Traditional Balinese Coconut Oil

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Traditional coconut (Cocos mucifera) oil is made by Balinese farmers from locally harvested coconuts. Farmer-made oil is commonly used for frying fish, chicken, beef, pork, tofu and tempeh, and added to soups as an extra flavor. Balinese coconut oil has existed since before the occupation of the Dutch in Indonesia in the 1600s. Until 1970, the use of traditional coconut oil was still widely seen in the village and urban communities in Bali, but with the development of a large-scale oil industry, the production and marketing of the traditional coconut oil declined. Now only a small number of rural communities still make and use the traditional coconut oil for personal use or sales in local markets.

The traditional way of making coconut oil is very simple. Old coconut fruits are opened and the white fruit flesh is shredded with a simple manual grater. The shredded coconut flesh is submerged in water, and then squeezed to remove the coconut milk. The coconut milk solution is placed into a frying pan, and then is heated oven an open flame. The milk solution should not exceed 60°C, just enough to separate the oil from the coconut milk without browning the oil. After an hour of heating, there is a clear separation of oil that collects at the top of the solution, while the solid parts of milk will sink and settle at the bottom of the pan. The floating oil is collected and poured into glass or plastic bottles. The yield of the oil compared with the weight of shredded coconut is approximately 14%, or one liter of oil from seven or eight coconuts. Both early and late maturing coconut varieties maybe used, but the late maturity variety is more common in Bali.

Some examples of specific uses of traditional coconut oil in Balinese foods include sambal matah (a mixture of sliced onions, chili and traditional coconut oil); in satay lilit, where spices are mixed in the oil and applied to raw meat before grilling; and pelecing kangkung, in which the oil is part of hot spicy seasoning on steamed or blanched kagkung (water spinach).

Traditional Balinese coconut oil was previously produced, mostly in the coastal areas up to 400 m above sea level. Currently, production is scattered in small family units in the villages to the needs of the family or by special order. In villages such as Panji, Anturan and Tukad Mungga in the northern part of Bali (Buleleng), and in the village of Dawan (Klungkung), oil production can still be found. However, industrially produced cooking oils and the spread of convenience foods fried in other types of oils threaten the future of the traditionally-made coconut oil of Bali, which is made on a smaller scale and in a more time consuming manner.

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