Hunting for Husor
I’ve come across a (very) slight mystery while reading up on sopi that I felt was worth discussing here for the sake of anyone else who finds themselves hitting the same frustration. It’s only a small thing, but it was fun to spend a little time digging around to find an answer nonetheless.
Everywhere online that talks about sopi and its distillation process includes one particular step: the addition of husor root powder (bubuk akar husor). But there’s not a single mention of what husor root actually is. Even searching for the word ‘husor’ barely brings up anything that isn’t those same sopi articles. Interestingly, all of these articles phrase this step in very much the same way; such a similar way, in fact, that it seems clear they’ve all been copying and pasting this from each other over the years. Rather tellingly it’s used in the Wikipedia article, which I imagine has been the source for a whole lot of these articles.
After an unsuccessful look around both the English and Indonesian Wikipedias and Google Books for husor root, and after finding nothing but those same sopi articles on Google, I ended up tracking down what appears to be the the first instance of the phrase ‘akar husor’.
"akar husor" before:2012-01-01 returns just a single result, the article 7 Minuman Keras Asli Indonesia from 2010, which tells us the following:
Pembuatan Sopi yang menghasilkan rasa khasnya adalah penambahan bubuk akar Husor dan penggunaan bambu untuk penyulingan.
The manufacture of Sopi that produces its distinctive taste is the addition of Husor root powder and the use of bamboo for distillation.
And since then the same list of traditional drinks, the same entry, the same phrase has been repeated pretty much word-for-word everywhere else, with never any more discussion of what on earth a husor is. At least we’ve found (presumably) the origin of this, if nothing else.
Now that was all looking for husor root specifically, but what about husor itself? Searching for
"husor" plant -hosur led me to the article In vitro and In vivo Antiplasmodial of Stem Bark Extract of Garcinia husor by Healthy Kainama et al., all about a particular plant used in Maluku folk medicine: garcinia husor. This seems pretty promising, right? I mean there’s the Latin name, job done surely. Unfortunately this isn’t listed as a recognised species of garcinia anywhere else except in this article and a couple of others like it—no encyclopedias or botanical databases or anything like that.
My next attempt was
"garcinia" "husor" -vitro, which produced a 2011 article published in the conference proceedings Role of Postgraduate Study in Sustainability Development of Archipelagic Communities, apparently held at Pattimura University in Ambon. The article in question, Study on Carbon Stock Estimation at the Sirimau Mountain Protected Forest to Support Redd+ Program by Sonny B. Patampang et al., lists a whole bunch of plant species found in a sample plot of land they were using in the study, including
“Durian (Durio zibethinus), […] Mangustan, (Gorcinia manggostano), Gandaria (Bouea mocrophylla), […] Husor (Garcinio cornea)”
So now we’ve got to garcinia cornea. Nice. Thankfully this one does turn up elsewhere: the Kew Royal Botanic Gardens lists it as a synonym of garcinia cowa. Funnily enough the same page doesn’t show this plant growing in Indonesia at all—but seeing as the study above was written by people at a university in Maluku who were there in the field themselves, and given the accuracy of the other entries in their list, I’m inclined to believe this is the right plant and does indeed correspond to garcinia husor. I think it’s fair to say that the mysterious and much-copy-pasted ‘husor root’ is the root of the garcinia cowa tree.
So there you have it, you can all go off and start tapping your aren palms and distilling your sageru properly now. I’m sure you’ve all been waiting with bated breath for an answer to this one.