Cultivation and usage of S. zeylanica in rural Bali
S. zeylanica was cultivated as a vegetable crop by farmers in Timpag Village from 2014, and is commonly called gonda or gunda by locals. Before this, the plant was mainly foraged as a wild edible plant from lowland paddy fields, when available. S. zeylanica was cultivated to raise additional income for farmers between fallow periods in rice farming schedules. The plant was reportedly harvestable up to eight times annually when environmental conditions were favorable (e.g., no occurrence of drought) and crop scheduling went as planned. Annually, a farmer in Timpag Village can harvest between 0.5 and 1 tons of S. zeylanica from a 0.01 ha plot of land. Figure 2 shows a rice paddy field in Timpag Village managed by the interviewed farmer, which was later be used to plant S. zeylanica.
S. zeylanica is cultivated in Timpag Village under organic farming practices, and farmers procure all seeds naturally from mature plants. It can take up to 3 weeks for seeds to grow before they are ready for transplantation to a lowland rice paddy field; another 15 days, or approximately 2 weeks, are needed before the plants can be harvested. In total, about 1 month is needed for the cultivation of S. zeylanica from seeds to harvest.
Although S. zeylanica is generally perceived to be easily cultivated, attempts to increase production have been a challenge owing to the extensive efforts required. For example, although farmers would like to plant more S. zeylanica in their fields, they do not own enough land to do so. Because fields are leased by landowners in Timpag Village, it is necessary for farmers to save money for investment, which can take years to accumulate. Consequently, production of this plant has not increased significantly, despite farmers claiming that demands have increased.
Harvested S. zeylanica is sold by farmers in a bundle system, which commonly consists of 15 stalks per bundle. When they are sold to buyers from outside the village (e.g., Denpasar City), one bundle of the plant is normally priced at Rp 1,000.00 (approximately US $0.065). For buyers from within the village, such as neighbors, special prices can be applied, which range from Rp 10,000.00 (US $0.65) per 13 bundles to Rp 50,000.00 (US $3.25) per 65 bundles. There are also separate prices for buyers from food and beverage establishments (e.g., restaurants, small food vendors), who are given a price of Rp 50,000.00/10 large rolls. These large rolls are equivalent in size of approximately 70 bundles of harvested S. zeylanica. Since 2014, purchases from restaurants and food establishments have made a greater contribution towards farmers’ income than purchases from other buyers.
Locals in Timpag Village noted that S. zeylanica is cooked in a variety of ways; the most common method of preparation is steaming. This plant has also been prepared by lightly stir-frying with a combination of garlic, chili peppers, lime juice, salt, and coconut oil. Less popular and relatively new ways of preparing S. zeylanica include frying as rempeyek (an Indonesian fried snack) and juicing as a beverage.
Distribution, pricing, and marketing of S. zeylanica in food markets
S. zeylanica was sold fresh at the two surveyed wet markets and three out of 18 supermarkets within Denpasar City. The full list of the surveyed locations is shown in Table 1.
In wet markets, fresh S. zeylanica was sold by approximately half, or slightly less than half, of all vegetable vendors. Conversely, the plant was rarely stocked in supermarkets; only a few supermarkets managed under the ‘Tiara’ company group supplied it.
Fresh S. zeylanica was priced higher (average Rp 5,857.00 or US $0.38) in wet markets and lower (average Rp 4,420.00 or US $0.29) in supermarkets. Table 1 shows that the price of the plant varied between vendors in wet markets, ranging from Rp 4,000.00 to 8,000.00 (US $0.26–0.52), while prices tended to be stable between supermarkets, ranging from Rp 4,000.00 to 5,000.00 (US $0.26–0.33). Although the average price of S. zeylanica in supermarkets was lower than that of other similar green leafy vegetables, the difference was not statistically significant (P > 0.05).
Price comparisons of S. zeylanica and other green leafy plant species in surveyed supermarkets revealed three possible groupings of market-valued plants based on observed market prices and their frequency of availability (Fig. 3). Based on these groupings, S. zeylanica can be categorized in Group A as a plant with low market price and low availability. However, its price is higher than that of other plants in the group, which includes Limnocharis flava (yellow velvetleaf), Diplazium esculentum (vegetable fern), and Ocimum africanum (lemon basil). Coincidentally, L. flava and D. esculentum are usually grow in the wild or are considered to be weeds, making them similar to S. zeylanica in terms of their unconventional use as food. In contrast, a high market value is placed on Brassica spp., with all four varieties being moderately or highly priced, and having moderate-to-high availability among supermarkets.
Plants in the first group (Group A) are characterized by low market prices and low availability; plants in the second group (Group B) are those with high market prices and low-to-moderate availability; plants in the third group (Group C) have low to moderate market prices and high availability. Prices are denoted in Indonesian Rupiah or IDR (Rp 1.00 = US $0.065).
