We’re used to hearing about quality caviar being from imported brands, but a local brand named T’lur Caviar has recently risen to the challenge of proving that Malaysia too is capable of producing caviar.
This brand’s humble beginnings lie in a sturgeon farm in Tanjung Malim, Perak. In 2008, Chien Wei Ho was inspired to farm sturgeon in a country free of major natural disasters.
Once he found his ideal location, he founded Baolai International and for the next 3 years would try to rear sturgeon.
While wild sturgeon can be found in subtropical waters, a fully-tropical climate posed a problem to Chien’s efforts.
He was faced with countless failures until mid-2011 when a sturgeon broodstock brought in 8 months prior suffered no casualties.
Chien then sought consultation from German sturgeon experts, but they told him that the tropical climate would affect their sturgeon survival rates.
Even if they reached the point of maturity for caviar harvesting, any caviar from them would be of abysmal quality, the experts said.
So, the farm resumed operations as usual, simply selling small sturgeon to restaurants.
A Glimmer Of Hope
However, all this changed in 2015 when a single sturgeon the farm had been rearing for almost 5 years was badly wounded.
Not wanting the fish to go to waste, Chien arranged for it to be harvested. To the company’s surprise, upon cutting open the fish, they found its belly full of caviar.
Following the discovery, AJ Lim, who was on the board of directors at the time, pitched his intent of producing caviar to Chien.
Together they set up a process where sturgeons could multiply with no defects to the roe they would produce.
By November 2018, the board of directors were convinced that their caviar could finally be commercialised and sat down to pick a branding name.
They chose T’lur Caviar because they felt it was a name that would leave a strong impression on any Malaysian who came across the product.
In December, T’lur Caviar officially began operations to position itself as the first tropical, fresh caviar to enter the Malaysian market.
Our Very Own Tropical Caviar
T’lur Caviar currently sells 2 species of caviar, namely the Siberian and Amur species.
Their Kaluga and Beluga species are still in the process of maturing, and they expect to sell the former in the next 2 years and the latter in the next 6.
“Anything that we put up for sale has to be a product that is consistently available at any given time,” Jesslyn of T’lur Caviar said.
Since “tropical” is used as a large selling point of their caviar, we had to know what the difference between overseas caviar and their tropical caviar was.
“For starters, the egg size of our Siberian and Amur species tends to be much larger than their overseas counterparts,” Jesslyn said.
“Taste-wise, caviar tends to depend on the type of salt and ageing method used.”
In order to make their caviar even more local-flavoured and unique, they recently collaborated with chef Chai Chun Boon in creating their best caviar flavour to date using Sarawakian Bario salt.
Keeping It High-Quality
Besides keeping the farming environment clean and feeding the fish quality food, T’lur Caviar also constantly screens the fish using a biopsy method to ensure caviar harvests of the best quality.
During harvesting, a controlled environment is necessary to ensure that the eggs aren’t exposed to any form of contamination.
They do this by cleaning packaging materials using UV lighting exposure, maintaining controlled-temperature rooms for each step of the caviar processing and conducting a final quality control check by trained staff.
“On top of that, one tin from each batch of harvested caviar is sent for a lab test to ensure that the caviar is being correctly handled,” she added.
As for what happens to the fish after harvesting their caviar, Jesslyn said, “The meat is cryogenically frozen and sold as fillets to local businesses while the fat and innards are used for various everyday use.”
“Everything about a sturgeon is nutritious and has some use. For example, the fat becomes a rich source for omega oil, the guts can be made into sauce, the flesh is delicious as a source of protein and whole host of other applications.”
Insight On Local Caviar Consumption
RM30 million worth of capital was put into the business and a bulk of that was spent on research and development.
To date, T’lur Caviar has made no profits as they were focused on stabilising their farming methods and only started sales this March.
Jesslyn admitted that the local market for caviar consumption still isn’t a sizable one currently due to the way caviar is portrayed.
“It’s always been portrayed as a luxury item which in turn caused the price to be high and only those with more disposable income have been able to consistently enjoy it,” she said.
“We also face severe competition from foreign brands as most people have a preconceived notion that a local Malaysian product is never as good as an imported item.”
“We’re trying to change this mindset by showing them that we adhere to a higher quality standard than most brands by keeping our products organic and creating localised flavours.”
Overcoming Challenges For Growth
The brand has faced funding issues, stock survival issues, bad perception due to the MACC investigation into FELDA, and local scepticism from the aquaculture community.
To overcome these challenges, the brand has been doing proper research to put out high-quality caviar that they could proudly claim rivals that of foreign brands.
Their proudest achievement so far has been their successful raising of sturgeon in a tropical climate without using any climate control machinery, defying the doubts of foreign sturgeon experts.
Come the future, they want to continue educating Malaysians on the benefits of introducing new seafood into our economy.
“To that end we host and collaborate with partners for dinners and masterclasses where the Malaysian people can sample and be shown first-hand the taste and uses of sturgeon and their eggs,” Jesslyn said.
“We’re also expanding our farm and will be conducting controlled farm visits to our facilities.”
- Find out more about T’lur Caviar here.
Featured Image Credit: T’lur Caviar / Picture of AJ Lim, Managing Director of T’lur Caviar