Outside of hawker stores, there would often be fruit stalls selling fresh produce in sliced or whole forms. When the former is purchased, customers would get the option of sprinkling preserved plum powder onto it, otherwise simply addressed as “garam” or “assam”.
The seasoning helps elevate the flavours of fruits by providing a sweet, sour, and salty taste to them.
Entering the fruit seasoning market in Malaysia with what the business calls a “premium gourmet version of plum powder” is Graz. With 2 varying flavours to pair with either citrusy or sweet fruits, they can add a certain spicy and salty tang to fruits, depending on how you use them.
Unlike assam powder which is often served in large spoonfuls, Graz states that it only requires a pinch of its product for customers to get the best effect, in turn making each of its RM18 jars last longer.
A different taste and texture
Although Graz’s product has its similarities to assam powder on the surface, its founder, Ziyana Grace told Vulcan Post that it was mostly inspired by her former travels.
From experiencing different cultures and meeting fruit sellers in various countries, Grace intended for her seasoning to produce hints of sweet, savory, and spicy notes to elevate the flavours of fruits.
“[It uses] simple ingredients like salt, sugar, chili, and something I call, ‘the star of the show’, which is dried fruit pieces ground inside the mix,” said Grace.
Launched just a year ago, Graz’s current 2 flavours are Fruity Salty and Freshly Salty.
Fruity Salty is best paired with sour fruits as the apricot and ginger mix produces a combination of sweet and spicy flavours to balance out the tang of guavas or star fruits. Meanwhile, Freshly Salty comprises aromas like lime and licorice, where the sour flavours of lime balance the sweetness of ripe fruits like grapes, mangosteen, and apples.
It uses the principle of contrasting flavours in food science, where incorporating 2 out of the 5 contrasting tastes such as sweet, salty, sour, bitter, and umami can balance out dishes.
For example, salt can be used to balance sweetness, like in the case of salted caramel. Following the same principle, you can reduce the intensity of a sweet flavour by adding a sour, contrasting element.
Graz sent me both of its seasonings to try, and was sure to remind me that a little goes a long way. Unlike assam which has a powdery texture and dissolves on your tongue, Graz’s has larger grains that can be chewed for added texture.
Trying both products with guava, apples, grapes, and oranges, I found that despite Graz’s recommendations, I’d reach for Fruity Salty more often as I personally liked the salty and sweet flavours better than Freshly Salty’s sourness.
Then again, as someone who has never been a fan of citrusy flavours, it’s my personal preference. Sharing my thoughts with Grace, she agreed that different customers had their own distinct preferences and favourites.
From designing graphics to products
Other than assam powder and rojak paste, it’s rare to find Malaysian businesses producing seasonings for fruit. Grace has also pointed out that the local market for such products isn’t extensive either, therefore she’s aiming for Graz to be a leader in this field.
“The majority of Malaysians prefer to eat fruits raw and without seasoning. Due to this reason, not many people will venture into this business unless you manage to create something that not only does its job to boost a fruit’s taste, but also gives consumers health benefits,” shared Grace.
On top of that, she also added that her reason for coming into the fruit seasoning scene was to find a less competitive market to start a business in, as she was new to entrepreneurship.
Despite being a graphic design graduate, Grace saw an interest in operating a business and wanted to pursue just that.
While brainstorming for the kinds of businesses she could run, she thought it’d be opportunistic to launch a product that had fewer competitors. She hypothesised that the business would have the chance to grow steadily for a newbie like her who wasn’t ready to face the challenges of standing out in a competitive space.
“So finally I decided to do fruit seasoning since I’m also a fruit lover and it seems it’s less of a provider in the market,” she explained.
Leveraging a less competitive space
Of course, Graz isn’t completely out of the woods in terms of competition, with assam powder being sold in most grocery and fruit stores. Furthermore, in providing a new product that hasn’t exactly penetrated the market yet, Graz would face the challenges of educating a sceptical market.
However, local adoption rates for assam powder are good since it’s a mainstream product. And it appears that Graz is leveraging this familiarity from Malaysians by branding its products as a premium gourmet version of assam powder in its marketing materials.
Graz’s branding may seemingly work in its favour. Grace has shared that while she began production in her home kitchen, it will soon be moved to a proper production facility as she expands Graz’s product range.
Currently running Graz as her part time, she also plans to commit to the business full-time as demands increase. For now, Grace single-handedly produces her fruit seasonings in batches of 120 bottles per day weighing at 200 grams each.
Targeting a market of fruit lovers and even haters, Grace hopes that her products can become a staple in every household pantry, where even those who dislike fruits will find them enjoyable with the seasoning.