MiniReview Popular fermented foods and beverages in Southeast

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International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484 (2011)
Popular fermented foods and beverages in Southeast Asia
Law, S. V., 2*Abu Bakar, F., 1Mat Hashim, D. and 2Abdul Hamid, A.
Halal Products Research Institute, University Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang,
Department of Food Science, Faculty of Food Science and Technology, University
Putra Malaysia, 43400 Serdang, Malaysia
Abstract: Fermented foods are prevalent in Southeast Asia to balance the fluctuation in food availability in
the area during the stage of monsoonal circulation. Techniques of preserving cereal and seafood products are
well-developed in Southeast Asia. The review concerning the indigenous carbohydrate-based fermented foods
the region, including rice wine, fermented palm sap and tapai. The paper focuses on the popular indigenous
fermented foods and beverages produced in the region including the consumption and processing methods.
Microbiological and chemical properties of these indigenous fermented foods were also discussed. Another
issue is in the alcohol-related health risk due to the consumption of the foods and beverages with high alcohol
content. Hence, ethanol and other alcohol-related compounds present in the selected alcoholic fermented foods
will be highlight.
Keywords: Traditional fermented food, tapai/tape, toddy, rice wine, Southeast Asia
Foods are the basic survival needs for human
being. Since ancient time, various methods have been
used to process and to preserve foods. Fermentation
is one of the oldest and widely used food preservation
methods in households, small-scale food industries as
well as in large enterprise. Fermented foods generally
preserved pleasant flavor, aroma, texture, enhanced
nutritive values and good keeping quality under
ambient conditions. Holzapfel (2000) described
fermented foods as palatable and wholesome
foods prepared from raw or heated raw materials.
Several classifications had been used to categorize
the wide spectrum of fermented foods including
the diversification of microorganisms, different
food groups and types of fermentation involved
(Steinkraus, 1996; Yokotsuka, 1982; CampbellPlatt, 1987; Dirar, 1993). Alcoholic fermentation
involving the production of ethanol is generally
yeast fermentation. Fermented foods are generally
produced from plant or animal-based raw materials
in combination with fungi or bacteria, which are
either present in the natural environment, or added
intentionally by human to obtain the desirable end
According to Nout and Mortarjemi (1997),
fermented foods are typically unique and vary
according to regions due to the variation in climate,
social patterns, consumption practices and most
importantly the availability of raw materials.
Availability of raw materials brings about the
*Corresponding author.
Email: [email protected]
Tel: 03-89428371; Fax: 03-89423552
conversion of the raw materials to different form
of fermented food products in order to increase the
food varieties as well as to maintain food security.
Techniques and practices of preserving plants such
as rice and seafood products are well-developed in
Southeast Asia region as to balance the fluctuation
in food availability in the area during the stage of
monsoonal circulation. Southeast Asia produces
150 million tones of paddy per year (25% of world
production), of which 95% is consumed within the
region (Mutert and Fairhurst, 2004). Fermentation
of cereal grains to produce a wide variety of foods
had been a practice for long time. Rice wine is one
of the popular alcoholic beverages in Asian country.
Cassava supports nearly half a billion people as a
source of dietary calories and as a source of income.
Asia region produced 32% of the world cassava, only
behind the African region with 48% of total production
(Onwueme, 2002). Cassava tubers normally
consumed as staple food, used for starch processing
or as carbohydrate-rich animal feed in Southeast Asia
region. In countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia,
cassava tubers is fermented to produced the popular
sweet and sour snack namely tapai/tape. Stanton and
Owens (2004) reviewed the history of fermentation
in the Southeast Asia region and concluded that the
foods and beverages consumption practices in the
region greatly influenced by the migrating cultures.
Consumption of wines from the inflorescences of
palm such as coconut and talipot palm, is derived
from the landscape of Indo-China and Sri Lanka.
This review aims to summarize the consumption
© All Rights Reserved
Law, S. V., Abu Bakar, F., Mat Hashim, D. and Abdul Hamid, A.
and production process of the local alcoholic
fermented foods including the tapai, which are
common in Southeast Asia region. This review also
aims to highlight some of the microbiological and
chemical properties of these foods. All information
and knowledge about the traditional fermented
beverages and foods were complied by computerassisted literature search using the online scientific
database including Science Direct, Scopus (Elsevier,
Amsterdam, Netherlands), PubMed (United State.
