Sator bean is a fresh produce that is almost unheard of, even in various parts of Southeast Asia, where the quest between Indonesia and Malaysia never ends to claim sator beans as its own. Without playing referee, in my opinion Indonesia is the bigger producer and consumer of sator beans, particularly in the western part of Sumatra Island, recently known for multiple earthquake hits and tsunami warning. Sator beans, referred to as “pete” or “petai” by locals, to Indonesians are edamame to Japanese. Parkia speciosa (petai, sator, bitter bean, sataw, twisted cluster bean, yongchaa, yongchaak, zawngṭah or stink bean) bears long, flat edible beans with bright green seeds the size and shape of plump almonds which have a rather peculiar smell, characterised by some as being similar to that added to methane gas. The beans are bolder in many ways, either you like it or you hate it. There are no gray shades in between and there is no ambiguity in your preferential taste. Some say, the pungent odor after consuming the beans that is passed on to breath, bodily byproducts and excrement is a bit too much to handle. To the true petai connoisseurs, this is an insignificant factor and entirely ignorable.
Despite being an acquired taste, the beans are popular in Laos, southern Thailand, Burma, Malaysia, Indonesia, and northeastern India. They are sold in bunches, still in the pod, or the seeds are sold in plastic bags. Pods are gathered from the wild, or from cultivated trees, They are exported in jars or cans, pickled in brine. Petai beans or seeds look like broad beans. Like mature broad beans, they may have to be peeled before cooking. Petai has earned its nickname ‘stink bean’ because its strong smell is very pervasive. It lingers in the mouth and body. Like asparagus, it contains certain amino acids that give a strong smell to one’s urine, an effect that can be noticed up to two days after consumption. Like other beans, their complex carbohydrates can also cause strong-smelling flatulence.
They are best combined with other strongly flavoured ingredients such as garlic, chile peppers, and dried shrimp, as in “sambal petai”, or added to a Thai curry such as Thai Duck Green Curry. When young the pods are flat because the seeds have not yet developed, and they hang like a bunch of slightly twisted ribbons, pale green, almost translucent. At this stage they may be eaten raw, fried or pickled. Young tender pods with undeveloped beans can be used whole in stir-fried dishes. In Manipur, a northeastern state of India, the seeds or the bean as a whole are eaten by preparing a local delicacy called Iromba or Yongchak singju. Seeds are also dried and seasoned for later consumption. When dried the seeds turn black. In Indonesia, petai is very popular in the highlands of Java, Sumatra, especially among Batak, Minangkabau and many other people in different cultures of the island.
The petai tree can grow to about 90 feet (30 metres). It bears flowers in a light-bulb shaped mass at the end of long stalks. The flowers secrete a nectar that attracts bats and other pollinators. The tiny flowers mature and die. Long, twisted, translucent pods emerge in a cluster of 7 or 8 pods. When those pods are mature, within them will reside the petai beans or seeds.
A few years ago Malay medical researchers reported the nutritional benefits of petai consumption. After reading this, you will NEVER look at petai the same way again. Petai contains three natural sugars: Sucrose, Fructose and Glucose. Combined with Fiber, petai gives an instant, sustained and substantial boost of energy. Research has proved that just two servings of petai provide enough energy for a strenuous 90-minute workout. Recently the wonder of petai has made it the number one fruit with the world’s leading athletes. But energy isn’t the only way petai can help us keep fit. It can also help overcome or prevent a substantial number of illnesses and conditions, making it a must to add to our daily diet.
Depression: According to a recent survey undertaken by MIND among people suffering from depression, many felt much better after eating petai. This is because petai contain tryptophan, a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.
PMS (premenstrual syndrome): Forget the pills – eat petai. The vitamin B6 it contains regulates blood glucose levels, which can affect your mood.
Anemia: High in iron, petai can stimulate the production of hemoglobin in the blood and so helps in cases of anemia.
Blood Pressure: This unique tropical fruit is extremely high in potassium yet low in salt, making it the perfect to beat blood pressure. So much so, the US Food and Drug Administration has just allowed the petai industry to make official claims for the fruit’s ability to reduce the risk of blood
pressure and stroke.
Brain Power: 200 students at a Twickenham (Middlesex) school were helped through their exams this year by eating petai at breakfast, break, and lunch in a bid to boost their brain power. Research has shown that the potassium-packed fruit can assist learning by making pupils more alert.
Constipation: High in fiber, including petai in the diet can help restore normal bowel action, helping to overcome the problem without resorting to laxatives.
Hangovers: One of the quickest ways of curing a hangover is to make a petai milkshake, sweetened with honey. The petai calms the stomach and, with the help of the honey, builds up depleted blood sugar levels, while the milk soothes and re-hydrates your system.
Heartburn: Petai has a natural antacid effect in the body, so if you suffer from heartburn, try eating petai for soothing relief.
Mosquito bites: Before reaching for the insect bite cream, try rubbing the affected area with the inside of the petai skin. Many people find it amazingly successful at reducing swelling and irritation.
Nerves: Petai is high in B vitamins that help calm the nervous system. Overweight Studies at the Institute of Psychology in Austria found pressure at work leads to gorging on comfort food like chocolate and crisps. Looking at 5,000 hospital patients, researchers found the most obese were more likely to be in high-pressure jobs.The report concluded that, to avoid panic-induced food cravings, we need to control our blood sugar levels by snacking on high carbohydrate foods every two hours to keep levels steady.
Ulcers: Petai is used as the dietary food against intestinal disorders because of its soft texture and smoothness. It is the only raw fruit that can be eaten without distress in over-chronicler cases. It also neutralizes over-acidity and reduces irritation by coating the lining of the stomach.
Temperature control: Many other cultures see petai as a “cooling” fruit that can lower both the physical and emotional temperature of expectant mothers. In Holland, for example, pregnant women eat petai to ensure their baby is born with a cool temperature.
Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD): Petai can help SAD sufferers because they contain the natural mood enhancer, tryptophan.
Smoking: Petai can also help people trying to give up smoking. The B6, B12 they contain, as well as the potassium and magnesium found in them, help the body recover from the effects of nicotine withdrawal.
Stress: Potassium is a vital mineral, which helps normalize the heartbeat, sends oxygen to the brain and regulates your body’s water balance. When we are stressed, our metabolic rate rises, thereby reducing our potassium levels.These can be rebalanced with the help of a high-potassium petai snack.
Strokes: According to research in “The New England Journal of Medicine,” eating petai as part of a regular diet can cut the risk of death by strokes by as much as 40%”
Warts: Those keen on natural alternatives swear that if you want to kill off a wart, take a piece of petai and place it on the wart. Carefully hold the petai in place with a plaster or surgical tape!
So, you see, petai really is a natural remedy for many ills. When you compare it to an apple, it has four times the protein, twice the carbohydrates, three times the phosphorus, five times the vitamin A and iron, and twice the other vitamins and minerals. It is also rich in potassium and is one of the best value foods around. So maybe its time to change that well-known phrase so that we say, “A petai a day keeps the doctor away”.
Petai is highly recommended for children’s diet in their formative years to enhance the growth of their brain power. It is indeed a recommended daily take for adults as well to increase the memory power as adults grow older.
Fascinating, isn’t it? Petai remains my favorite vegetable after trotting the globe in search for culinary antics and hidden secrets.