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Tengkawang Oil, the Butter from Nature

During a traditional food festival in Lanjak in West Kalimantan, Indonesia, no preservative or artificial flavouring such as MSG was used in any of the dishes. This also includes the oil they used for cooking which was substituted with tengkawang oil.

  • The traditional food festival was held at Lanjak, West Kalimantan from September 14-15 and was organised by Indonesian community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) NGO, Riak Bumi
  • The traditional food festival was held at Lanjak, West Kalimantan from September 14-15 and was organised by Indonesian Indonesian community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) NGO, Riak Bumi
  • The traditional food festival was held at Lanjak, West Kalimantan from September 14-15 and was organised by Indonesian community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) NGO, Riak Bumi
  • The traditional food festival was held at Lanjak, West Kalimantan from September 14-15 and was organised by Indonesian Indonesian community-based natural resource management (CBNRM) NGO, Riak Bumi

Known to many as the butter from nature or green butter, tengkawang oil is extracted from the fruit of tengkawang trees.

Tengkawang fruit or the Borneo shallow nut is a native fruit species that can be found in the jungles of Borneo.

However, West Kalimantan, Indonesia is particularly known for its tengkawang oil as it is still widely used by the locals.

Tengkawang oil, also known as green butter, is made from the fruit of the tengkawang tree which can be commonly found in the tropical jungles of Borneo.

In both Sarawak and Kalimantan, tengkawang fruits are collected by the locals where it will then be processed into oil.

While tengkawang can be found in the jungle, there are some people who actually grow the trees at their farm.

Tengkawang is known as “engkabang” among the Iban people, and “kakawang” among the Embaloh people.

The tree will usually bear fruit once every five years, although there are places in Kalimantan that bear fruits once a year.

In Lanjak, the locals will usually collect tengkawang fruit sometime around February.

According to the locals, the trees will usually bear fruits at the beginning of the year during the rainy season. The trees are typically found near water sources such as the river.  

Usually locals will collect and process it for their own household consumption, although now most have began to commercialize the oil.

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However, when picking these fruits, those that have fallen off the tree and started sprouting should not be used.

This is because when processed, they will taste differently. Apart from that, the oil will also be green instead of the usual bright yellow hue.

To process the fruits into oil, the fruits are first separated from the shell and dried under the sun.

The dried tengkawang fruits before being ground into powder

This process might take up to a few days to a week before they are ground into powder.

  • Dried tengkawang fruit being ground into powder.
  • The ground tengkawang fruit.

After that, the powder is then placed in a steamer filled with water for about an hour.

However, the time may vary, depending on the amount of tengkawang powder being steamed at a time.

The lesser the amount of tengkawang powder being steamed at a time, the less time is spent steaming it.

The tengkawang powder is placed in a steamer for about an hour

Then, after some time, the steamed powder is taken out to be pressed by a manual oil press machine expeller to produce a glossy, pale yellow liquid.

  • The oil is extracted from the powder by hand through an oil press machine expeller.
  • What comes out from the extractor is a glossy, pale yellow fluid.

Before the machine, the locals would extract the oil using a wooden device called an “apit”.

The dregs or the remains of the tengkawang powder is not discarded but used as fodder and fertilizer.

The remains can be used as fodder or fertilizer

At room temperature, it will take about three days for the tengkawang oil to solidify, although it will be much quicker using a refrigerator.

Once solidified, tengkawang oil can be stored in containers and be kept for up to more than a year.

However, according to locals, the oil can also be stored in bamboo to ensure a longer storage period.

Tengkawang oil is usually stored in bamboo to ensure longer storage period

Local people will usually use tengkawang oil for cooking and baking.  

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So instead of the usual cooking vegetable or palm oil that we use for cooking, you might consider substituting it with tengkawang oil. You can even substitute butter with tengkawang oil when baking.

Tengkawang oil used for cooking

On warm rice, the locals will usually press tengkawang to give the rice an aromatic nutty flavour and scent.

It is said that tengkawang oil is preferred over liquid oil when cooking in the jungle as it is more convenient.

Unlike typical oil, tengkawang oil is easier to carry and you would not have to worry about it spilling.

Example of commercial products using tengkawang oil

Apart from that, tengkawang oil has also been used in cosmetic products such as lipstick and make up foundation due to it moisturising properties. It has also been used to make chocolate, bar soap, medicine, cream, lotion, hair conditioner, sunscreen and as a margarine substitute.

Terong Dayak
My mother loves to remind me that I used to hate eating vegetables growing up every dinner time. Please follow KajoMag on facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
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