National Library of Medicine, Bethesda, MD),
EBSCOHost (Nucleus Medical Media Inc.) and
Springerlink (Springer Science Publishers). The
following terms were searched: “alcoholic fermented
beverages”, “traditional beverages in Southeast Asia”,
“rice wine”, “toddy/fermented palm sap”, “starter
culture/ microorganism fermentation”, “higher
alcohol in homemade/surrogate alcohol”. Relevant
references imported into RefWork (ProQuest LLC,
Bethesda, MD) and downloaded for information.
Consumption of the alcoholic-containing
fermented products in the region
Palm based fermented products
Fresh nipah palm (Nypa fruticans) sap and neera
(sap obtained from by tapping the unopened spadix of
the coconut palm are popular beverages in the region.
For Muslim consumers, palm juice (fresh saps) are
consumed within 2 days after tapping as it is highly
susceptible to spontaneous fermentation to produce
alcohols and acetic acids. Fermented palm saps can
also be used to produce alcohol, vinegar or alcoholic
beverage such as palm wine. The fermented beverage
is called “panam culloo” in Sri Lanka, “tuba”, “soom”
in the Philippines, “nuoudua” in Vietnam, “arak” in
Indonesia, and “tuak” (tuack) or toddy in Malaysia,
India and Bangladesh. (Lee and Fujio, 1999). Palm
wine is obtained by the natural fermentation of palm
sap and collected through the tapping of unopened
inflorescence. Palm wine has mild alcoholic flavor,
sweet in taste, vigorous effervescence and milky
white in color as it contained suspension of numerous
bacteria and yeast. Palm wine from coconut flower
juice is most popular among Southeast Asia regions.
A community survey on the non-Muslim Balinese
village in Indonesia showed approximately 40%
excessive consumption of locally produced palm
wine in 1990 (WHO, 2004).
Rice based fermented products
Rice wine is a popular alcoholic beverage in
the Asian country. According to Lachenmeier et
al. (2009), the most common unrecorded alcohol
beverage in the Philippines is rice wine. In rural area
of Vietnam, the production of fermentation of grain
such as rice to produce rice wine is one of the income
sources for farmer families (Dung et al., 2007). Tapuy
and ruou nep are the popular rice wine in Philippines
(Kozaki and Uchimura, 1990). Tapuy is a sweet
and acidic alcoholic rice wine whereas ruou nep is a
turbid suspension of pink red color with some residual
sugar and contained 8–14% (w/v) alcohol (Aidoo et
al., 2006). Rice wine is normally used for celebration
or ceremony. Traditional alcoholic beverages made
from rice starch are very popular in Thailand and
produced locally in large amounts (Techakriengkrai
and Surakarnkul, 2007). Thai rice wines are normally
cloudy and yellow in color. Sato and krachae are
examples of popular rice wine in Thailand made
from cooked/raw glutinous rice (Aidoo et al., 2006).
Rice wine such as Tapai and Tuak are popular at East
Malaysia. Tapai (not the fermented snack) is made by
Kadazan-Dusun-Murut (KDM) ethnics from Sabah.
This drink is prepared by the Kadazan for gathering
and festival celebration (Chiang et al., 2006). Tapai as fermented product
Tapai is a very popular fermented snack in Asian
countries. It can be prepared using either glutinous
rice (Oryza sativa glutinosa) or cassava tuber
(Manihot utilisima). After fermentation, the glutinous
rice or cassava is soft and juicy. Tapai is a popular
dessert/snack with a sweet and acidic taste with mild
alcoholic flavor. Tapai is a perishable product and has
to be consumed immediately (within 3 to 4 days) after
the optimum stage of fermentation. It is produced in
the region on a cottage industry scale by traditional
manufacturers or at home for family consumption.
In Indonesia and Malaysia, tapai is served during
traditional ceremonies such as celebrating birth of
babies, marriage, and religious activities. Tapai/
tape is also consumed as snack and commonly sold
in departmental stores (Gandjar, 2003). In some
eastern state of Peninsular Malaysia, tapai from
cassava is very popular and used to prepare sweet
delicacies. They can be consumed as such or used
as an ingredient in homecooking and baking. There
are many recipes with tapai as main substrate. The
cassava tapai is sometimes baked as a cake (cheese
tapai cake) or cooked in coconut milk with palm
sugar as a delicious snack.
