That was the view expressed by Prof. Sri Raharjo from Universitas Gadjah Mada's Faculty of Agricultural Technology, who is also a member of the advisory board of the Indonesian Society of Functional Food and Nutraceuticals.
Speaking at the recent HI South East Asia trade show in Jakarta on the history and progression of functional food R&D in Indonesia, he revealed that research papers in the country only began to be published sometime in the last two decades, but had seen an accelerated increase in the last five to six years.
This was partially due to more funding being awarded to research institutions and universities in recent years, as well as universities' national and international academic standing being largely dependent on the quality of their research.
Raharjo said that for this reason, "recent government policy on research funding allocated to universities is closely tied to their research performance".
"Although it still pales in comparison to neighbouring Asian countries, the level of research output from Indonesia is showing significant growth."
He added that the primary areas of research around nutritional ingredients in Indonesia were antioxidants, carotenoids, flavonoids, dietary fibres, probiotics and prebiotics, but that research focusing on nutraceuticals, minerals and vitamins was still limited.
Raharjo also said the main drivers behind the research into and the development of functional foods in Indonesia were greater overall health-consciousness, an increasing trend towards preventative therapies, 'alternative' medication and organic foods, and a rise in expenditure on preventative healthcare.
While the country's population is not yet considered an ageing one, he said the number of Indonesian adults over the age of 60 was projected to reach 27 million by 2020, and 48 million by 2035.
At the same time, growing health-consciousness has placed sports nutrition, weight management, digestive health and heart health at the forefront of consumers' minds.
New methods, old traditions
So far, researchers have focused on developing functional foods using four methods: eliminating allergens or toxins, increasing the amount in which a beneficial ingredient is present in the food, fortifying food with added nutritional ingredients, or partially replacing an unhealthy component in processed food with a nutritious one.
Quite often, the foods used for such purposes come from traditional cuisine native to Indonesia or the wider South East Asia region, such as cincalok, which consists of fermented shrimp or krill, and tinutuan, a Manadonese porridge dish.
For a functional future
Raharjo said functional food firms must overcome several challenges in order to catch up with their peers in countries like Singapore and Japan, including identifying potential functional food ingredients and their possible health benefits.
"(They must also) identify individual biological responses to functional foods, define the bio-availability of functional food ingredients, and develop appropriate bio-markers for a wider range of functional endpoints."
"It's also important for them to anticipate demand for personalised nutrition and the potential role of functional foods can play, as well as to establish Dietary Reference Intakes (DRIs) for a wider range of nutrients to enable commercial exploitation of more functional components."