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Explore the aromatic world of Balinese cuisine in our Cooking Class Ubud. Uncover the herbs & spices that infuse traditional flavors into these delectable dishes.

Delve into the world of Balinese cuisine and explore its unique, bold flavors. In this article, we’ll help you uncover the essential herbs and spices that give Balinese dishes their distinctive taste.

Some key herbs and spices in Balinese cuisine include aromatic root spices, aromatic seeds and other essential spices. These ingredients are the foundation of many traditional recipes, imbuing each dish with the signature flavors of Bali.

Eager to learn more about these aromatic herbs and spices and their role in Balinese cuisine? Continue reading as we dive deeper into their characteristics and the creation of Balinese spice mixed.

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Common Herbs & Spices in Balinese Cuisine

Bumbu Bali raw ingredients

Bumbu Bali raw ingredients

Balinese cuisine is celebrated for its diverse and fragrant herbs and spices, which impart distinct flavors and aromas to each dish. Here are some of the most commonly used ingredients:

Aromatic Roots (Balinese: Bebungkilan)

  1. Galangal: Also known as lengkuas or laos, A root spice with a sharp, citrusy flavor, galangal is often used in spice pastes and soups.
  2. Kaempferia galangal: Also known as kencur or sand ginger, it adds a warm, earthy taste to dishes.
  3. Ginger: Also known as jahe, A versatile root with a warm, spicy flavor, ginger is a staple in Balinese cuisine, used in various dishes.
  4. Turmeric: Also known as kunyit Known for its vibrant color and earthy, slightly bitter taste, turmeric is often used in spice pastes and curries.
  5. Shallot: Also known as bawang, A small onion-like bulb, shallots add a mild, sweet flavor to various dishes.
  6. Garlic: Also known as bawang putih, A pungent and aromatic ingredient, garlic is used to enhance the flavors of many Balinese dishes.

Aromatic Seeds (Balinese: Base Wangen)

fragrance roots and fragrance seeds for bumbu bali

fragrance roots and fragrance seeds for bumbu bali

  1. Coriander: Also known as ketumbar, With a warm, earthy flavor, coriander seeds are often used in spice blends and marinades.
  2. Black pepper: Also known as merica hitam, A popular seasoning, black pepper adds a spicy kick to Balinese dishes.
  3. White pepper: Also known as merica putih, Milder than black pepper, white pepper is used for its subtle heat and flavor.
  4. Cumin: Also known as biji jinten, A warm, aromatic spice, cumin is used in spice pastes and curries for depth of flavor.
  5. Candlenut: Also known as kemiri, Similar to macadamia nuts, candlenuts add creaminess and thickness to spice pastes and sauces.
  6. Clove: Also known as cengkeh, Known for its sweet, warming aroma, cloves are used sparingly to add fragrance to dishes.
  7. Nutmeg: Also known as buah pala, A sweet, aromatic spice, nutmeg is used in both sweet and savory Balinese dishes.
  8. Sesame seed: Also known as wijen, With a nutty flavor, sesame seeds are often used as a garnish or in spice blends.

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Other Essential Spices

different type of chili used in Bali

different type of chili used in Bali

  1. Cabai Rawit: These small, fiery chili peppers pack a punch and are commonly used in Balinese sambal and other spicy dishes.
  2. Cabai Lombok: A larger, milder chili pepper, Cabai Lombok is used to add color and a moderate heat to various Balinese dishes.
  3. Cabai Keriting: Also known as curly chili peppers, Cabai Keriting has a distinct, twisted shape and a medium to hot spiciness, making it a popular choice for adding heat to Balinese cuisine.
  4. Lemongrass: Also known as sereh, A fragrant, citrusy herb, lemongrass is used in spice pastes, soups, and curries.
  5. Kaffir lime juice: Also known as jeruk purut, The tangy, aromatic juice of kaffir limes adds brightness to dishes.
  6. Kaffir lime leaves: Also known as daun jeruk purut, With a strong, citrusy aroma, kaffir lime leaves are used to flavor curries, soups, and stir-fries.
  7. Shrimp paste: Also known as terasi, A pungent, umami-rich ingredient, shrimp paste is used in sambal and other Balinese dishes.
  8. Daun Salam: Also known as Indonesian bay leaf, Daun Salam adds a subtle, earthy aroma to various dishes, including soups, stews, and rice.
  9. Kemangi: A fragrant, lemony herb similar to basil, Kemangi is often used in sambals, salads, and other Balinese dishes for a fresh, vibrant flavor.
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Additional Balinese Spices

  1. Long pepper (Tabia Bun): A pungent, spicy pepper used occasionally in Balinese cuisine.
  2. Zingiber cassumunar (Bangle): A ginger-like rhizome, it adds a unique flavor to certain Balinese dishes.
  3. Mexican mint (Daun jintan): A strong, minty herb, Mexican mint is used sparingly in some Balinese recipes.