Production method
Palm based fermented products
There are a number of genera of palm that are
prevailing in the region, including coconut palm
International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484
Popular fermented foods and beverages in Southeast Asia
(Cocos nucifera), nipa palm (Nypa fruticans), palmyra
palm (Borassus flabellifer) and kithul palm (Caryota
urens) (Owen and Stanton, 2003). Coconut palm is
native to the coastal regions of tropical Southeast
Asia. The coconut provides a nutritious source of
meat, juice, milk, and oil that has fed and nourished
populations for generations. Nypa fruticans is also an
outstanding provider of various products which are
essential to everyday living and therefore is said to
be the mangrove’s counterpart of coconut (Quimbo,
1991). Kithul palm naturally grow in the wild, in
forest covers, in fields and in rain-forest clearings. It
is a species of indigenous flowering plant in the palm
family from Sri Lanka, Myanmar and India. Palmyra
palm is widely grown in the districts nearby the seashore also available all over the region. Most tapped
palm trees give a sap very rich in sugar (10 to 20%),
can either consumed as fresh juice, syrup, sugar. or
fermented to alcoholic drinks (toddy). Palm juice is
a transparent fresh sap with pH 7.0-7.4. It is sweet
and non-alcoholic before it is fermented. Palm wine
or toddy, is an alcoholic beverages produced from
fermented sap of various species of palm trees.
Tapping is the method of obtaining palm sap
from unopened inflorescence of the palm (Grimwood
and Ashman, 1975). Highly sophisticated techniques
of tapping were developed through the centuries in
Asia, Africa and America. The spathe of unopened
inflorescence is bounded tightly for about three
weeks before tapping to prevent it from opening.
During tapping, around 5cm of the spathe are cut
from the end to obtain the sap. In traditional method,
local manufacturers used bamboo tubes that adhered
by many lactic acid bacteria and yeasts to collect
the oozed sap from the palm (Aidoo et al., 2006).
Tapped palm saps left spontaneously fermented in
the earthern pitcher (Sri Lanka) or in the bamboo
tube (Thailand), which promotes the proliferation
of yeast and bacteria present. The tapper usually
changes the pot twice daily (Grimwood and Ashman,
1975). Tapping of another popular palm sap, Nipah
palm (Nypa fruticans) is slightly different from the
coconut sap. Sap is collected from its mature fruit
stalk after cutting away the almost full grown fruit
head. During tapping, a bamboo container or plastic
bag is fastened at the sliced end for sap collection.
The stalks are grown from the ground, so climbing
is not needed for tapping neera sap as for coconut
sap. Palmyra palm, is common in tropical countries
such as Sri Lanka, India, Malaysia, Indonesia and
Philippines. Collection of sap from palmyra palm
was done by cutting the panicles grown at the head of
the tree a very sharp sickle or knife. The inflorescence
axis of these palms when tapped can secrete about 4
liters of sap per day, with maximum production in
April and May when the plants are in full bloom
(Steinkraus, 1985). As in most palms, the kithul palm
sap is extracted from the young inflorescence. The
main inflorescence axis yields the greatest amount of
sap. The terminal end of the main axis is gradually
sliced off with a very sharp knife. The exuding sap is
collected in a vessel. The vessel full of sap is removed
twice a day, usually at 6 am and 4 pm. A thin slice is
cut off the end of the inflorescence axis each time a
collection is made and replaced with a fresh pot. This
process being carried out for a period of about two
months (Zoysa, 1992).
As soon as the sap trickles down from the
spather, spontaneous fermentation by microorganism
from the inflorescence, collection tube and the
environment. Fermentation is very vigorous after 2448 hours. Microorganisms convert sugars in sap to
alcohol and further to acetic acids. Due to the highly
fermentable nature of the sap, the final product of the
prolonged fermentation will produced unacceptable
flavor and aroma. Quality of the fermented toddy was
improved by using pure cultures inoculation method
(Sanchez, 1979). During the fermentation process,
yeast sediment at the bottom of the container after
few hours and produced typical yeasty odor. The
composition and quality of palm sap greatly affected
by the location, weather, time and duration of tapping
(Borse et al., 2007).
Microbiological and biochemical changes during
The palm sap fermentation involved alcoholic–
lactic–acetic acid fermentation, by the presence of
mainly yeasts and lactic acid bacteria. Aidoo et al.
