Friday, March 03, 2017

Jamu Kunyit Asam From Freshly Grown, Organic Turmeric & Tamarind Paste

A friend gave me a packet of freshly harvested turmeric from an organic garden and I was wondering what to do with this when I remembered the jamu that I tasted at an Indonesian Consulate event last year.

(Did I mention that I love tempeh, sambal pecel and all things Indonesian? I was in Bali last year and loved eating Indonesian food. In fact, tempeh chips are still my all-time favourite. In Bali, they're sold as snacks in supermarkets.)


fresh turmeric root
Fresh turmeric root, tamarind paste/asam jawa & gula melaka. 

tamarind paste
Tamarind paste mixed with water. Strain before using. 

sliced turmeric root
Sliced turmeric root. Look at the bright orange colour. It's been called Indian saffron but beware, the orange does stain! 



Turmeric is getting into the news for all the right reasons. Fresh turmeric is getting popular in the Western world though us here in Asia have been using this root in curries. I usually use turmeric powder when I marinate fish before frying. (If you marinate fish with turmeric powder, add a few sprinkles of grated black pepper.) Apparently, turmeric and black pepper pack a powerful combo and black pepper makes turmeric more bio-available! Plus if you add fat, it's even better. Who would've known?

I didn't want to just make curry with the fresh turmeric root. I wanted to make a jamu. I googled an Indonesian jamu recipe which called for a few simple ingredients - ingredients easily available in an Asian market - such as gula melaka, asam jawa and of course, turmeric. I counterchecked with my Indonesian friend who lives in Penang and yes, she confirmed that those were the ingredients.

She didn't give me any measurements so I used the "agak-agak" method which is a handful of turmeric root, sliced. Beware when you're slicing turmeric root. The orange does stain! I still have orange stains on my nails hours after cutting up the root.

I placed these root slices into the inner pot of my magic cooker (a new kitchen gadget I bought before Chinese New Year) with a block of gula melaka and reconstituted asam jawa paste. Add about 1 liter of water and bring it to a boil on the stove for 20 minutes. Add a pinch of salt to balance it all out.

Taste after 20 minutes. It shouldn't be too sourish/tangy. If it is, add more gula melaka. Then remove the pot from the stove and place this pot into your magic cooker. Close it and let the brew "cook" in the magic cooker for about 7 hours.


Boil for 20 minutes before placing in magic cooker. 


I made it during lunch time and let it brew till past dinner.

So did my jamu taste after 7 hours in the magic cooker? I came home after a day of shopping to drink this unbelievably smooth and warm beverage that is a little tangy, a little peppery but all goodness! It tasted absolutely wonderful. It had a lovely flavour of turmeric and asam jawa, leaving a slight spicy taste on the tongue. I'm no Indonesian but I'm quite proud that my first ever jamu came out pretty damn good.

I shall weigh the ingredients the next round to ensure the recipe is more "scientific" rather than go by the "agak-agak" method.

Jamu is basically an Indonesian herbal drink drunk for health maintenance purposes. This jamu kunyit asam is meant for slimming and helps to reduce bloated tummies (which is great for all of us with flabby bellies!). I was supposed to peel the skin off the turmeric root but I didn't. I just washed the turmeric and sliced it, skin and all.

According to WebMD, "turmeric contains the chemical curcumin. Curcumin and other chemicals in turmeric might decrease swelling (inflammation). Because of this, turmeric might be beneficial for treating conditions that involve inflammation."

In fact, there are some 9902 studies referencing curcumin and its healing properties. If you want a full list of what turmeric or curcumin in turmeric does, read this article by Dr Axe. One of the biggest discoveries is that curcumin kills and prevents cancer cells. It also reverses Type 2 diabetes and is able to neutralize free radicals (that's why it is such a good antioxidant).

This website states that taking whole turmeric is more advantageous than its extract (curcumin). Whole turmeric includes three different curcuminoids: curcumin, bisdemethoxycurcumin, and demethoxycurcumin plus volatile oils like tumerone, atlantone, and zingiberone. And all these components are all health-giving! 

And did you know that satay - my favourite food of all time - uses turmeric in its marinade? Turmeric also helps prevent the formation of HCAs (heterocyclic amines) in grilled meat. HCAs are the culprits in health risks in grilled meat protein. Turmeric, when combined with carrot or pumpkin, reduces the loss of beta carotene from these vegetables. 

What I am learning these days that the best way to get the benefits of turmeric or any other herb for that matter is through cooking. Many studies use the extract of turmeric on rodents in lab research and some websites have stated that they would rather see effects of the actual herb on humans instead of the curcumin extract. 

I agree quite as much. I think the best way to get the most out of herbs is using the way our grandmothers did - eat your food as medicine. Make them into teas, soups, broths or dishes. Because certain herbs complement vegetables. You can't get one to work without the other. 

But I underestimated the humble turmeric. It is arguably Nature's pharmacy without the side effects. (Planting turmeric is easy. Just pop the root into the ground and it will grow. The leaves can be used in cooking. I have a small pot of tumeric in my garden though I've never harvested the roots!)