written by : DOMINIK VANYI
translated from Indonesian by: JAH DEWA GAUTAMA
Some of you may be wondering, what the heck is Bakso?
Bakso is the Indonesian version of meatballs. As opposed to the traditional meatball seen in the West, the Asian style meatballs are made from a paste rather than ground meat. The result is mainly felt in the texture of the ball and they also differ in what makes up the paste.
Bakso refers to not only the meatball but the dish itself. The most common way of serving it is in a soup with some rice or noodles. Often fried or cooked wontons are also added. This is a very popular dish in Indonesia and can be found virtually anywhere. From food courts to restaurants as well as on the roadside or by the beach. Bakso is universally known to all who live in Indonesia.
Those of you familiar with Bakso, lucky you. You also might think, how can this roadside ‘snack’ be healthier than a good old steak?
Let me enlighten you…
Bakso is delicious – no question. But have you ever thought about the nutritional aspect of one of Indonesia’s culinary treasures?
Turns out, the nutritional value of the Bakso is greater than you’d think….
If I was asked to encapsulate Indonesian cuisine in three dishes, Bakso would be one of them…
All over the Indonesian archipelago one can find a ‘tukang Bakso’ (Bakso hawker).
You can always count on a few Bakso hawkers along the beaches in Bali. So Bakso was also one of the first dishes that I encountered when I came to Indonesia.
At the time, living the backpacker life-style, Bakso was also very convenient for the wallet.
At first, it was difficult for me to bear the spiciness, but now, 30 years on I even surprise the sellers by asking for more sambal (chilli sauce).
In time my entire family also developed an affinity for Bakso. It was especially convenient in Purwakarta, a town in West-Java that I spent 5 or 6 years of my life, where a Tukang Bakso would pass by our house every evening. My wife would be happy to be able to serve a tasty dish without all the hassle of preparation.
Ever since I can remember, when asked whether I want beef or chicken bakso, I’d simply reply: “Doesn’t matter, just make sure you give me an extra Bakso ball please!”.
Nowadays, being so interested in nutrition and health, I took a closer look at the way in which Bakso is made, and what they exactly contain.
Turns out, I was quite happy with what I found out.
This article takes a look at the health aspect of one of Indonesia’s most beloved dishes.
Before we continue, I’d like to apologise for those expecting some Bakso recipes or recommendations on famous Bakso joints. For that, you will have to consult our old friends Google and Youtube
Setting the scene
I ask you, dear reader, have you ever seen how Bakso balls are made? Specifically the beef.
I am asking because what is put into the paste are a few less desirable parts of the cow….
I was once asked by a friend of mine, who had a popular Bakso joint in Solo, Central Java, to have a look at the process of making Bakso balls. He warned me, with a smile on his face: “After you see what it’s made of, you may not want to eat them again…”
“Why would he think that it’s just minced meat right?” I thought to myself.
As I saw what was being put into the meat processor, it definitely did not give me the urge to eat anytime soon…
It included noses, ears, gizzards, soft bone, cartilage, marrow, liver, and kidney among others.
Of course, recipes differ and I cannot guarantee that every Bakso contains everything that I’ve mentioned but, this seems a common thing there.
Though these bits are not our favourite parts of an animal, their nutritional values are greater than most of us believe. Let me tell you why.
That is due to the fact that liver and bone marrow etc. contain many important nutrients such as minerals and vitamins. These include iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
In these ‘alternative meats’, you will also find vitamins A, D, E and K in high concentrations.
And because of this, the Bakso has a higher nutritional value when compared to a cut of steak or any other muscular meats.
For reasons of completeness, I must add that the additional nutritional value in chicken meat is less apparent than in cow’s meat. Not that it doesn’t exist, but chicken meat loses out nutritionally to beef as a whole.
The difference is quite negligible so if you prefer Chicken Bakso, please indulge…
The power of the ‘Flour power’
To achieve the perfect consistency and texture, flour is added, sometimes even some egg yolk. The concentration of flour within each ball can reach up to 30%-40%.
As you may know, there are many different types of flour, but in the process of making Bakso, the most prevalent is cassava flour. Why cassava?
This is because it contains the highest amounts of starch, which helps in creating the perfect level of thickness and texture in the bakso ball. It also helps ensuring the balls remain intact and isn’t too messy to handle.
Nutritionally, cassava flour is in a way neutral. It isn’t good but not particularly bad either. Compared to other flour types, the level of protein, minerals, and vitamins are relatively low. Some even go so far as to call them “empty calories”.
But this isn’t really a problem, so to say. Cassava flour also contains no gluten or other harmful substances.
The thing about Collagen
Now, some welcome news to Ladies everywhere. Recently, the collagen conversation has taken centre stage in the beauty industry. Just take a look at the marketplace, be it online or retail, there is an ocean of beauty supplements that contain collagen.
Collagen is a protein said to have many benefits in regard to softness and anti-ageing factors as well as other health benefits.
As some of you may know, products containing collagen can be quite pricey. Strange considering that the science regarding the true benefits of collagen has yet to be confirmed.