(2006) concluded that Saccharomyces spp. present
in the natural fermented palm sap and are important
for the formation of characteristic aroma of the
palm wine. S. cerevisiae and S. pombe have been
reported to be the dominant yeast species (Odunfa
and Oyewole, 1998). Other yeast species such as
other Candida spp and Pichia spp. are also present
(Atacador-Ramos, 1996). Lactic acid bacteria and
other bacteria such as Lactobacillus plantarum, L.
mesenteroides, Acetobacter spp. and Zymomonas
mobilis are also present. The microorganisms are
reported to originate from the palm tree, the gourd
used for sap collection and fermentation, or the
tapping equipment. Study done by Atputharajah et
al. (1986) reported the presence of seventeen (17)
species of yeasts and seven (7) genera of bacteria in
the natural fermented coconut palm sap. Yeast species
found include the Candida paropsilosis, C. tropicalis,
C. valida, K. javanica, Pichia etchellsii, P. farinose,
International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484
Law, S. V., Abu Bakar, F., Mat Hashim, D. and Abdul Hamid, A.
P. guilliermondi, P. membranaefciens, P. ohmeri,
Rhodotorula glutinis, Saccharomyces chevalieri,
S. ludwigii, S. bailii, Schizosaccharomyces pombe,
Sporobolomyces salmonicolor and Torulopsis
spp. Bacillus is the predominant bacteria genus
while others included Enterobacter, Leuconostoc,
Micrococcus and Lactobacillus.
Fresh coconut sap contained 12-15% of sucrose
(by weight) and trace amount of reducing sugar
including glucose, fructose, maltose and raffinose.
The sap contains approximately 0.23% protein, 0.02%
fat. Half of the total sugars are fermented during first
24 hours and ethanol content of the fermented palm
sap reaches maximum of 5.0 – 5.28% (v/v) after 48
hours (Sekar and Mariappan, 2005). Atputharajah et
al. (1986) studied the chemical changes of coconut
palm sap during fermentation. Coconut sap contains
15% sucrose and is converted to ethanol during
fermentation. A constant pH drop observed at the
initial fermentation stage, and sugar conversion
begins and produces ethanol production at constant
pH. Ethanol production reaches maximum after
five days fermentation. Shamala and Sreekantiah
(1988) reported that the fermentation produces
mainly ethanol, acetic acid and lactic acid. pH of
the sap rapidly dropped from around 7.2 to 5.5
due to formation of acetic acid and ethanol content
drastically increased to 5% (v/v) within 8 hours.
Palm wine was found rich in mineral as it contains
0.019 – 0.028% (w/v) of vitamin B-12 and 0.008%
of ascorbic acid (Van Pee and Swings, 1971).
Steinkraus (1994) reviewed the nutritional value of
the fermented palm sap and stated that palm toddies
are one of the cheapest sources of vitamins B among
the poorer communities in the region. Amount of
thiamine, riboflavin and pyridoxine increases during
the fermentation. Fermented palm sap also contained
significant amount of vitamin B12 (0.02%) and
vitamin C (Van Pee and Swings, 1971).
Rice based fermented products
Rice is the dominant and preferred cereal crop in
Southeast Asia. Almost all cultivated varieties of rice
belong to a single species, Oryza sativa with about
120,000 varieties. Glutinous rice (or sweet rice),
grown mostly in Southeast Asia and are typically
used in ceremonial dishes and in paste. Most ricebased alcohol is brewed form the sticky rice. Rice
wines produced in Indonesia, Myanmar, Thailand,
Malaysia and Vietnam are typical alcohol brews
from the waxy or glutinous rice. The round and
short grains of glutinous rice is ideal for rice wine
making. Preparation of rice wine varies according
to locations and traditional practices. Generally, rice
wine fermentation can be categorised into submerged
and solid state process. Submerged process involving
saccharification of rice to liberate sugar and converted
to ethanol by submerged fermentation of yeast in
liquid medium occur with plenty availability of free
water (Ray and Ward, 2006).
General procedure to produce rice wine includes
wash the rice, immerse the washing rice in water for
certain period, and steam it. Steamed rice will be spread
out on cloth for cooling to room temperature (Sanchez
et al., 1988). Starter culture is then added at ratio of at
1g per 100g of raw rice and mixed well. Starter culture
normally contains Rhizopus which have the ability
to decompose amylase and Sacharomycopsis which
have the ability to promote alcohol fermentation.
The inoculated glutinous rice are incubated in trays
and covered with a piece of paper (Chiang et al.,
2006). After two days at room temperatures (25–30
ºC), the products were transferred to a fermentation
jar with a water seal to allow rice to ferment for
two weeks. The fermented mass is squeezed using
cheesecloth to collect alcoholic juice and residues
were discarded. The freshly harvested wine was
pasteurized at 65-70 ºC for 30 minutes. Pasteurized
wine was allowed to stand for one to three months in
dark, cool place to prevent discolouration. After the
maturation, wine can be bottled and pasteurized at
65-70ºC for 20 minutes. Approximately 1 liter of rice
wine can be harvested from 1kg of the rice. Pangasi
in northwestern Mindanao, ba-si-de and tapuy in
Vietnam, tapay/ tapai in Eastern Malaysia and brem
in Indonesia were produced using similar method
(Sanchez et al., 1988).
