Background: An accessory to modern developing economies includes a shift from traditional, laborious lifestyles and cuisine to more sedentary careers, recreation and convenience-based foodstuffs. Similar changes in the developed western world have led to harmful health consequences. Minimization of this effect in current transitional cultures could be met by placing value on the maintenance of heritage-rich food. Vitally important to this is the preservation and dissemination of knowledge of these traditional foods. Here, we investigate the history and functionality of a traditional rice snack cooked in Nepenthes pitchers, one of the most iconic and recognizable plants in the rapidly growing economic environment of Southeast Asia.

Methods: Social media was combined with traditional ethnobotanical surveys to conduct investigations throughout Malaysian Borneo. Interviews were conducted with 25 market customers, vendors and participants from various ethnical groups with an in-depth knowledge of glutinous rice cooked in pitcher plants. The acidity of pitcher fluid was measured during experimental cooking to analyze possible chemical avenues that might contribute to rice stickiness.

Results: Participants identifying the snack were almost all (96%) from indigenous Bidayuh or Kadazandusun tribal decent. They prepare glutinous rice inside pitcher traps for tradition, vessel functionality and because they thought it added fragrance and taste to the rice. The pH and chemical activity of traps analyzed suggest there is no corresponding effect on rice consistency. Harvest of pitchers does not appear to decrease the number of plants in local populations.

Conclusions: The tradition of cooking glutinous rice snacks in pitcher plants, or peruik kera in Malay, likely carries from a time when cooking vessels were more limited, and persists only faintly in tribal culture today because of value placed on maintaining cultural heritage. Social media proved a valuable tool in our research for locating research areas and in interviewing respondents, and we endorse its further use in ethnobotanical investigations. Our gathered data urges for the preservation of sustainable, tribal plant use for the prosperity of both health and culture


Borneo, Carnivorous plants, Ethnobotany, Glutinous rice, Nepenthes, Malaysian tribes, Traditional food


Life Sciences

Original Citation

Schwallier, R., de Boer, H. J., Visser, N., van Vugt, R. R., & Gravendeel, B. (2015). Traps as treats: a traditional sticky rice snack persisting in rapidly changing Asian kitchens. Journal of Ethnobiology and Ethnomedicine, 11(1), 24. https://doi.org/10.1186/s13002-015-0010-x

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