like kiln. Johor in particular was a major supplier of Malaysian mangrove charcoal due to its rich reserves of swamp land -- Gelang Patah was an important source of the state’s mangrove charcoal.

The mangrove charcoal trade slumped in the sixties as natural gas became a more efficient alternative, but the past decade has seen a revival due to a surge in interest from Japan. The Japanese, artists in charcoal production, sought mangrove charcoal due to its odourless nature and long burn time. Today, Japan is the leading innovator in charcoal, having created a variety of odourless charcoal products from traditional and modern methods.

Mangroves are able to regenerate within a 20 - 30 year time span, making them a more sustainable source of charcoal. This trait, combined with a responsible logging system and enforced government regulation, has ensured the survival of our mangrove ecosystem over the last century. There are still kilns around today firing mangrove charcoal, but rarely any left in Johor due to a statewide freeze on logging permits in 2007.


An edited article from Eat Your Landscape book

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