Solid state fermentation is another way of
rice wine production. Ruou nep and ruou nep than
in Vietnam, Ou in Thailand and rice wine from
Cambodia and Laos are produced using the method.
Solid state fermentation is, process where microbial
growth and product formation occurs on the surface
of solid materials (Aidoo et al., 2006). Glutinous
rice is first soaked in water overnight and cooked by
steaming. The steamed rice is cooled, mixed with
dry starter culture and incubate in solid state at room
temperature for 1 to 2 days. The inoculated rice paste
is then transferred into an earthenware jar, covered
and tightly sealed The jar is left at room temperature to
ferment for more than a week. The fermented content
was eluted with water upon drinking (Chuenchomrat,
et al., 1998; Aidoo et al., 2006).
Microbiological and biochemical changes during
There are two primitive methods used in cereal
saccharification and fermentation. Malting process
International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484
Popular fermented foods and beverages in Southeast Asia
used in beer production is common in Europe.
Another method which through the degradation of
carbohydrate into simple sugar followed by alcoholic
fermentation via yeast is more commonly practiced
in rice wine production in the Southeast Asia
region (Lee and Lee, 2002). Rice wine preparation
involved alcoholic fermentation using mainly yeast
from Saccharomycopsis spp.. S. fibuligera with
high ethanol producing capacity and amylolytic
activity, is the common yeasts present in rice wine
starter in Southeast Asia region (Limtong et al.,
2002). At the initial solid-state fermentation, mould
produced enzymes such as alpha-amylase and
amyloglucosidase for rice starch degradation to form
simple sugar, mainly glucose (Crabb, 1999).
Rice wine and tapai produced using the same
amylolytic starter culture as both fermented from
carbohydrate-rich raw materials. Some molds and
yeast can produce enzyme to hydrolyze unpalatable
carbohydrate and protein into simpler sugar and
amino acids. However, the combination of the
microorganism is also found. Hesseltine et al. (1988)
stated that amylolytic starter in Oriental (East and
South Asia) typically combined the fungus, yeast
and bacteria. Mixed cultures were used instead of
sequential fermentation in the amylolytic starter,
which moulds are able to degrade starch and yeasts
are for fermentation (Aidoo et al., 2006). Mixed
cultures are commonly used for fermentation of
carbohydrate-rich substrate such as starchy crops
and cereals, for example in converting rice, sorghum,
wheat, barley, and cassava into alcoholic beverages
and snacks.
Amylolytic starters commonly known as “chinese
yeast cake” in the Western world and are used in
the form of starchy tablets. It is believed that the
usage of the dry form starters originated from China
(Limtong et al., 2002). These starters or inoculum are
commercially produced and given different names in
the different Southeast Asian region. Studies on the
microflora of the starter cultures have been widely
reported (Ko, 1972; Batra and Millner ,1974; Cronk
et al., 1977; Ardhana and Fleet, 1989; Lee, 1990;
Limtong et al., 2002; Chiang et al., 2006; Thanh et
al., 2008 ). Table 1 summarized the different starter
culture and their respective substrate. Generally,
there are three major microorganism groups namely
yeasts, molds and bacteria present in the traditional
amylolytic starter (Hesseltine et al.,1988; Steinkraus,
1996) where moulds produce amylase to degrade
starch into fermentable sugar. Yeast followed up with
converting the sugar into ethanol. Lee and Lee (2002)
stated that the presence of lactic acid bacteria (LAB)
in the starter culture, most likely as opportunistic
contaminants. However, the interaction functionality
of the different microorganism groups is still yet to
be discovered.
Sanchez et al. (1988) determined the chemical
composition of Vietnam rice wine tapuy using
different rice varieties. Tapuy contained 10.6-12.9%
(v/v) of ethanol, pH 4.65-5.0, total soluble solid
3.0-3.9 º Brix, and total titratable acidity 10.2-20.2.
Chemical composition of some Thailand rice wines
were analyzed (Chuenchomrat, 2007).
