Lyndon James Diesta

On a school day, a student's meal may consist of sinigang or processed meats such as tocino for their lunch, packed from a lunch bag or from the school cafeteria. They might also have a juice drink as a snack or even ice cream for an after-school treat to beat the country's summer heat. But did you know that all of these foods can be elevated, both visually and in taste, using fruits native to the country?

Photo Courtesy of  DOST-PCAARD/YouTube

In an ongoing research project conducted by the University of the Philippines - Los Baños Institute of Food Science and Technology (ISFT) in the College of Agriculture and Food Science (UPLB-CAFS), along with the College of Forestry and Natural Resources (UPLB-CFNR), five fruits native to the Philippines' CALABARZON region have been utilized to harness their culinary potential to create flavoring agents and colorants, to improve food products, and to advocate for the usage and conservation of local indigenous fruits.

According to the video series “Saribuhay” by the Philippine Council of Agriculture, Aquatic, and Natural Resources Research and Development from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST-PCAARRD), which also funded the aforementioned project, there are over 300 species of fruit native to the Philippines, but only 30 are consumed by Filipinos on a daily basis.

Moreover, the fruits of these indigenous fruit tree species are pigmented or acidic, which can help enhance other food products like juice drinks, sinigang mixes, processed meat products, ice creams, along with other foods and desserts by serving as a flavoring agent or as a colorant to improve their visual appeal. They also contribute to lengthening the product’s shelf life.

“Dahil ang mga tao sa panahon ngayon ay mas malay na tungkol sa usaping pangkalusugan, mas mataas na ang kagustuhan ng mga mamimili para sa natural na sangkap,” Project Leader Prof. Dennis Marvin O. Santiago, PhD, said.
In the project, Santiago and his team surveyed nine mountains located in the region and found 140 indigenous fruit trees, which were ultimately narrowed down to five species: ‘binayuyo’ (Antidesma ghaesembilla), ‘bitongol’ (Flacourtia rukam), ‘libas’ (Spondias pinnata), ‘kalumpit’ (Terminalia microcarpa), and ‘tibig’ (Ficus nota).

Furthermore, the project staff processed the fruits into powdered form using a variety of techniques to determine the most effective method for each fruit, namely cabinet drying, freeze drying, and spray drying.

Cabinet drying involves dehydrating the fruit for hours using hot air in a cabinet-like structure. Freeze drying uses the process of sublimation, wherein the frozen purees of the fruits immediately turn into a gas, skipping the liquid phase. Both of these methods are optimal for the binayuyo and libas fruits. Spray drying, on the other hand,  involves spraying the liquidized form of the fruits inside a very hot drying chamber, instantly drying the liquid. This method is most effective with the bitongol and kalumpit fruits.

“Ang paggawa natin ng mga produkto gaya ng food colorants at flavoring agents ay maaaring mag-angat ng halaga para sa mga di nagagamit na likas-yaman,” Santiago remarked.

Not only can these indigenous CALABARZON fruits enhance food products in terms of flavor and color, but they can also improve dishes with their nutritional and health benefits. Multiple studies have shown that the five fruits investigated in the study offer health benefits and have been used in traditional medicine.

According to a 2015 study in Thailand, the binayuyo fruit has antioxidant properties and can be used in a readily dissolvable drink. Binayuyo has also been used for headaches, stomachaches, diabetes, and uterine pain in several Southeast Asian countries.

Libas fruit, a relative of the mango, has also demonstrated antioxidant, stress-relieving, and even anticancer properties, as indicated by a 2019 Thailand study that used extracts from ripe libas fruit. Additionally, its bark has been used to treat wounds and sores, and treat dysentery.

Furthermore, the tibig fruit, which parents might have cautioned children to avoid when playing outside, has been found to possess antibacterial properties and can be an important source of antioxidants, according to a 2016 study conducted in the Philippines.

As part of the study, the researchers also explored optimizing the colorant and flavoring agent properties of these fruits, particularly in the form of ice cream. Due to the fruits’ vibrant and acidic nature, the results showed that the ice cream produced had a bright, pastel-like color and a frozen yogurt-like taste. The team also expressed their intent to explore other CALABARZON native fruits to maximize their culinary potential.

“Ang patuloy na pananaliksik natin kung paano maipoproseso ang mga likas yaman gaya ng katutubong prutas upang magiging kapaki-pakinabang na produkto para sa mga tao ay isa sa mga layon ng agham at teknolohiyang pampagkain,” Santiago stated.

Additionally, Santiago envisions that Filipinos will enjoy the food products as well as the nutritional and health benefits of Philippine indigenous fruits.

However, lack of information awareness among the local public is the research’s biggest current barrier, according to Santiago. Knowledge about the edibility of these native fruits is currently  exclusive to forest communities and researchers who have sought out this information. Moreover, Filipinos are discouraged from interacting from these plants due to fears of them being poisonous or inedible.

To address this issue, Santiago’s team educates local citizens and students about these products. They are also collaborating with local forest communities to gather information about the fruits, including the best ways to grow them, as well as pre-germination and germination protocols.

Additionally, the project team is working on creating a map of other locations in the regions where the studied fruit trees can also be planted. They are also looking into the possibility of these fruits becoming a probable source of income and livelihood for the forest communities in CALABARZON, which would boost the economy of the region.

As the country slowly blossoms into accepting native fruit and plants as part of their daily diet, projects like these will help ease the transition into introducing these hidden gems and flavors to the Filipino palate. Maybe one day, a student will enjoy a warm bowl of sinigang infused with the acidic zing of binayuyo or even indulge in kalumpit-flavored ice cream after school – a day when they can savor the nation’s native wonders.

Edited by Audrei Jeremy Mendador