The reason for this is that the substances within these collagen supplements are in fact not even the collagen itself, but rather a substance that our bodies use to create collagen. So basically, these supplements just aid in or expedite the process of the body’s collagen production.
Whether or not our bodies do use those substances for collagen production is still being debated and discussed within the scientific community.
In the case of Bakso, the collagen contained within it is real collagen. Even more good news, the collagen in the bone marrow and soft bones are considered ‘high dose’.
Though it is true that collagen can be found in any meat, it is especially prevalent in the bones and veins.
So ladies, if your wallet is currently tight, but you still want to consume collagen for health or beauty reasons, why don’t you just have a bowl of bakso instead of paying for some high-end collagen supplement.
And if the bakso joint can be a place to get your collagen fix, you’ll be able to enjoy it with the whole family.
It is true that cholesterol levels within the ingredients of Bakso are considered high, and that many people including doctors believe that cholesterol is bad. But, recent research has suggested otherwise. What does the research say exactly?
Did you know that Estrogen, Testosterone, Vitamin D and other hormones that our bodies create, require cholesterol to be synthesized? So important it is, the brain even synthesizes it for itself.
I’ll get into the impacts of cholesterol in our food in another article, for now, it is enough to know that most of the cholesterol within our bodies is produced by the body itself. Only a small portion of the cholesterol within our body, is consumed from our food.
If you want an update on the current research into cholesterol, you can find plenty online.
Alternatively, if you want to continue to follow the cholesterol is bad narrative, I won’t stop you. Fact is, bakso is high in cholesterol.
The Dark Side of Bakso
Do any of you know how they preserve mummies in ancient Egypt? Formaldehyde!
What does this have to do with Bakso? Well, dear reader, unfortunately, that is what the bad sheeps among bakso hawkers occasionally use to ensure that the balls are durable and can last days without rotting. Nuts right?
In Indonesia, Formaldehyde is sold under the name of Boraks or Borax. It is quite hazardous to your health, and it is actually illegal to use within food products.
So what is the health ministry of Indonesia doing to combat this? Apparently just sitting around and watching TV… Why are they not out there on the field, chasing after the law-breaking tukang bakso?
Why are the authorities not conducting routine checks at the famous bakso selling locations? I can only tell you that these questions are better directed at the Indonesian authorities themselves…
Even an average Indonesian housewife will be able to tell which Bakso sellers use this chemical to make their Bakso balls. If you want to know the secret to tell good from bad Bakso? Take a look at this Youtube video. (sorry in Indonesian language).
I recommend you be mindful about where you get your Bakso when in Indonesia. How prevalent this practice, is I cannot say.
NUTRITIONAL PROFILE OF BAKSO
1. BAKSO – aside from minced meat, Bakso balls also contain liver or bone material which is known to have high doses of minerals such as magnesium, selenium and zinc.
2. BAKSO- Bakso – Bakso balls also contain high concentrations of healthy vitamins such as A, D, E and K.
3. BAKSO- Beef Bakso is especially good due to their high mineral and vitamin content.
4. BAKSO- Is a source good of proteins and healthy fats.
Traditional vs. Industrial Bakso
Bakso is so popular in Indonesia that you can even find them in the frozen section of your local supermarket. Thing is though, in terms of health and nutrition, these are quite different to those you find in a restaurant or warung as they are known in Indonesia. You’d better be a bit more vigilant when buying them from the supermarket.
These frozen Bakso, or ‘industrial bakso’ are guaranteed to contain chemical preservatives. It should be the case that the standards at a factory level should be more strict than that of the home industry, whether this is the case, is a different matter altogether.
Don’t get me wrong, it is not that the frozen bakso taste worse than what you’d find elsewhere, it’s just that they are guaranteed to be filled with these chemicals and also others like sugar too.
But surely, in this day and age, there will be a producer out there with safe and healthy bakso.
PRO HEALTH TIP:
If you would like a Bakso ball to have the highest nutritional and health benefits, it is best to make them yourself. This way, you can ensure that you are using safe, high-quality ingredients for your meal.
There are plenty of recipes out there, but be sure to use the bone material and liver in large quantities.
Where I am originally from, Austria, we have LIVER DUMPLINGS (Leberknӧdel) – OH SO GOOD! It’s also quite easy to make, google produces many recipes.
I hope, over the course of this article, I have made you understand why I gave it the title: Bakso, healthier than Steak. It is because it is true.
My conclusion is based on the ingredients of the Bakso balls and the type of meat used to make them. It is especially the case with Beef Bakso.
Chicken Bakso has similar benefits due to the similar process in producing the meatballs. They also contain gizzards and liver meat which are high in nutrient and vitamin content.
Apologies to those curious to hear about fish bakso, it’s just that I haven’t really experienced it… Also, it is not too popular in Bali.
Whereas pork bakso is quite easy to come by on the island of Bali but I haven’t really discussed it since it is unique to Bali – The majority of Indonesians are Muslim (87.5%) but Bali is primarily Hindu (>80%). I also have not had the chance to see what they are made of.
And this is the story of Bakso. I hope with this newfound knowledge on Bakso, it will make having the dish that much more enjoyable. Even more so if shared with loved ones.
👉Om Swastiastu & Senantiasa sehat👈