Table 1. Amylolytic starter cultures and their predominant microorganism of carbohydrate-based fermented
products in Southeast Asia
Country Starter
Rice, Cassava
Rice, glutinous rice
Banh men Rice, glutinous rice
Loog-pang Rice,glutinous rice
Rice, cassava,
Amylomyces rouxii, Endomycopsis, Burtonii,
Amylomyces rouxii
Candida utilis,
Candida pelliculosa
Sacharomyces Cerevisiae
Saccharomyces , Amylomyces Rhizopus oryzae, R. microsporus
Absidia corymbifera, and
Amylomyces spp.
Saccharomyces fibuligera,
Torulaspora globosa,
Pichia anomala
Saccharomyces cerevisiae,
Ko (1972);
Cronk et al. (1977);
Ardhana and Fleet
Lee (1990)
Thanh et al. (2008)
Limtong et al. (2002)
Chiang et al. (2006)
Candida krusei, C. pelliculosa,
C.sphaerica, C.magnoliae and
other yeast
Naturally Sap of coconut,
LAB,AAB, S. cerevisiae
Batra and Millner (1974)
occuring date or palmyra
Schizosaccharomyces pombe ,
Kodamaea ohmeri and other yeasts
International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484
Law, S. V., Abu Bakar, F., Mat Hashim, D. and Abdul Hamid, A.
The ethanol concentration of the solid state fermented
rice wines was in the range of 0.001- 0.01 % (w/v).
Other parameters tested including pH (4.5–5.5),
protein (0.45–0.99 % w/w), ash (0.10–0.30% w/w),
total solid (1.72–14.34% w/w), glucose (0.41 -0.79%
w/v) contents. Study done by Woraratphoka et al.
(2007) evaluated the antioxidant properties of the
rice wine produced in the northeast Thailand. Health
promoting t-resveratro and phenolic acids such as
gallic acid were found present in rice wine. Rice wine
contained D-glucose, ethyl α-D-glucoside, glycerol,
organic acids and amino acids and suggested to be
a potential effective agent for the prevention and
treatment of UV-induced skin aging (Seo et al.,
is ready to be consumed. It can also be kept in the
refrigerator until needed. To prepare tapai from
cassava, roots are peeled, cut into pieces, washed,
steamed until cooked and cooled. Traditionally,
the cooked cassava roots are placed in layers on
bamboo baskets which are covered with banana
leaves. Ragi tapai is then sprinkle on each layer.
Incubation is carried out at 30ºC for 48-72 hours.
During fermentation, the cassava roots soften and
develop a sweet/sour slightly alcoholic flavor. The
product which is somewhat juicy can be consumed
right away. The preparation method of tapai has been
revised intensively by other researchers (Steinkraus,
1996; Gandjar, 2003; Stanton and Owens, 2003;
Aidoo et al., 2006).
Tapai as fermented product
In the Southeast Asia countries, glutinous rice
has been used for the preparation of paste-type food
products. Tape ketan (Indonesia) and Khaomak
(Thailand) are prepared from glutinous rice which
has been steamed, inoculated and allowed to ferment
at ambient temperature. On the other hand, cassava
tubers are also widely used materials for the tapai
production. Humans have been fermenting foods from
root crops for over 1000 years. Fermentation helps to
improve the palatability, nutritive values and texture
quality of the cassava roots. Tapai had different local
names with different substrates including cooked
white rice, cooked black/white glutinous rice, or
cassava tubers. The following are the local names
of this low-alcohol snack food in Southeast Asia.
Tape ketan from glutinous rice (Indonesia), tapai
nasi from cooked rice (Indonesia, Malaysia, and
Singapore), tapai ketela / peuyeum from cassava roots
(Indonesia, Malaysia). Tapai pulut from glutinous rice
(Malaysia), chao made from rice (Cambodia), khaomak from rice (Thailand), basi binubran from cooked
rice (Philippines), (Saono et al., 1986, Hesseltine and
Wang 1986; Aidoo et al.,2006; Steinkraus, 1996).
The general procedure for preparing tapai form
glutinous rice starts with washing and soaking of the
substrate one hour or longer (sometimes overnight).
The substrates were steamed for approximately
30 min until soft and sticky. After cooled to room
temperature (28-30ºC), it is added with starter
culture. The inoculated substrate can either placed in
wide mouth glass jars which are then covered tightly
with a piece of cheese cloth or divided into small
portion and placed in plastic bag or in banana leaves
(to obtain pleasant aroma). Fermentation continued
for 24- 48 hours at ambient temperatures (25-30°C).
