Nutmeg is one of the exotic spices widely popular in health and culinary fields. The plants belong to dark-leaved evergreen trees that grow only in some particular places. Likewise, they have become one of the most sought-after commodities worldwide. One of them is the high-quality native pala—the gem—from West Papua.
Pala Papua – The Zesty Gem from West Papua
The local people call this precious spice gem in different names: pala Papua, pala Fakfak, and pala Negeri. The pala production from this province makes up 8.6% of the domestic nutmeg production.
Of the number, Fakfak District accounts for over 80% of the total nutmeg production, becoming one of the key pala producers in this province. In other words, Fakfak District and its pala Fakfak play a significant role in the regional and national nutmeg industry.
Pala Fakfak – The Lady of the Forest
Fakfak is a Regency in West Papua, a forest-ridden city surrounded by the ocean with white sandy beaches.
Dubbed as the City of Nutmeg (Kota Pala), Fakfak makes nutmeg fruits and seeds its flagship commodities and the main income source for thousands of farmers and families in this region.
The indigenous people greatly respect this native plant, which they traditionally called henggi – the Lady of the Forest. They consider the nutmeg trees as highly valuable, as the tree of life.
The characteristics of pala Fakfak
Pala Fakfak, based on the origin region of the plant, belongs to the East Indian Nutmeg. Aptly named after the above coastal regency as its native habitat, this nutmeg grows mainly in the forests of lowlands (up to 700m above sea level).
The local farmers or communities in this district have cultivated this spice commodity in forest gardens for generations. The pala Fakfak farmers use up to 80% of their land (with a total area of 6 to 14 thousand hectares) to grow the nutmeg species of Myristica fragrans argentea (Myristica argentea Warb).
This nutmeg tree has the characteristics of a cylindrical tree with upward shady branches and silvery-white bottom leaves in medium-sized round elongated. Also, it has small-sized, oblong fruits with small-sized oval-shaped seeds.
What makes it different?
Unlike other nutmegs from other regions in Indonesia, West Papua’s nutmeg offers differences in physical appearance and flavor.
- The oval-shaped fruit is two times as big as other typical nutmegs.
- It has a somewhat harsh rind or skin texture.
- The mace (fully or fuli), the scarlet-colored membranes covering the seed, is the most traded commodity, especially for pharmaceutical purposes.
- The seed boasts a sweeter profile and a more calming scent compared to other typical nutmegs.
Pala Negeri – Traditional Uses and Further Processing Potentials
People have traditionally sought after West Papua’s nutmegs—pala Negeri—for the seeds only. Many processing manufacturers turn them into oil that is essential and beneficial for health care and beauty products.
The traders or buyers will buy only the seeds from the farmers and discard the other parts, such as the pericarps. The natives rarely use the pericarps, but they occasionally will prepare them as vegetable soup or sambal.
The local people treat the seeds carefully, dry them in the sun before grinding them. It is a prerequisite spice for every meal preparation. They will also extract the black seeds, dry them, and use them as meat preservatives.
Gladly that the natives soon realize that the pericarp is the largest part of the whole fruit and make it into something more profitable. Nowadays, we can see extensive processed products made of nutmeg. They make the most out of this sweeter native spice into various creative delicacies, such as:
- traditional sweets (for example, dodol pala)
West Papua is indeed one of the world’s largest nutmeg producers. Its native high-grade pala Fakfak even has gained a widely-known reputation since colonial times. To date, the worldwide demand for this indigenous commodity keeps growing.
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