Vegetable Tallow from Singapore.


Curator of the Museum of the Pharmaceutical Society.

Mr. E. Jamie of Singapore, in a letter accompanying some interesting donations lately presented by him to the Museum, has called my attention to this substance as possessing the valuable property of not readily turning rancid. He remarks concerning it: "The vegetable tallow never turns acid, and when the white kind is got, which is seldom, it makes very good ointment, simply with the addition of olive oil." At the ordinary temperature this tallow is a white friable solid, softening into a pasty condition when rubbed between the fingers and ultimately melting sufficiently to be rubbed in without leaving the hand very greasy. It has a very slight nutty odor and taste. It would seem therefore to be peculiarly suitable for camphor balls, suppositories and pessaries; for the latter its slowness in melting seems to peculiarly fit it.

Mr. E. Fielding at my request has made a few preliminary experiments as to its melting point and solubility in various solvents. He reports as follows: "At 65°F. it remains a little solid; between 82° and 104° F. it has the consistence of flour paste; it fuses at about 118° F., but remains transparent and liquid at 112° F. It is soluble in about an equal weight of cold ether; it is sparingly soluble in cold acetic ether and acetone, but very soluble in these liquids when heated, the greater part being precipitated on cooling; it dissolves in half its weight of cold chloroform, but mixes with one third of its weight of the same liquid when heated. In bisulphide of carbon, either cold or hot, it is extremely soluble. In cold benzol it is soluble to the extent of about 1 in 4. In hot benzol and petroleum spirit (hexane or heptane) it dissolves in all proportions, but the solution gelatinizes on cooling. It is very soluble in cold turpentine and dissolves in it when heated in all proportions. In alcohol it is soluble to the extent of about 1 in 30 when cold or 1 in 20 when hot, and in isopropyl alcohol it dissolves to the extent of about 1 part in 25 when cold, and 1 part in 4 when hot." Mr. Fielding thinks it may be compared in many respect with the fat of Pentadesma butyracea (Clusiaceae), which should, however, judging from its natural order, be more nearly allied to kokum butter (Garcinia purpurea.)

According to a cutting from the Java Bode newspaper, sent to me by Mr. Jamie, the vegetable tallow, known as Minyak Tangkawang, or Minyak Sangkawang, is obtained from the seeds of one or more trees of the genus Hopea, found in the S. and E. division of Borneo, chiefly in the neighborhood of Qualla Kapuas, and on the west coast in the districts of Sambas and Mampawa. The Dyaks call the fat Kakawang and the tree which yields it Upu Kakawang. This tree is one of the giants of the forest. Several species of the genus appear to be used. Of these Hopea splendida, the Tougkawang Tonggul, is also called by the natives Dammar Tangkawang (because the bark yields a dammar.) The timber is used by the Dyaks for making their prahus, as it is proof against the influence of water. The bark also yields a red dye. This tree grows on alluvial fat clayey ground on the banks of great rivers. Hopea aspera grows on the higher mountain tracts, principally on the declivities of Mampawa, and is distinguished by the hairiness of the stems.

The preparation of the fat is very simple. When the ripe fruit falls on the ground, it is collected and allowed to germinate a little in a moist place. It is then dried in the sun until it becomes brittle. The fruit is then deprived of its shell and put into a rattan or bamboo basket suspended over boiling water. When it has been well steamed, the fruit becomes soft and plastic like dough. The fat is then expressed by squeezing the doughy mass in a cloth and is poured into joints of bamboos, by which it receives the cylindrical form in which it is met with in commerce. Some Dyak tribes press the fruit by means of two beams. But it is probable that by neither of these processes is all the fat obtained.

The trees begin to yield when they are about eight or ten years old and the crops are somewhat irregular, but every four or five years an extraordinarily large crop may be counted upon, the fruit being ripe in December and January. According to "Spon's Encyclopaedia" (p. 1413), about ten species of Hopea, yielding oil seeds differing much in size, are recognized by the natives of Borneo, three of these being common in Sarawak. The fat is also prepared in Java and Sumatra. By the natives the tallow is used for culinary and lighting purposes.

Although the tallow has not as yet been turned to account in pharmacy in this country, there is no reason why its fitness for medical purposes should not be experimented upon, the fat being a regular article of commerce. As far back as 1856, 651,586 kilos were imported into Singapore, and now several thousands of piculs go yearly to Singapore and are exported thence to England for use as a lubricating agent. For this purpose it has proved most valuable, especially for steam machinery, far surpassing even olive oil. In Manilla it has been employed in the manufacture of candles and found to be very valuable for this purpose. There are doubtless many other purposes in the arts to which the fat might be applied. It contains glycerin and about 95 per cent. of saponifiable matter which has less olein in it than animal fat. The tree is certainly also worthy of the attention of colonial planters since it yields fat, dye, timber and probably also resin, and the demand for the fat alone, when it is better known and prepared in a pure state, will probably far exceed the native supply.—Phar. Jour. and Trans., November, 1883, p. 401.

The American Journal of Pharmacy, Vol. 56, 1884, was edited by John M. Maisch.