Bananas are not only a cherished tropical fruit but also a staple in many Cambodian dishes.
Beyond their conventional use, a local entrepreneur has found innovative ways to process them, turning ripe bananas into sweet delicacies that have captured international attention.
In the serene settings of Chamkar Leu district’s Ta Ong commune in Kampong Cham province, Lim Phara embarked on a sweet journey.
As the owner and managing director of New Idea Enterprise, he crafts banana sugar and wine, with the hope of putting a unique Cambodian twist on everyday products.
Phara’s inspiration came from the abundant supply of leftover bananas. With a family history rich in agricultural know-how and surrounded by banana-growing communities, he envisioned an enterprise that would make use of every part of the fruit.
Established in 2013, New Idea Enterprise began by producing banana sugar. By 2015, Phara, ever the innovator, realised the potential in the discarded pulp, transforming it into a distinctive banana wine.
“During our early days, challenges abounded. It took nearly two years to develop the right processing machines, as nothing like this was available elsewhere,” recalled Phara.
“Banana sugar can be a substitute for cane sugar and even boasts a lower glucose content. Some studies suggest it may help control blood sugar, among other health benefits,” he elaborated.
This sweet innovation is not just popular in Cambodian supermarkets but has also found its way to shelves in Germany and South Korea.
Building on his successes with banana sugar, Phara didn’t stop there. He ventured into another product, rooted deeply in family traditions and expertise.
“Part of the recipe comes from my ancestors, a blend of local wisdom. Another portion is the contribution of friends skilled in wine-making. Together, we’ve crafted a high-quality wine that stands out,” he said.
Sold in supermarkets such as Chip Mong, AEON Mall and 7-Eleven, the banana wine was featured in over 400 markets pre-Covid-19.
“It offers sweetness akin to red wine, albeit milder,” he said.
But as with all businesses, Phara’s journey had its bumps. Seasonal banana shortages, caused by farmers opting for more lucrative crops, posed certain challenges.
With a decade in the business under his belt, Phara, also the vice-president of the Cambodia Food Manufacture Association, believes in cooperation and mutual understanding between farmers and producers.
His dream is a collaborative effort that fosters local processing and brings the best of Cambodia to the world.
Phara mentioned that building trust between producers and farmers remains a challenge, however.
“Daily, we grapple with issues related to agricultural contracts, leading to a mutual mistrust between both parties,” he said.
Simultaneously, in these uncertain global economic times, Phara makes a heartfelt plea to local consumers.
He also encourages everyone to support local products. By doing so, he believes consumers can fortify the national economy, providing stability while the world around wavers.