Santhi Serad is a humble and talented lady who owns a herbal plantation in Bandung as well as being the founder of Aku Cinta Masakan Indonesia (ACMI): an organisation dedicated to Indonesian food lovers. Not only is she an advocate for everything herbal and Indonesian food-related, Santhi is also an avid tea lover. Here, we sit with Santhi and chat about the fascinating topic of food science and her love of anything herbal.
Can you tell us what you did before you had your own herbal plantation and ACMI?
Before I started ACMI, I worked in a food factory that produces gummy candy. I was in the research and development department so I was a part of the team that creates various forms of gummy candy, such as the famous burger-shaped gummy candy. [Laughter]
What’s the reason you took up food science?
Basically, it is because I love anything related to food ingredients, and I also love to visit traditional markets and supermarkets to check out food ingredients. I actually studied animal farming for my Bachelor’s Degree, but I decided to major in Food Science in Australia for my Master’s.
What have you learned from your food science studies?
As food scientists, we were mostly taught about the process of making food with a focus on the food industry. We learned about the process of canning food and other food-preservation methods. Basically, the whole process of producing food and food quality assurance as well to make sure that food being produced is safe to be consumed.
What are the interesting aspects of being a food scientist?
I feel that I have become more aware of the origins of food and the environment surrounding the food. If I go to a traditional market, I will notice the food safety in the market and see whether the food ingredients are being displayed properly. If I go to a street food vendor, I will check what kind of oil they are using and see whether the food is being contained properly. Most of the street food in Indonesia is really dirty and most of the time we don’t even know where the water comes from!
When it comes to traditional markets, there are many newer markets out there where we can clearly see that the aesthetics are nicer, but the way the food ingredients are stored may be no different to older traditional markets. So the balance between both aspects is important.
How do you think that science will impact the food industry in the future?
The impact will be huge because technology is already a big part of our life right now. Technology is everywhere, from the process of making food to the process of packaging the food. Even the way we sell food is being influenced by technology, for example by social media.
What scientific concept about food that is most fascinating for you?
Fermentation is something that fascinates me. I think Indonesia is really rich in fermented foods such as tape (fermented food made with rice wine), oncom (fermented food made with mould) and tempoyak (fermented food made with durian).
Tempoyak is often consumed by people by Malay people in Sumatera and Kalimantan, but most of us are not familiar with it. As Indonesians, we often take oncom and tempoyak for granted but actually we should work together to preserve them.
Do you think that food packaging plays an important part in promoting Indonesian food to foreigners?
Yes, the packaging should be interesting. Our local producers should improve their packaging with small details like placing some wording and facts about Indonesia or maybe drawing a map on Indonesia on it. These small details really help in promoting Indonesia to other countries.
As the founder of ACMI, how does your food-science background support your role?
It really supports all of my activities, because I have became familiar with many kinds of food characteristics, the processes involved in making food, the proper way to package food, the different grades of plastic, the heating processes, and much more. In the food industry, all of my knowledge has been really useful.
Congratulations on your book, Leaf It To Tea. What was the process behind making the book?
The process of making the book took quite some time. I think it took me almost four years. Actually, I did a soft launching in Frankfurt two years before, but there were some additions, so it ended up being four years until it was finally printed.
Can you give us a sneak peak into your book?
Basically, there are two parts in the book: the first part explores Indonesian traditions of drinking tea and the second part is about herbal tea. The usual black tea, white tea, green tea, and oolong tea that we drink actually comes from Camellia sinensis leaves. On the other hand, for herbal tea, sometimes it can be mixed with Camellia sinensis , too. But pure herbal tea that is not blended with Camellia sinensis will be called tisane.
Tell us about your fascination with tea.
Well, ever since I was little, my mother always prepared afternoon tea for me. So after school, I would have my lunch and then my mum would prepare some traditional snacks along with freshly brewed tea for me. She is a stay-at-home mum, so that became a kind of ritual for us. Actually, the habit might have been handed down from my grandmother, who is of Dutch descent, so she was familiar with the ritual of afternoon tea.
Do you distribute herbal produce?
Yes, I distribute it to a few restaurants, one of them being Pho24. If you go there and see rosella tea on the menu, it was supplied by my plantation.
Are you more active in Bandung then?
Not really, because the plantation itself already has its own head gardener. So there is already someone who is watching over the daily operations. In the beginning, I made the plantation for conservation purposes to let people learn more about herbal plants and how to grow them.
What do you think of tea promotion in Indonesia?
I think that nowadays Indonesian coffee is promoted well, but sadly it’s a different case for Indonesian tea. The tea packaging here is also not that good yet, which is why its popularity loses out to coffee. Many people in Indonesia are familiar with certain tea, such as green tea and black tea, so most of the tea products here are made using those two, even though there are many types of tea such as oolong tea, herbal tea, and organic tea.
What kind of food do you find most interesting?
I love everything related to herbal plants. For example, making vegetable sauce with herbal plants. Actually, Indonesia is really rich in food resources. We have cassava and yam, which I think are much healthier than rice.
What is your all-time favourite ingredient?
Turmeric. In my kitchen, I always have turmeric because I love to make kunyit asam (which is a traditional Indonesian beverage well known as natural remedy that is concocted with a mix of turmeric and tamarind and then turned into a juice). Kunyit Asam has many benefits in beauty and overall women’s health, for example.
What are the five things we can find from your refrigerator?
Apples, margarine, yoghurt, cheese and vegetables. I always bring apples with me in my bag. [Laughs]