By Agus Budiawan Naro Putra, Ph.D., Faculty of Food Science

Everyone has a view about food. Some treated food as a source of pleasure and fascination but unfortunately, most of the people dealt with food simply as fuel. Yes, food provide us energy (in the form of carbohydrates, proteins and/or lipids) and basic nutrition, and yes, food could give us enchantment (aroma, color, taste, etc.). However, seeing food just as source of energy and/or source of pleasure are not wise. We have to build our self-awareness that food might have health implications either detrimental or beneficial.

Consuming too much of certain food components such as salt, saturated fatty acids, and sugar (energy), is known to have adverse effects on health and leads to the development of non-communicable diseases (NCDs). On the other hand, food has also been used as a mean for the prevention of nutrient-deficiency diseases for centuries, such as scurvy, rickets, and so on. This practice could be traced back to the Chinese who used foods as medicine for thousands of years.

The utilization of food for preventing nutrient-deficiency diseases was then becoming the starting-point of what we know now as healthy diet, and thus acted as a trigger for the development and construction of the terminology of “functional food”. Japanese scientific academic community introduced the term functional foods for the first time in 1984. It was marked by the launched of a national project, promoted by The Ministry of Education, Science and Culture, concerning research and development on the functionalities of food. Functional food was then be defined as a food that has unique physiological function, such as regulation of biorhythm, the immune system (body defense), and/or reduction of NCDs risks. The prevalence of NCDs and the findings on the health promoting functions of food results in a congruency of people’s paradigm: food is one of the primary vehicles to transport us along the road to the gate of wellbeing.

Functional food simply can be grouped into two: plant- and animal-derived. In plant-derived functional foods, we are very familiar with any fruits, vegetables, and green leaves such as tea. Tea, especially green tea, has been reported to have antioxidants such as epigallocatechin-3-gallate (EGCG). Mukamal et al. (2002) reported that the antioxidants in tea help prevent LDLs (known as bad cholesterol) from building up in the blood. A study in Switzerland found that drinking the equivalent of two to three cups of green tea daily caused the participants to burn 80 extra calories each day, without increasing their heart rate (Dulloo, 1999).

In regards to animal-derived functional foods, fish oil is a good example. In a placebo-controlled study conducted by Zulyniak et al. (2016), healthy young and older men consumed five fish oil capsules daily (providing 2.0 g/d of EPA and 1.0 g/d of DHA) for three months, results in an up to 30% reduction in blood triglycerides in both young and older men with fish oil supplementation.

Instead of the division of functional food types based on its raw materials, functional food can also be grouped based on the similarities of its chemical structure and/or similarities of mode of action, such as antioxidants, dietary fiber (prebiotics), probiotics, lipid-based, vitamins and minerals, protein and protein-derived functional foods, fermented foods and so on.

Fermented foods are considered to have health benefits through two possible ways: firstly, through the interaction of ingested live microorganisms (probiotic effect) and secondly, through the metabolites produced during the fermentation process (biogenic effect). Indonesia itself is very rich in fermented foods, such as tempeh, oncom, ikan peda, petis, dadih, terasi, brem, bekasam, tape, peuyeum, tauco, tempoyak, asinan and many others. Among these Indonesian fermented foods, tempeh is the most well-known worldwide. Many researchers have reported its health benefits for decades and still counting (Steinkraus et al., 1960; Murata et al., 1967; Esaki et al; 1996). In addition, oncom and ikan peda showed immune-stimulating effect while petis showed anti-allergy potential (unpublished, in preparation, personal communication). However, health benefits of many Indonesian fermented foods have not been studied.

Taken together, because of the beneficial role that functional foods, especially Indonesian fermented foods, can play in the diet, it is believed that research on it will grow rapidly. This is also expected to promote and revitalize Indonesian indigenous fermented foods, which is a part of Indonesian cultural richness, to gain public attention and international recognition and most importantly, to improve the quality of life.


Dulloo, A.G., Duret, C., Rohrer, D., Girardier, L., Mensi, N., Fathi, M., Chantre, P. and Vandermander, J., (1999). Efficacy of a green tea extract rich in catechin polyphenols and caffeine in increasing 24-h energy expenditure and fat oxidation in humans. The American journal of clinical nutrition, 70(6), pp.1040-1045.

Esaki, H., Onozaki, H., Kawakishi, S., & Osawa, T. (1996). New antioxidant isolated from tempeh. Journal of agricultural and food chemistry, 44(3), 696-700.

Mukamal, K. J., Maclure, M., Muller, J. E., Sherwood, J. B., & Mittleman, M. A. (2002). Tea consumption and mortality after acute myocardial infarction. Circulation, 105(21), 2476-2481.

Murata, K., Ikehata, H., & Miyamoto, T. (1967). Studies on the nutritional value of tempeh. Journal of Food Science, 32(5), 580-586.

Steinkraus, K. H., Hwa, Y. B., Buren, J. P., Provvidenti, M. I., & Hand, D. B. (1960). Studies on tempeh—an Indonesian fermented soybean food. Journal of Food Science, 25(6), 777-788.

Zulyniak, M. A., Roke, K., Gerling, C., Logan, S. L., Spriet, L. L., & Mutch, D. M. (2016). Fish oil regulates blood fatty acid composition and oxylipin levels in healthy humans: A comparison of young and older men. Molecular nutrition & food research, 60(3), 631-641.