The overcast clouds that evening did not dampen the enthusiasm of Siti Maryam, 55, while drying flour from various types of tubers on the second floor of her home which doubles as a “Mari” tiwul production house in Pasunten Hamlet, Lipursari Village. Time and again, she transfers the white, yellow, and purple flour grains according to the type of tuber being processed, so that they dry quickly.
“I am experimenting with processing porang (Amorphophallus muelleri) so that it can be used as an additive to instant tiwul. Tiwul that is produced apart from cassava, there are honey sweet potatoes, yellow sweet potatoes and purple sweet potatoes,” said the woman who is also called Maria Bo Niok.
Making cassava more marketable
It took Maria 13 years to transform the image of leye and tiwul from an outskirt into a high-value food. Today, leye-tiwul is no longer traditional but is processed into instant food. In fact, the price of instant tiwul is three times more expensive, compared to the price of rice in the village.
Maria, who was a former migrant worker, was inspired to process leye into instant tiwul because some middlemen are lowballing the farmers’ cassava harvest. Most farmers in the Lipursari Village cultivate cassava because it is their staple food. Cassava is consumed by the public after being processed into leye or oyek. According to Maria, when 25 kilograms of cassava was processed to dry, it could become at least 11 kilograms of instant tiwul.
Due to her business, more farmers are now offering cassava since Maria is buying it at a decent price. Maria also helps in educating the farmers on agricultural best practices as well as in looking for access to production equipment assistance.
Instant tiwul became popular after Maria bagged the IKM Award in 2014. In the same year, orders came every three months from fellow migrant workers in Hong Kong. The following year, orders for instant tiwul came once a month from fellow migrant workers in Malaysia.
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, there were people from Jakarta who ordered four quintals of instant tiwul twice a week, to be sent to Abu Dhabi.
“We also sell this instant tiwul at the Soekarno Hatta Airport booth, and the demand is high. Whatever is sent is always out.”
Formerly a village food, tiwul is now found in shopping centers in big cities such as Jakarta, Yogyakarta, Magelang and Solo. But Maria is expecting it will take up to five years for instant tiwul to be widely known and accepted by the local market.
Maria and her husband, Stefi Yean Marie, 44 are now working to innovate leye into instant tiwul with various flavors, so that young people outside Lipursari Village can also enjoy local food that has existed since the Japanese colonial era.
The first flavor they tested was pandan, because pandanus plants are abundant and easy to cultivate. While tiwul pandan tastes good, it is rough and not durable.
The couple then tested again, this time turning cassava into mocaf flour and then adding it with sweet potato or eggplant. It turned out right and the tiwul ended up soft and durable.
“The instant tiwul experiment can last for two years. Now the shelf life of instant tiwul can last up to one year.”
The production process
Processing methods continue to be improved, and some use machines to speed up the production process. There are at least 14 variants of instant tiwul flavors produced, ranging from original flavors, purple sweet potato, moringa leaves, palm sugar, pandan, red beans, various fruits such as durian, strawberries, to low-glycemic instant tiwul for diabetics or those who avoid sugars.
Maria and her husband are also looking into producing instant tiwul in sachets so it can be eaten anywhere.
“Currently we are still looking for investors, because the price of machines to package instant tiwul in the form of expensive sachets is around Rp. 93 million,” said Maria, who this year received assistance from the Ministry of Investment.
Speaking at a webinar, “Eating Cassava for Health”, Professor Achmad Subagio of the University of Jember underscored the need to further develop the provision of food made from cassava through the empowerment of local micro, small and medium enterprises. In particular, increasing the availability of cassava and its processed products as a substitute for staple foods.
Achmad, who has been working with cassava for 12 years, also suggested that people’s preferences for food should be improved and there should be a strategy for the sustainability of local food such as cassava especially in the millennial era where the public can easily obtain food from outside Indonesia.
“We need to reposition cassava food into a (prestigious) food. Not only that, the cassava supply chain (should) also (be) improved, so that upstream (farmers) have price certainty and distribution channels with the processed industry. This step requires cooperation, commitment from large stakeholders and the central government to make it happen together,” he said.