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What Is This Jamu Stuff?

Ask an Indonesian person about jamu, and they’ll probably tell you that growing up, it’s the stuff they had to drink whenever they didn’t feel great. That’s because for over 1300 years, jamu has been the archipelago’s go-to elixir for all kinds of ailments — a sore throat, skin problems, sexual health, indigestion, diabetes, and more — consumed by both Indonesian royalty and average individuals alike.

No matter who drinks it, the makers have always been women. They might ask for helping hands when it comes to the laborious process of grinding the ingredients, which are mainly ginger and turmeric, but it’s Indonesian women who guard the secrets of what else is inside, the technique of mixing it all together, and the task of selling it, usually from woven baskets carried on their backs.

Indonesians used to believe jamu should taste bitter in order to work — that they needed to feel that ginger fire throughout their body. But most jamu made today, depending on the type, is zesty, slightly sweet, and with hints of tropical flavour. A smooth but effective umami combo, it’s as easy to drink when you’re thirsty as it is when you really need it.