Traditional health tonic jamu is being given a facelift.
The drink may deceive at first glance as a carrot-based cold-pressed juice in the eyes of the modern consumer, but you’d be mistaken if you decide to knock back the bottle on a sweltering afternoon.
The ancient Javanese herbal drink has always been regularly enjoyed but it saw a resurgence in Indonesia last year due to its widely known benefits to boost one’s immune system and maintain good health. Indonesian jamu sellers started selling out their stock while ingredient prices steadily increased despite the economic downturn. But what exactly is it, you might ask?
According to Dana Safia, founder of local brand Jamu by Dana Safia, “Jamu isn’t just a turmeric drink, it is a combination of other plant ingredients that makes it beneficial for your health.” Indeed, it’s typically a combination of medicinal ingredients. To learn more about this traditional health tonic, we speak to Dana on what goes into the products of her brand, revitalising interest in jamu, and the benefits of drinking it daily.
Hi Dana! Could you share a bit more about yourself?
Something that not many people know about me is that I do have a regular office job as a digital recruiter on top of managing my business of brewing Jamu by Dana Safia, a traditional medicinal drink, as well as actively keeping a fitness regime.
Funny thing is, I never actually paid attention to my health until I hit my 30s! I was always on and off. One day, I woke up and I was just tired of being stagnant. I decided I wanted to take charge and make affirmative changes and build a habit.
Jamu is a drink that’s traditionally of Javanese roots: did your heritage or personal experience play a part in you conceptualising the brand?
It started with a curious little Dana following her grandmother, who was a midwife. My nenek (grandmother) was always busy travelling across the island to attend to mothers who had just given birth. While she was at home, she would brew this potent smelling drink. It felt normal to be around such medicinal herbs so I never really made much of it until I realised that most of my friends were unaware of these traditional gems. That drink was jamu, amongst other traditional medicine that would benefit her customers.
Although I wouldn’t confirm that my heritage transcends from authentic Javanese roots, I wouldn’t deny that somewhere along my bloodline, there should be a correlation. Or else, how would I be exposed to traditional jamu? I started drinking jamu since I came of age as consistently as I could because it felt like a natural routine. It was what cleansed my insides even when I didn’t lead a very active lifestyle.
When I realised that it wasn’t commonly known amongst my friends, I thought that it was a great opportunity to introduce them to this powerful, all-natural drink to assist their day to day lifestyle. Sure enough, they noticed the difference and eventually I knew I had to make it a brand. I brew all my jamu the same way I would for myself because I wouldn’t want anything less for my customers. Essentially whatever I’ve been having, you will too, maybe even better!
The core concept is to make sure anyone enjoying the jamu should reap the maximum benefits as well as to be able to effortlessly fit this lifestyle choice in their routine.
How did the brand come about?
I have always loved sharing and imparting my knowledge of health to the people around me. I get asked a lot of questions on how I maintain my health and I believe this was one of the ways I could help them. There is only so much spoken knowledge can help, so why not assist them with a physical substance that can enhance their health experience.
I gave birth to this idea during the circuit-breaker because, just like everyone else, I was bored at home. I started experimenting on how to improve my concoction and make it even better. That’s when the intensive research began. Case studies, medical journals, abstracts whatever I could get a hold of, I was pouring over them to understand the effectiveness of the sever ingredients and their effectiveness when brewed together.
I engaged a creative agency to come up with a brand as well as to establish branding to ensure I have every corner covered whilst developing my business. I wanted a conscious and thoughtful brand. As we approach a revolution of sustainability and inclusivity, I wanted my brand to be able to
match up to the approach.
What is the message you want to convey to our readers about jamu?
Jamu by Dana Safia isn’t just like any other jamu brand. We take pride in our products and will continue to share the goodness of each ingredient to everyone — regardless of ability, ethnicity, gender or whatever the spectrum is. Sustainability is also one of the core components of our brand. We want to be able to contribute to both our clients and the environment.
What are some of the health benefits of drinking Jamu daily?
I want to say that the health benefits are endless. What jamu has shown over the years is to help cleanse your inner being which indefinitely leads to improved system function — which then naturally helps with antibacterial, anti-inflammatory, antidepressant and anticarcinogenic properties as well as prevention to some serious illnesses.
However, we have to keep in mind: these health benefits depend on the ingredients used in jamu. Not all jamu have the same ingredients.
There are many different types of jamu — what do you currently carry?
We currently carry jamu that is available for both men and women. Both products are sold separately as the ingredients for both genders are different. One cannot be taken by the other as each ingredient used is suited for the functioning of each biological system. There are plans to carry a wider range for people with various needs, such as pregnant women. We might dabble into different flavoured jamu in the future.
How do you recommend people new to the tonic drink?
We usually have customers approach us directly and from there we sort the situation out on a personal basis. We cater to individual needs and try our best to accommodate. We have a set of important questions that we ask on our end before carrying forward with sales. We also understand that jamu carries a unique taste and hence we share a fair warning to our customers, along with the instructions needed for consumption.
Could you let us in on some of the ingredients you use in the creation of Jamu?
The ingredients that are used to brew the products from Jamu by Dana Safia are procured from different regions of Indonesia, Malaysia and India. We also handpick our suppliers based on confidence. It’s ensuring the quality is also of value and not just the price. We have ingredients such as palm sugar (the number one choice for diabetic patients), finger-root, tamarind and turmeric in the drink. Other ingredients that are not as commonly found include Eurycoma longifolia and Quercus Infectoria.
It takes six hours to produce 10 bottles! The brewing process is tedious and requires patience and attention to detail. Especially peeling off the root plants’ skin. I personally, find the process therapeutic!
What are some of the misconceptions about the drink, if any?
There isn’t just one recipe for jamu, there are over 2000 recipes recorded since Mataram Kingdom of Central Java around the 8th century. So even if you have another jamu drink, it might not be the same and might not deliver the same benefits.
You spoke about sustainable efforts — could you expand a bit more about that?
Inspired by the 1950s milk delivery method, we introduced a subscription model where customers are able to pre-order their jamu and during each delivery, we exchange the empty bottle with a freshly brewed jamu. This way, we make sure we control the amount of ingredients used and the products are not wasted. Our gift sets are made out of sustainable materials such as seagrass and cattail. We are working towards innovating better ways to serve our customer – plastic-free!
Is drinking jamu suitable for everyone? What are the differences between the jamu for men and women?
Jamu in general is more suitable for anyone who has hit puberty. While some ingredients are suitable for both gender, others are more beneficial to one. For example, we use Eurycoma longifolia in our men’s range which increases testosterone levels when consumed. Knowing and understanding the ingredients is key.
What’s next on the cards for you?
I am now planning for a new range focusing mainly for pregnant women since our current women range isn’t suitable for them. Hopefully, if that goes well, we will launch it sometime in early Q4. We will also be working on innovations to help increase the awareness of jamu and efforts to remain sustainable.
Find out more about Jamu by Dana Safia here.
(All images: Dana Safia)
This story first appeared in Lifestyle Asia Singapore.