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Jakarta Post

Melinjo’s bittersweet tale

Fri, March 6, 2020   /   09:12 am
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    Wakir climbs a melinjo tree to cut down twigs and branches in Gamping, Sleman, Yogyakarta. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Merto (left) and Sarinem pluck red melinjo fruits from the cut branches. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Merto shows the harvested melinjo fruits, which she later would use to make lodeh soup. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Sarinem counts the money for Merto, who has helped her harvest the melinjo fruits. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Wakir and Sarinem bring the harvest home. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    The fresh melinjo fruits are separated from the dried ones. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Sarinem removes seeds from the melinjo fruits. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Sarinem’s daughter Waljinem roasts melinjo seeds. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Waljinem flattens melinjo seeds using a hammer. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Waljinem's husband, Margono, sifts the flattened melinjo seeds.JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Waljinem and Margono dry flattened melinjo seeds in the sun. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

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    Waljinem shows her final products: dried and fried emping crackers. JP/Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko

Anggertimur Lanang Tinarbuko


Wakir, 49, climbs up a 20-meter-tall melinjo tree in Gamping, Sleman, Yogyakarta, to cut the twigs and branches full of little red fruits. 

On the ground, his mother Sarinem and another elderly woman, Merto, collects the fruits and puts them in a sack.

Merto kept some of the fruits for herself. "Later I will cook it as lodeh [vegetable and coconut soup],” she said.

The melinjo is native to Southeast Asia and the western Pacific Ocean islands. In Indonesia, its seeds are used as the ingredients of bitter and savory crackers called emping.

Its fruit, flowers and young leaves can be cooked into soup dishes like lodeh and sayur asem (vegetable tamarind soup).

The trees’ wood is often used as furniture material, while its bark can be spun into yarn.

Sarinem and her family depend for their livelihood on the bitter fruits of the melinjo. At the age of 86, she still peels melinjo fruits – separating the fruits and the seeds – and sells them.

"For unpeeled fruit, the price is about Rp 5,000 (35 US cents) per kilogram. If it's peeled it can be up to Rp 7,000 per kg,” she said.

Sarinem’s daughter, Waljinem, 62, together with the latter’s husband, Margono, 65, run the family’s emping business. They flatten the seeds, dry them in the sun and then fry them until they become golden-yellow crackers.

"I make two variants of emping, the dry and the fried ones. The dried emping is half-cooked; the buyer will need to fry it themselves. If fried, emping are ready to eat,” said Waljinem.

Waljinem sells a half-kg of fried emping for Rp 25,000. There are three flavor choices: savory, spicy and sweet.

Melinjo is rich in antioxidants. However, its seeds contain a high level of purine that can form uric acid in blood streams and may lead to a gout attack. However, there is a simple way to avoid this problem.

Research conducted by Chintia Ayu Puspita from the Bogor Institute of Agriculture indicates that melinjo skin contains antioxidants that can help reducing uric acid levels in blood. In a nutshell, it’s better to eat melinjo seeds together with their skins.  [yps]