Purchased for as little as $3.40, 500ml bottles of store-bought coconut oil are then onsold as akari pi, which usually sells for at least $20 a bottle or more. The only labour involved is the removal of the bottles’ original labels,with apparently nothing added to the inner contents at all.
Ngatangiia resident Florence Syme-Buchanan encountered such a product over the Christmas-New Year period, although she didn’t realise it wasn’t the real thing at the time.
Stopping at a roadside stall in Aroa, she enquired about some bottles of oil for sale and was told they were akari pi. She then bought a bottle to take home with her, paying $15.
It was only earlier this week, after noticing a woman at Prime Foods purchasing “10 or 12” bottles of coconut oil that the penny dropped.
“Seeing this woman buy so many bottles of coconut oil at once got me thinking,” said Syme-Buchanan.
“So I compared both bottles and the contents are exactly the same. The bottles are also exactly the same.
“It’s a not-so-sophisticated ripoff. Now feeling a bit silly actually.”
Genuine akari pi is usually made on Mauke, the island from which the popular herbal oil concoction first originated. There it is called mori pi.
“It came out of Mauke about 40 years ago,” explains Cook Islands Library & Museum manager Jean Mason, who grows the plant used to make the “miracle oil” at home.
“The idea to use the herb came in the dream of a 14-year-old girl. Her mother, who was a ta’unga vai rakau (medicine expert) went and collected the herb and started using it in her oil.
“There was someone on the island at the time who had an ulcer that wouldn’t heal – they applied the oil to it and it went away. So that’s why it was called the miracle oil of Mauke.
“I believe they gave away the recipe – you know, for the good of all, but now people are getting criminal about it.”
Mason says the best way to tell for sure that what you’re buying is genuine akari pi is to smell it.
“It’s got a definite smell, a certain smell,” she explains. “It’s hard to describe – a herby smell I guess. Herby rather than floral. And the oil should have a green tinge to it, or dark brown at least, certainly.
“But you’ve got to smell it, because people can add colourants, you know?
“If you want the genuine material always consider where the oil is coming from – ask the seller if it came from Mauke or whether they grow the herb locally. Most people don’t know that it is a small succulent.”