Pandanus is ‘divine’

In this Journal file photo, local elementary students show off RRE’s bõb juice, packed with Vitamin A.

GIFF JOHNSON

Local businessman Ramsey Reimers has long been focused on pandanus, a super-crop unique to atolls. Known as “bõb” in Marshallese, pandanus seems to have an almost limitless number of uses.

“It’s the divine tree of the Marshall Islands,” said Ramsey. “We can make so many things from pandanus.”

Two decades ago, Ramsey began looking more seriously into developing local products using pandanus. This ultimately led to the production of bõb juice that is sold commercially by Pacific Pure Water, an RRE subsidiary, and to such popular menu offerings at RRE’s Tide Table as bõb shakes.

Several years back, with RRE, WUTMI and others sponsoring it, annual bõb festivals were held in Majuro that celebrated this multi-use Marshall Islands crop to increase awareness, encourage people to plant more, and to expand its usage.

Now, Ramsey and his son Ben have moved in a new direction, producing a distilled alcohol product from pandanus that they have preliminarily labeled “Atoll Hooch.” This has been selling at RRE’s Tide Table.

Ramsey said they began experimenting with making alcohol from pandanus using a small still. The result, he says, is a “smooth taste with a hint of pandanus flavor.”

“People who’ve tried it are very positive about it,” he said. Due to favorable feedback from local drinkers, Ramsey and Ben hope to purchase a larger volume still to expand production. This is part of their plan to begin bottling it and labeling it with the story of bõb and the Marshall Islands to properly package the product for sale and promotion.

In the area of alcohol, Marshallese have long produced “jemañin,” or toddy, from the sap (jakaro) of the coconut tree. But this is done through a cooking process, not distilling.

Ramsey’s current development of the pandanus-based Atoll Hooch using a still also links him to his family roots. His father, Robert Reimers, used a small island-style still on Likiep Atoll in the years right after World War II to produce alcohol from coconuts.

Beyond the bõb juice and new alcohol product, Ramsey comments: “There is much more we can do with pandanus.”

In particular, an increase in expansion of commercial grade products made from pandanus opens more economic opportunities for local families who grow pandanus on their property to generate income.

RRE operates a small resort on Eneko Island in Majuro. When RRE was launching the operation a number of years ago, “We planted 150 bõb trees at Eneko,” he said, adding they planted many different varieties.

But this still isn’t enough to supply RRE needs. RRE’s bõb juice product relies on pandanus suppliers in Laura and Arno, and with more products developing, will need more people growing and providing the raw material, he said.

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