The fermented product is a partially liquefied, having
a sweet-sour and mildly alcoholic taste. The product
Microbiological and biochemical changes during
Ragi is a traditional starter inoculum that is
available commercially for tapai production. The
methods to prepare ragi tapai is discussed intensively
by Gandjar (2003). Traditionally, ragi tapai is prepared
by mixing rice flour with various spices including
garlic, plant roots, peppers, red chillies, cinnamon,
fruit, coconut water, ginger and water (or sugar cane
juice). The mixtures is molded into small circular
flat cake and let sundried. Diverse range of fungal
and yeast species has been found in ragi (as shown
in Table 1.) Moulds in the inoculums ragi degrade
the carbohydrate compounds in rice or cassava,
followed by the function of yeast to convert simple
sugar alcohol. The process produced some acids and
softens the raw material during the fermentation.
Reaction between the acids and alcohols resulting
in a pleasant aroma of the fermented food. During
fermentation, moulds like Chlamydomocular oryzae
converts starches to sugars, and yeast, Endomyces
fibuligera converts sugars to alcohol and flavour
components (Beuchat, 1987). Study done by Ardhana
and Fleet (1989) reported the microbiological
changes occurred during the fermentation of the tape
ketan. Amylomyces rouxii and Candida pelliculosa
are the dominant microorganisms, followed by
Saccharomyces cerevisiae, Hansenula anomala and
bacteria such as Bacillus and Acetobacter. Study
found that pure culture in the inoculum failed to
produce typical structure and taste of tape ketan.
Cronk et al. (1977) investigated the biochemical
changes of tape ketan in Indonesia using various
combination of microorganism as starter culture.
Ethanol content of tape ketan at first 24 hours
fermentation was 2.3% (v/v) and reached the
maximum of 8.0% (v/v) after 144 hours. Tape ketan
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Popular fermented foods and beverages in Southeast Asia
contained 30.7 -39.3 % of total soluble solid, pH
ranges from 4.2 to 4.5, soluble crude protein 13.818.4 % (w/w), titratable acidity 5.74-8.11. Study
found that soluble crude protein in rice increased
significantly from 8.4% (unfermented) to 13.818.4% after fermented for 194 hours. The doubling
increase in the protein content of rice in tapai/tape
providing the community a good and cheap source
of protein. Tapai with cassava contained at least 3%
of protein (wet basis) as compared to 1% (wet basis)
of raw cassava (Steinkraus, 1996). Steinkraus (1996)
reviewed the bio-enrichment of the rice/cassava
in tape ketan after fermentation. Tapai contained
essential amino acid, lysine and thiamine. Thiamine
content in tapai is comparable to the unpolished rice.
Consumption of the snack helps to prevent beri-beri
among the people that consumed polished rice in the
Southeast Asia region.
Health risk
Alcohol-related health risks
Alcohols have been identified as a major risk
factor for global burden of diseases (Rehm et al.,
2003). Consumption of the indigenous or homemade
alcoholic foods and beverages are normally
unrecorded. It is important to obtain a scientific
database on the alcohol content of the homemade/
traditional fermented beverages and foods in order to
study and control the health-risk caused by alcohol
consumption in the specific region. Higher alcohols
(alcohol with more than 2 carbon atoms) occur
naturally in alcoholic beverages as metabolites from
bacterial activities. Higher alcohols are important
flavor compounds and have been treated as generally
recognized as safe (GRAS). However, issues have
been raised recently about the percentage of higher
alcohols in homemade alcohol products as few studies
indicated that the presence of higher alcohol might
lead to higher incidents of liver diseases (Narawane
et al., 1998; Lal et al., 2001).
Traditional brew is commonly made from fruits,
vegetables, grains or palm sap by the local people
in home and villages. As compared with the Middle
East and Europe which uses mostly fruits as the raw
material to produce indigenous alcoholic beverages,
Southeast Asia region tend to produce alcoholic
beverages from cereals especially rice and also from
the palm sap (Lee and Lee, 2002). Although distilled
alcohols, wine and beer are readily available in the
market, traditional alcohol continued to be widely
used due to the availability of the raw materials,
ease of fermentation process and affordability of
the community (Nordlund and Osterberg, 2000).
It is believed that traditional brews are commonly
consumed by the people in the region but remain
unrecorded (WHO, 2004). There is variation in
drinking pattern in developing countries such as
in South-East Asia. Distilled alcohols and wine
generally consumed in urban area and by more affluent
group. On the other hand, traditional brews (such as
fermented grain or palm sap) are normally consumed
by poorer population and distributed in more urban
area (Patel, 2007). Local brews commonly consumed
by the local community in some Southeast Asia
region are listed in Table 2.