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Balinese Spice Paste (Bumbu Bali)

Bumbu Bali, also known as Balinese spice paste, is a crucial component of traditional Balinese cooking. This versatile blend of fresh herbs, spices, and other flavorful ingredients serves as the foundation for many dishes, including soups, stews, and grilled meats.

Key ingredients in Bumbu Bali include: Aromatic Roots (Balinese: Bebungkilan), Aromatic Seeds (Balinese: Base Wangen) and Other Essential Spices above. 

Balinese spice paste is typically made by grinding these ingredients into a smooth paste using a mortar and pestle or a food processor. The resulting paste can then be used as a base for many traditional Balinese dishes, such as sate lilit (grilled minced meat on a skewer), and lawar (a vegetable salad).

The flavor and aroma of Bumbu Bali can vary depending on the proportion of each ingredient used, as well as any additional spices or herbs that may be added.

→ Check Our Food Guide to 12+ Traditional Balinese Food to Try

Cooking Techniques and Oils Used in Bali

Cooking Betutu in the rice husk

Cooking Betutu in the rice husk | Photo Credit beritabali.com

Balinese cuisine utilizes a range of cooking techniques to create the unique flavors and textures that it is known for. These techniques vary depending on the dish being prepared and the desired outcome. Here are some of the most common cooking methods used in Bali:

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  • Grilling: Grilling is a popular method for preparing meats and fish in Bali. The meat or fish is marinated in a mixture of spices and then grilled over hot coals, which infuses the dish with a smoky flavor.
  • Steaming: Steaming is often used to prepare vegetables and rice dishes in Bali. Vegetables are lightly steamed to preserve their texture and flavor, while rice is steamed until it is fluffy and tender.
  • Stir-frying: Stir-frying is a common technique used in Balinese cuisine to quickly cook meats, vegetables, and noodles. The ingredients are cooked over high heat in a wok or pan with a small amount of oil, resulting in a flavorful and lightly charred dish.
  • Boiling: Boiling is used to prepare soups, stews, and broths in Balinese cuisine. Meats, vegetables, and herbs are simmered together to create a hearty and aromatic dish.
  • Deep Frying: Frying is a popular cooking method used in Bali for preparing crispy snacks and appetizers. Foods are often dipped in batter or coated in breadcrumbs before being deep-fried in hot oil until golden brown and crispy.
  • Cooking in rice husk: Another unique cooking technique used in Balinese cuisine is cooking in rice husks. This method is often used to prepare Ayam or Bebek Betutu, a traditional Balinese dish consisting of chicken or duck that has been seasoned with a rich blend of herbs and spices. The chicken or duck is wrapped in banana leaves as the first layer and then wrapped using “pelepah pinang” (stem midrib areca) and then covered in rice husks before being slow-cooked over hot coals (approximately 24 hours). This cooking technique imparts a smoky flavor to the dish and results in tender, juicy meat that is full of flavor.
  • Timbungan: Another traditional Balinese cooking technique is called Timbungan. This method involves using young bamboo as a cooking vessel for meat or vegetables. The food is placed inside the bamboo, which is then tightly sealed with salam leaves. The bamboo is then placed in the hot coals to cook the food inside. This technique imparts a unique flavor to the dish and allows for even cooking of the ingredients. The finished dish is often served directly from the bamboo, adding to its rustic charm.
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When it comes to cooking oils, coconut oil is widely used in Balinese cuisine due to its high smoke point and rich, natural flavor. Other alternatives include vegetable oil and palm oil, which are also commonly used in Indonesian cooking.

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Shopping for Herbs and Spices in Bali

spice seller in the morning market tours

spice seller in the morning market tours

Sourcing quality herbs and spices is key to recreating the authentic flavors of Balinese cuisine. Shopping for herbs and spices is an essential part of experiencing Balinese cuisine. Fortunately, Bali offers a variety of options for purchasing these ingredients, from traditional markets to specialized spice shops.

Local markets: 

Traditional markets, such as Pasar Badung and Pasar Gianyar, One of the most popular markets to visit is Pasar Badung, located in Denpasar. Here you can find an abundance of fresh herbs and spices, as well as other traditional Balinese ingredients like fresh fruits and vegetables, meats, and seafood. Other markets to consider include any of traditional market near by from your place.