Excluding the price factor, the presentation and packaging of fresh S. zeylanica also differed between those found in the wet market and supermarket. All vendors in wet markets displayed the plant without any packaging, and tied it with an elastic rubber band, while in supermarkets, the plants were wrapped in fresh banana leaves. Furthermore, the visual quality of S. zeylanica differed between wet markets and supermarkets, with those sold in wet markers presenting more damage, such as tears, holes, and withering of leaves. Displays of the plant in a wet market and a supermarket are shown in Fig. 4.
Consumption knowledge questionnaires distributed to local Balinese respondents also revealed the distribution of cooked or processed S. zeylanica. These plants were found to be distributed among 18 locations across Denpasar City, including restaurants. The geographical distribution of these food service establishments is illustrated in Fig. 5 along with markers that represent the locations of the surveyed wet markets and supermarkets.
Shapes represent restaurants (red circle), wet markets (blue rectangle), and supermarkets (green triangle). Supermarkets where S. zeylanica was not available (black triangle) are also shown.
Consumption patterns of S. zeylanica among Balinese locals in urban Bali
In total, 131 of 150 (87.3%) respondents of the consumption knowledge survey reported consuming S. zeylanica once in their lifetime. Furthermore, respondents who had consumed the plant tended to be older and were more often female; 100 respondents (76.3%) were aged 30–59 years and 101 (77.1%) were female. In contrast, the remaining 19 respondents who had never consumed the plant were younger, including 18 respondents aged 10–29 years. The reasons given by these respondents included no prior knowledge of the plant (90%), unfamiliarity regarding place of procurement (5%), and no particular interest in consuming the plant (5%).
Knowledge of the plant as a weed was divided, with about half of the 131 respondents who had consumed the plant responding positively. About 51.1% of respondents were aware that the plant is a weed, while 48.9% considered it to be a typically grown vegetable. When asked if they were initially wary to consume the plant due to its weedy nature, a majority of 114 respondents (87%) had no concerns. Out of these 114 respondents, five elaborated that they were not worried about consuming the plant because it is a ‘traditional vegetable’, a ‘traditional food’, and/or an ‘ingredient used for traditional cooking’. The value of S. zeylanica as a traditional vegetable crop was further emphasized by comments from four respondents who were introduced to the plant by their families when they were a child, and five others who claimed its commonality as an edible vegetable in the food markets of Bali.
Plant parts that were commonly consumed based on respondents’ answers included the leaves (129 responses; 98.5%) and stems (41 responses; 31.3%), with the flowers being the least consumed (five responses; 3.8%). Furthermore, respondents consumed S. zeylanica in three main forms: 1) boiled (107 responses; 81.7%), 2) sautéed (54 responses; 41.2%), and 3) fresh or unprocessed (seven responses; 5.3%). S. zeylanica was also consumed to lesser extents by adding to soups, pepes (foods cooked in banana leaves), and curries.
Fifty-four of the 131 respondents noted S. zeylanica for its bitter flavor. Other notable comments (from six respondents) included descriptions of the plant being similar to other green leafy vegetables in taste (for example Spinacia oleracea or spinach, Ipomea aquatica or water spinach, and Brassica rapa var. parachinensis or choy sum) Many responses reported that when S. zeylanica was not available, I. aquatica was consumed as the main alternative (105 responses; 80.2%), followed by leaves from Manihot esculenta or cassava (53 responses; 40.5%), Ocimum africanum or lemon basil (12 responses; 9.2%), Limnocharis flava or yellow velvetleaf (five responses; 3.8%), and S. oleracea (two responses; 1.5%).
Figure 6 shows where fresh S. zeylanica was purchased and where the plant was consumed or cooked, based on multiple choice responses by 131 respondents. S. zeylanica was commonly bought fresh in wet markets, while the most common place to consume or cook the plant was at home. Responses indicate that no respondents have been to modern cafes to be served cooked S. zeylanica, or that such establishments do not serve the plant.
The frequency of S. zeylanica consumption between 2018 and 2019 by the 131 survey respondents is displayed in Fig. 7. The results show the plant was more likely to be consumed monthly than weekly or annually. Furthermore, the most frequent consumers of S. zeylanica (those who consume more than three times per week) were aged between 30 and 59 years, while least frequent consumers (those who consumed the plant once per year) were aged between 20 and 39 years. However, a linear regression analysis performed with consumption frequency against the age of respondents showed no significant correlation between the two variables (P > 0.05), indicating that consumption frequency does not increase with age.
Respondents who consumed S. zeylanica less frequently (monthly and annual basis) reported several reasons why the plant was not consumed more regularly. Fifty-three percent of 74 responses noted that unavailability of S. zeylanica in food markets (keywords: “difficult to find,” “not available”) is the primary reason for the infrequent consumption of the plant. The second most common reason was dislike of taste (19%), followed by diet diversification purposes (18%), time or location constraints (8%), and price constraints (3%).