Samui Wining & Dining
Micro Organic

Nathon Hydro Farm plants itself firmly at the healthy end of the dining spectrum.

 

2-3Every day, on TV and in the news, there are more features and stories about healthy living. Regular exercise is in and junk-food is out – it’s all lo-cal, lo-fat, lo-salt and with zero chemicals and additives. ‘Organic’ is king and, along with an entire spectrum of associated activities, it’s healthy eating and good food that tops our list of priorities today.

    And, not surprisingly, restaurants have followed the trend. Of course, world-class restaurants such as California’s ‘Chez Panisse’ or, later, Heston Blumenthal (not without some controversy!) at ‘The Fat Duck’ in England (plus many others) were largely responsible for raising the public’s awareness and setting the ball rolling in the first place. But the fact remains that, looking around at Samui’s superb wining and dining scene, healthy cuisine is the norm and elements such as ‘fresh each day’, ‘locally grown’ or ‘organic’ are on everybody’s lips.

      But this poses a question: where do these ‘healthy’ comestibles come from and exactly who is producing them? For such a small island Samui is a gourmet’s paradise, and there are hundreds of fine restaurants to choose from. Where do these restaurants get their supplies? To answer this in detail would fill a book. But when it comes to vegetables and salad-stuffs – and micro-greens also – the answer is a lot simpler. There are several excellent hydroponic farms now on Samui and the latest of them is Nathon Hydro Farm.

      Khun Sib (Dr. Pisanu Vanitchanon, to use his full title) has been on Samui for more than 15 years now. And for much of this time he’s been practising at Samui Hospital. This isn’t a name which springs readily to the lips of visitors to Samui, as it’s the local government run hospital, just outside Nathon. Khun Sib is a thoughtful man, with wide-ranging interests that extend to alternative therapies and acupuncture, and include aspects of nutrition and diet, too, in a holistic sense. And so, when he became interested in hydroponic farming, he approached the subject with characteristic insight. “I was in Bangkok at a huge homes and gardens exhibition,” he explained. “And it was the hydroponic section and the sea of green that impressed me. No chemicals or additives, no bacteria from soil or organisms, just clean, bright vegetables that were thriving in a controlled environment. I immediately began to experiment. I set up beds and pumps and filters, changed the sunlight and the micro-climate, discovered what would grow and what conditions were needed. I spent a year of trial and error and read everything I could find. I realised that for the produce to be wholly organic the actual seeds themselves needed to be verified – you can’t just use any supplier or stock. I now buy seeds from Europe and Australia,” he continued, “particularly when it comes to the micro-greens, which is an aspect we’re expanding rapidly.”

       One of the most healthy things you can eat is raw, uncooked vegetables (or fruit). Even blanching vegetables reduces their trace elements and overall nourishment. But the healthiest of all is what’s called ‘living food’. If you delve into alternative therapies, then you’ll discover a lot about the revitalising properties of ‘living plants’. Sprouting seeds are the obvious examples here. But one of their drawbacks is their blandness; they don’t exactly make your taste-buds jangle with glee. But micro-greens do.

       Micro-greens are not the same as sprouts; what is eaten consists of only the seed, root, stem and pale, underdeveloped leaves. Micro-greens are actually the entire, growing plant, with roots, seed leaves and at least one set of adult leaves. Unlike the hydroponic process, these tiny plants are grown in peat moss or other fibrous materials. The seed density is a fraction of what is used in sprout processing so each individual plant has space in which to grow and develop.

       There are two big advantages here. Firstly the plants will continue to develop after their green, growing tips have been harvested, usually producing three ‘crops’. But the second aspect is the winner: the taste is superb! Their flavour is intense, with broccoli having a spicy hot taste and amarynth (similar to quinoa) a mild musky flavour, with a red colour that stands out in salads, and cress having curly leaves with a peppery taste. What they lack in size they more than make up for in taste, and they have now become a firm favourite with Samui’s top-end restaurants, used as a garnish or an addition to salads. Nathon Hydro Farm is currently supplying sunflower, spinach, basil, wheat-grass and lettuce, and are keen to work with restaurants to supply them with micro-greens grown to order. “Mr. John Bell is our contact in Australia,” Khun Sib explained, “and he sources our high-quality organic seeds. Just let us know what you’re interested in and he’ll track down the seeds. Then we’ll do the rest!”

       Khun Sib is working in partnership with his sister Khun Lex (Khun Nipaporn Vanitchanon) on their expanding farm, next to their house that’s not far from Samui’s Immigration Office. Currently they are growing six different hydroponic lettuce varieties, plus rocket, as well as herbs such as oregano, rosemary, parsley sweet basil and mint – plus the micro-greens, of course. At the time of writing they’re re-developing their website but have a strong Facebook presence; if you’d like more information you’re welcome to call Khun Lex on the number below.

 

Rob De Wet


 


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