Cekur Manis or scientifically known as Sauropus androgynus is a popular leafy vegetable native to Southeast Asia. Also known as Ma Ni Cai (马尼菜), Sayur Manis, Sabah vegetable, Star Gooseberry, Katuk and Sweet Leaf, Cekur Manis is often eaten boiled or stir-fried.
However, did you know that this vegetable can cause very serious lung disease if eaten raw or if it is not cooked properly? This is particularly concerning as Cekur Manis, if made into smoothies or juices, can easily result in one consuming large amounts unknowingly.
In this article, we will share tips for the safe preparation and consumption of Cekur Manis.
Cekur Manis shrub. Photo courtesy of Pauline Tay, NParks Flora & Fauna Web
Food Safety Risks of consuming raw/uncooked Cekur Manis
Eating large amounts of raw Cekur Manis can cause a permanent lung disease known as bronchiolitis obliterans, where the small airways in the lungs (bronchioles) are blocked by inflamed scar tissue. People affected have irreversible breathing difficulty, which can worsen with time and lead to death. This link was confirmed in Taiwan and Japan in the 1990-2000s, where young women were affected by bronchiolitis obliterans, with some needing lung transplants. After an investigation, doctors discovered that those affected had consumed large amounts of raw Cekur Manis in smoothies, juices or salad as a weight-loss fad or to promote lactation after pregnancy.
The exact reasons for Cekur Manis causing lung disease are still being studied by scientists, and their current understanding is that Cekur Manis contains certain chemicals that cause lung tissue to be inflamed and die. Nevertheless, scientists have found that Cekur Manis is safe for consumption if cooked thoroughly.
About the Author
Herman Teo is a Senior Scientist from the Risk Assessment and Communications Department of the National Centre for Food Science. With a Masters in Food Science and Human Nutrition from the National University of Singapore, his recent work includes the regulatory framework for insects for food and feed, and examining emerging food processing risks.