Table 2. List of local brews in Southeast Asia Countries
Local brews
Sri Lanka
a: WHO, 2004, b:
Bangla Mada, Cholai Taria
Arracka, Desia Sharaba, Taria, Tharraa, Toddya, Fennya
Palm Winea
Raksia, Tadia, Chayang Tomba
Toddya, Arracka
Ooua, Namtanmaoa, Sartha Waarka Sato d, Krachae d
Tuakb, Tapai Sabahb , Arracka, Samsua
Tapuyc , Ruou nep thand
Chiang et al., 2006, c: Blandino et al.,2003, d: Aidoo et al., (2006)
Palm based fermented products
The fermented palm sap is commonly known
as toddy. Verma and Joshi (2000) defined toddy as
the product formed from fermentation of palm sap,
which contained about 7% (v/v) of ethanol. Ethanol
content of a naturally fermented coconut palm sap
reached maximum (approximately 9% v/v) after 5
days fermentation (Atputharajah et al. 1986). Joshi et
al. (1989) also stated that 9% (v/v) ethanol produced
from natural fermentation of a fresh cut sap with
10–18% (w/w) sugar. Freshly prepared toddy has
an average alcohol content of 7.9%. For commercial
toddy or palm wine, alcohol content ranged from 3 to
7% (v/v) for fermented palm sap and 20-40% (v/v) for
the distilled (Bennett et al., 1998). Complete higher
alcohol profiling of local surrogate such as rice wine
and toddy in Southeast Asia region is still yet to be
Rice based fermented products
Coronel et al. (1981) analyzed tapuy made from
fourteen Philippine rice varieties. Result indicated the
ethanol content of tapuy ranges from 12.0 to 13.3%
(v/v). Tanimura et al. (1978) reported that ethanol
content of tapuy ranges from 13.50 -19.10 % (v/v).
Dung et al. (2007) stated that the alcohol content of
Vietnamese rice wines varies with some even reached
almost 15 % (v/v); and those by distillation, contained
approximately 50% (v/v) ethanol. Lachenmeier et
al. (2009) collected and analyzed the homemade/
unrecorded fermented alcohol product such as
rice alcohol and found the majority had alcohol
International Food Research Journal 18: 475-484
Law, S. V., Abu Bakar, F., Mat Hashim, D. and Abdul Hamid, A.
contents between 30 and 40% (v/v). Tapai (a Sabah’s
fermented rice beverage) contained approximately
12.3% (v/v) after 3 weeks fermentation (Chiang et
al., 2006). Lachenmeier et al. (2009) investigated
both homemade and commercial alcohol products in
Vietnam and reported the presence of higher alcohols
such as 1-propanol, 1-butanol and isobutanols.
Tapai as fermented product
Ethanol concentrations of approximate 5% in
the tapai/tape have been reported (Beuchat, 1983).
Cronk et al. (1979) reported the alcohol content of
tape ketan inoculated with different starter culture
ranged from 2.6 – 3.7% (v/v) after fermention for 48
hours and 4.2-7.4% (v/v) after 96 hours. Muchtaridi
et al. (2005) analyzed black tape ketan at different
fermentation time from 3 to 31 days. Study reported
alcohol content of 3.99% (v/v) in tape ketan after 3
days fermentation and the alcohol content reached
5.30% (v/v) at day 31. Typical fermentation time
of inoculated tapai/tape is 2-3 days at ambient
temperature. Hence, tapai/tape ready for consumption
is expected to contain approximately 2-3% of alcohol.
Cronk et al. (1979) reported the presence of higher
alcohols such as isobutanol (0.016% v/w), isoamyl
(0.012% v/w) and active amyl alcohol (0.001% v/w)
in tape ketan after 96 hours fermentation.
Fermented food is important to human’s diet
and posses a natural and healthy image. However,
ethanol as a major product of alcoholic fermentation
is well known for causing intoxication in human. The
consumption of these alcoholic brews in Southeast
Asia region is commonly unrecorded. Traditional
forms of alcoholic food products have been produced
communally and having difficulties in controlling
the product quality and production hygiene. Besides,
knowledge about the significance of the presence of
the metabolite and their chemical interaction is still
insufficient. Furthermore, little scientific literature is
found to date related to health relevant constituents
and contaminants in these alcoholic beverages and
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