Indonesian Spices

Indonesia has unique and various spices. The cuisine is also very diverse. Indonesia approximately consists of 6000 populated islands. Each island has different culture, language, and custom. Indonesian cuisine varies greatly by region and some influences of customs. For example, Sumatran cuisine often has Middle Eastern and Indian influences, featuring curried meat and vegetables, while Javanese cuisine and Sundanese cuisine are more original.

Indonesia has been involved in trade due to its location and natural resources for years. Indonesia’s original techniques and ingredients were influenced by India, the Middle East, China, Spanish, Portuguese and finally Europe. Spanish and Portuguese traders brought New World produce even before the Dutch came to colonize most of Indonesia archipelago. The Indonesian islands The Moluccas (Maluku), which are famed as “the Spice Islands”, also contributed to the introduction of native spices, such as cloves and nutmeg, to Indonesian and global cuisine. Some popular Indonesian dishes such as nasi goreng, gado-gadoloteksategulai, rendang and soto are generally found in some country and considered as Indonesian national dishes.

Known throughout the world as the “Spice Islands”,  the Indonesian islands of Maluku contributed to the introduction of its native spices to world cuisine. Spices such as cengkeh (clove),pala (nutmeg/mace), and laos(galangal) are native to Indonesia. It is likely that lada hitam (black pepper), kunyit (turmeric), sereh (lemongrass), bawang merah (shallot), kayu manis (cinnamon), kemiri (candlenut), ketumbar (coriander), and asam jawa (tamarind) were introduced from India, while jahe (ginger),daun bawang (green onions) and bawang putih (garlic) were introduced from China. Those spices from mainland Asia were introduced early, in ancient times, thus they became integral ingredients in Indonesian cuisine.

Indonesian word for spice is Rempah, while Indonesian word for spices mixture or seasoning is Bumbu. Here I will try to introduce some special ingredients (spices, paste, and sauce) from Indonesia that you might not familiar. Hopefully it will help you to find the right ingredients so you can taste the real Indonesian food.

Enjoy tasting Indonesian food, and as we say in Indonesia: selamat makan! (enjoy your meal!)

source of information: Book “Direktori Rempah Indonesia” by Herson Tendean, and http://www.triper.com

  1. Cengkeh (Clove) (Syzygium Aromaticum)


    This spice has strong aroma and flavor. Cloves require a warm humid climate. Cloves are native to the Maluku islands in Indonesia and used as a spice in cuisines all over the world. They are used in a number of spice mixtures including  curry powders, mulling spices and pickling spices. Cloves also figure in the flavour of gulai sauce.

  2. Laos (Galangal) (Alpinia Officinarum)

    Galangal is native to Java. It is widely used in Indonesia and Malaysia as a food flavouring and spice. Galangal is also known both as medicine and spices. Though it is related to and resembles ginger, there is little similarity in taste. Galangal has little of the peppery heat that raw ginger has.

  3. Kunyit (Turmeric) (Curucuma Longa)

    Turmeric is is native to South East Asia. Turmeric is one of ingredients for many Thai, Indian, Indonesian and Persian dishes such as in curry or many more. It imparts yellow color and warm flavor in curry. In Indonesia, the turmeric leaves are used for Minang (Minangese) or (Padang) Padangese curry base of Sumatra, such as rendangsate padang and many other varieties.
  4. Serai (Lemongrass) (Cymbopogon Citratrus)


    Serai is native to India and tropical Asia and widely used in Indonesian, Indian, Thai and Vietnamese dish. Lemongrass has aromatic and light citrus flavor that blend well with garlic and chili. In  Indonesia lemongrass is commonly used in teas, soups, and curries.  It is also suitable for poultry, fish, beef, and seafood.

  5. Bawang Merah(Shallot) (A. Cepa var. Aggregatum)

    Bawang merah belongs to the lily family (liliaceae), same as onion and garlic. Shallot is smaller that onion but it tastes same.  In Southeast Asian cuisines, such as Vietnamese, Thai, Cambodian, Malaysian and Indonesian cuisines, both shallots and garlic are very often used as basic spices. In Indonesia shallots are often used as the ingredients for sambal (chili paste), pickles, and most of vegetable cuisine.
  6. Bunga Lawang / Pekak (Star Anise) (Illicium Verum)

    Star Anise is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavor. Star anise is the unusual fruit of a small oriental tree. The fruit is picked before it can ripen, and dried.  It is widely used in Chinese, Indian, Malay, Thai and Indonesian cuisine. In Indonesia star anise is ingredient for making meat broth, chicken stocks, gulai or kari.
  7. Ketumbar (Coriander) (Coriandrum Sativum)

    Coriander is probably native to the Middle East and southern Europe, but has also been known in Asia. the parts of coriander plant that commonly used in cooking and edible are the fresh leaves (cilantro) and the dried seeds (coriander). Coriander has a lemony citrus flavour when crushed. It is described as warm, nutty, spicy, and orange-flavored. It is also basic spice for opor or gulai in Indonesia.


2 thoughts on “Spices

  1. Nice pictures of the spices! I L-O-V-E lemongrass and turmeric. I wish cooks used more of these wonderful spices.

    Posted by Huy-zer | December 2, 2011, 3:45 PM

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