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Scientists praised the food quality, taste the local fermented food, wine

16 July 2009 12,226 views No Comment

TAKE it from Dr. Priscilla Chinte-Sanchez, our golden-yellow traditional rice wine, popularly known as tapuy in the north, is on a par, if not superior, to the internationally popular Japanese sake.

“In our study, we found out that our tapuy has better flavor and aroma than sake,” says the 72-year-old food scientist, now retired from the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB), but who continues to chair the biological sciences division of the National Research Council of the Philippines.


Tapuy is made from fermented rice.

Sanchez, an awardee on food technology during the centennial celebration of the state university earlier this year, cites the potential of the local rice wine in the global market “if we can optimize its fermentation conditions.”

Sanchez, who actually completed her postgraduate studies in plant microbiology at the University of Agriculture in Tokyo, says sake, the world’s most-studied traditional rice wine, used to be classified as an “unclarified cloudy wine.” Yet, it was developed into a modern fermentation industry and now produces clear, pale-colored quality rice wine.

Sanchez says tapuy was being studied by scientists as early as 1912. They found that the process of preparing the starter culture for the local wine differs from one locality to another, depending on the rice variety.

The starter culture in the Ifugao province is termed binokbok, while it is called bubud in other rice wine-producing areas. Tapuy is produced through the interaction of three types of microorganisms: molds, yeast and bacteria.

Tapuy was cited by Sanchez in her recently launched book Philippine Fermented Foods Principles and Technology, which she wrote after 25 years in the study of fermented foods as a useful reference for academe and the food industry.

Apart from rice wine, Sanchez cites the commercial potential of different fruit wines using the same source of yeast culture, like in grape winemaking, despite the absence of vineyards in the country.

 “The beauty of these fruit wines is that you retain its original composition,” she says.

For instance, mango wine can be developed because, just like grape, mango has a significant amount of antioxidants and high vitamin C content.

“So whatever the composition of the raw material, it is 100 percent transmitted or incorporated in the wine,” Sanchez said.

Sanchez said the local fruit industry was already developed in the 1960s, with the Sevilla wine company even exporting local fruit wines. When the original owner died, his children closed down their plant in Nueva Ecija.

It was when she was recruited to help pioneer the UP food technology program and pursue her doctorate studies in Japan in 1971 that she started studying fermented products. What initially caught her interest was the development of basi, a traditional sugar cane-based alcoholic beverage in Northern Luzon.

Sanchez said in 1686, basi was described in a London liquor journal as similar in color and taste to English beer. Basi’s alcohol content, however, becomes stronger as it ages, from 11.61 percent after one year to 16.24 percent after three years.

Basi’s popularity then was due to its peculiar taste and aroma not present in local or imported alcoholic beverages. The unique taste is attributed to the ingredients used and the method of preparation.

Sanchez says similar products are being produced in other countries like the shoto sake in Japan and muratina in Kenya. But despite its popularity in the north, basi makers continue to keep the technology within the family, hindering its progress.

When Sanchez conducted a study on basi fermentation, she was fortunate to get the assistance of Dionisio Cachela and his family, who shared their 50-year experience in basi making in La Union. The elder Cachela spoke of fear that his generation could be the last basi makers because his children were hesitant to continue the trade for fear of being tied up with farm activities. True enough, Sanchez says basi making in Cachela’s family died with him.

Today, there are few families producing basi commercially because those who know the process are too old to engage in the business and their children have chosen to seek other employment.

When this writer visited her one afternoon, Sanchez brought me to a small laboratory near her backyard to prove that local wine only needs simple fermentation technology. Inside the lab were several jars, covered with tin cans from used soft drinks, with fermented fruits like mango, guyabano and bignay.

Sanchez started fermenting local fruits in her Los Baños residence, not because she wanted to finally commercialize her experiments, but so that her husband, Dr. Fernando Sanchez, a retired entomologist, would remain busy.

In the early ’90s, Sanchez was instrumental in fermenting coconut into quality wine, which then-President Fidel Ramos offered to guests during official functions in Malacañang. 

In her book, Sanchez cited that many of today’s commercial fermentation processes were based on traditional methods. But scientific procedures were adopted to expand the scope of the fermentation process, giving them industrial importance.

Among other discoveries, Sanchez found microbial interactions were affected by existing environmental conditions, which influenced the production and wholesomeness of the products. Selected strains were also employed to improve and standardize the processes.

In the Philippines, Sanchez says the processes of different fermented products were dependent on the abundance of raw materials in a particular place.

Apart from rice and fruit wines, indigenous materials include sweetened rice (binudbudan), fermented rice cake (puto), fermented cooked rice and shrimp (balao-balao), fermented cooked rice and fish (burong isda), sugar cane wine (basi), coconut wine (tuba), distilled coconut wine (lambanog), palm sap vinegar (suka), fermented fish paste (bagoong), fermented fish sauce (patis), fermented small shrimp (alamang), Visayan fermented fish (tinabal), green papaya pickles (achara), fermented mustard leaves (burong mustasa), green mango pickles  (burong mangga), white soft cheese (kesong puti) and nata, a pellicle  produced by Acetobacter xylinum on coconut water or milk medium, fruit juices and other sugar-enriched substrates.

Sanchez says the nata technology has been developed as early as the sixties with nata de piña before nata de coco.

She actually pioneered in the study of nata de coco by screening its efficient microorganisms. From three weeks, she was able to reduce the process to five to seven days.

Sanchez also studied the nutritional requirement that nata needed and developed the method using highly diluted coconut milk.

But as a government food scientist, she never ventured into commercializing the nata technology, only to learn later how local entrepreneurs mangled the technology.

She said even the longanisa, a local sausage that is a popular source of protein, has become dangerous for some consumers because its manufacturers failed to process it according to safe and healthy standards.

Sanchez said processed meat like the local longanisa needs to have additives in the right concentration or it loses its component as a safe food. Some manufacturers want a longer shelf life for their product, thus adding unsafe levels of food preservatives.

What also irritated Dr. Sanchez was the Philippines’ experience with patis, salted fish sauce, which originated in the country. Thailand, which learned about the fermentation technology from UPLB, is now dominating the market.

She says there was really no effort to improve the fermentation method.  Former students from Thailand capitalized on the microbiological components in producing patis to improve the quality of fermenting fish and fishery products.

Fermented fish and fishery products, according to Sanchez’s book, are important sources of protein, carbohydrates, minerals and vitamins for the rural folk. Raw materials are also readily available to them so these fermented products are considered low-cost food items.

“The process of making bagoong, until now, is digesting the food salt from the fish and let it disintegrate,” she says.” If you use the combination of enzymes, it will really be delicious.”

Sanchez says she decided to write a book on local fermented food just to “put in black and white that we started it.”

As she puts it, “I guess we need to document our studies in the laboratory and what is happening to the fermentation process and we are able to explain its chemistry.”

It is also a wake-up call to the government, which she says can still improve and support traditional fermentation technology with the end view of making local fermented products competitive in the international market, just like what other countries are doing.

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