The largest island in Asia and the third largest in the world, Borneo is divided between Malaysia and Brunei in the north and Indonesia in the south. The Indonesian section is called Kalimantan and covers around 73% of the island. Borneo is known for its rainforests. They are among the oldest in the world. In one village in the forests of West Kalimantan province, in the Kapuas Hulu district, tengkawang nut oil is still made in the traditional way.
Around 99% of the inhabitants of the village of Nanga Yen are of the Malayan ethnicity and most work in the fields or cultivate trees for rubber extraction. About 60 people (90% of them women) from the three villages have joined together in the Unyap Bina Usaha cooperative to save tengkawang nut oil.
Tengkawang nut oil (or Lemak Tengkawang), also known as “green butter,” is a fatty substance extracted from the fruit of the tengkawang tree (known as illipe nuts), a plant native to Borneo (a species from the Shorea genus, in the Dipterocarpaceae family). The species is at risk, threatened by the progressive destruction of its natural habitat. The plant’s productivity is also influenced by climate change and the spread of certain wild animals, like boars, which feed on the young plants and prevent reforestation.
The tengkawang trees reach a height of between 15 and 30 meters, and start to produce fruit after eight years. Flowering, and therefore nut production, takes place at irregular intervals. It could be every three years, or even every four or five. The seeds are around 5 centimeters long and 3 centimeters wide. After the harvest, they are first dried, then ground and spread out over the fire. Afterwards they are pressed to extract the fat, using a wooden device called an apit. The resulting liquid is stored inside bamboo canes, where it solidifies.
Tengkawang nut oil has a butter-like texture at room temperature (up to 29°C). It is yellow, with a walnut aroma, and is often used to flavor meat. The local people use it for cooking and to treat animal bites. Additionally, it can be slightly softened and served as a sauce to accompany rice, vegetables or meat. Traditionally it was also used for medicinal purposes (to treat sores in the mouth) or cosmetics (it makes an excellent, easily absorbed and long-lasting moisturizer, softening the skin and protecting it from the sun’s rays).
Nanga Yen village, Kapuas Hulu district, West Kalimantan province
People Resources and Conservation Foundation (PRCF), Indonesia