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Specialty stores: 

Some stores, like Nadis Herbal and Utama Spice, For a more specialized experience, you can visit spice shops like Utama Spice and Nadis Herbal in Ubud. These shops offer a wide variety of herbs, spices, and spice blends, as well as herbal workshops.

Supermarkets: 

Larger supermarkets and grocery stores usually carry a selection of pre-packaged spices and spice blends. If you are staying in Denpasar, check out the big store at Lotte Mart. If you are staying in Ubud, check out Delta Dewata and Bintang Supermarket.

When selecting herbs and spices, it’s important to choose the freshest and highest quality ingredients possible. 

To ensure the freshness and potency of your spices, buy them whole whenever possible and grind them as needed. Store them in on the ground, away from heat, light, and moisture, to preserve their flavor and aroma for longer periods.

By following these tips, you can bring the vibrant flavors of Balinese cuisine to your own kitchen and create unforgettable culinary experiences.

The History of Indonesian Spices

Some Spices From Indonesia

Some Spices From Indonesia

Indonesia’s rich history of spices has shaped its cuisine and played a significant role in global trade. As early as the 7th century, the Indonesian archipelago was known for its aromatic treasures, such as cloves and nutmeg, which were highly prized by traders from China, India, and the Middle East.

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During the Age of Exploration, European powers, including the Portuguese and Dutch, competed to control the lucrative spice trade routes. The Dutch East India Company (VOC) eventually dominated the trade, leading to a period of colonization that also influenced Indonesian cuisine.

Today, Indonesia continues to be a major producer and exporter of spices, contributing to the diverse flavors and aromatic profiles of its regional dishes.

More reference, Check this link for more details of the Indonesian spice history

Balinese Herbal Medicine and Traditional Healing

bali medicine man

bali medicine man | Photo Credit Nicole Leigh West

In addition to their culinary uses, herbs and spices play an important role in traditional Balinese healing practices known as “Usada”. Herbs and spices have been used for centuries as natural remedies to treat a range of illnesses and promote overall health.

Balinese herbal medicine emphasizes the importance of balance, both in the body and in nature. Traditional healers, known as “Balian,” prescribe herbal remedies, massages, and dietary changes to restore harmony and well-being.

In Balinese culture, food is considered medicine, and many dishes are prepared with a specific health benefit in mind.

For example, turmeric, a common spice used in Balinese cuisine, is known for its anti-inflammatory properties and is often used to alleviate joint pain and arthritis. Galangal, another aromatic root commonly used in Balinese cooking, is believed to aid digestion and boost the immune system.

For those interested in exploring Balinese herbal traditions, there are several options available. Bali offers a range of herbal walks, which provide a hands-on experience with local plants and their medicinal properties.

Visitors can also consult with traditional healers, who can offer personalized recommendations for herbal remedies, massages, and dietary changes to support overall health and wellness.

Balinese herbal medicine is deeply rooted in the island’s culture and spirituality. It provides a holistic approach to health and well-being that emphasizes balance and harmony with nature.

By exploring these ancient practices, visitors can gain a deeper understanding of the connection between Balinese cuisine, health, and spirituality.

FAQs

Q: Can I bring Balinese spices back home with me from my trip to Bali?

A: It depends on the specific spices and the regulations in your home country. Some spices may be subject to import restrictions, so it’s a good idea to check with your local customs office before bringing anything back. You can also try buying pre-packaged spice blends or extracts that are easier to transport.

Q:What spices does Indonesia produce?

A: Indonesia is known for producing a variety of spices, including nutmeg, mace, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves, and pepper. These spices have been highly valued throughout history and have played an important role in Indonesia’s economy and culture.

Q: Why were the spices so important in Indonesia?

A: Spices have played a crucial role in Indonesia’s history and economy for centuries. At one point, the country was known as the “Spice Islands” due to its abundant production of valuable spices like nutmeg and cloves. These spices were highly sought after by traders from around the world and were used as currency in many transactions. The spice trade brought wealth and power to the region, but it also led to colonization and exploitation by European powers. Today, the spice trade remains an important part of Indonesia’s economy and cultural heritage.

Conclusion

In conclusion, herbs and spices play a crucial role in the rich and flavorful cuisine of Bali. From the aromatic roots to the essential spices, each ingredient contributes to the unique tastes and aromas that define Balinese cooking. Whether you’re a food enthusiast or a traveler looking to explore the local cuisine, be sure to savor the flavors of Bali and immerse yourself in the vibrant culinary traditions of the island.

have you ever tried Balinese cuisine before? What are your favorite herbs and spices to use in your cooking?

We hope you found this article informative and inspiring. Don’t hesitate to share it with your friends and family and let us know in the comments below about your Balinese culinary experiences.

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Understanding Balinese Food and Culture

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