Coconuts, The Philippines and Tequila
Picture by Sidney Snoeck
These past few months, armed with a new sense of cultural education and national prosperity, I’ve made it my mission to delve into all things Filipino. I’ve realised that where we have heroes for tourism, natural heritage and champions of history, we have none for the food industry, let alone for those who are into drinking, no not alcoholics, connoisseurs. France has its wine, America its bourbon, Greece its Arak, and when our country men are asked what we produce that we are proud of, the standard answer is Tanduay and San Miguel. Wake up call, that’s rum and beer and we have no right to claim it. Logically alcohol production is linked to agricultural crops, so you would think that we would be able to produce some decent Rice wine like our Chinese and Japanese neighbours given our insatiable rice eating frenzy, but we don’t. So, if not rice, what else do we produce mass quantities of?
In a nut shell (I just had to), the Philippines is the leading exporter of coconuts in the world, the highest national net foreign exchange earner, and representing the country’s top exported produce; we have 13 out of 36 international varieties of the nut, one third of our agriculture dedicated hectares is dedicated to its production and the coconut tree’s various parts have countless of end usages. Yes, these are aspects to be proud of, the Tree of Life as some call it, should become our national symbol, not only for its economic properties, but also for its importance in world history.
How would you react to the following statement? : Girls Gone Wild would not exist without coconuts. As bizarrely dramatic as it may sound, this argument actually holds some truth. Remember our friends/conquistadors the Spanish? After they established their strong hold on our territory they reached further east to the great continent, America. Spanish and Chinese trading galleons would brave the rough sea journey to reach the ports of Colima and Jalisco, Mexico. At that time these ships were used to bring in supplies, people and goods from port to port, and just as it still is today, Filipino crew were used in these voyages. Little did they know they were about to change the culture of the New Spain (Mexico). Again, staying true to our nature, these crewmen would bring pasalubong with them, mangoes, coconuts and portable stills. A couple of adventurous souls jumped ship and became part of the folklore, all whilst integrating themselves in the local culture and sharing their bountiful potent coconut brandy contained in these ingenious little portable stills. The idea of these portable stills became popular enough to reach the ears of the Indians living in the mountainous regions of Huichol where palm trees weren’t available. The Mexicans adopted the technology very quickly and used their local agave as the main ingredient instead. Fast forward a couple of years later and the first high capacity distillery was built near the town of Santiago de Tequila.
Now that you know the history of coconut, get to know its future. Locally, we produce five types of alcohol from the tree’s sap. Tuba, which is the fresh sap taken straight from the bark, is sweet and refreshing and turns sour very quickly; after being left to ferment naturally for more than a year the liquid then becomes Bahal developing more complex flavours. If another year or longer is added to the fermentation process, you will get Bahalina. Probably the most popular out of the five is Lambanog, which is the Tuba that has gone through multiple distillation processes; this alcohol is so extremely powerful it has no real taste that can be appreciated. Finally, the last is produced by adding yeast and fermenting agents to coconut water or sap and letting a vinification take place, the end result is a Coconut Wine, a pleasant surprise that we should be developing and promoting.
While we wait for coconut alcohol to become increasingly popular, the next time you walk down a street and filled with sorority girls and frat boys sprawled along the sidewalks, disoriented and dancing to the tequila song, smile and keep walking with your head held high, because somehow indirectly, you’re responsible.
Impress people with your local flair, making use of readily available and abundant produce to create a cocktail punch that is perfect for lazing around on hot summer. Incorporate the light flavours of the coconut water with bright lime, sweet lychees and an amber Caribbean rum. This little concoction embodies the well thought, balanced and no fuss punch that is the perfect companion to the smells of a well heated barbecue.
In a Collins glass, stir:
2 oz Coconut Water
2 oz Light Aged Rhum
2 oz Lychee Water
½ oz lime juice
Lots of Ice.
Appendix: Coconut – The Tree of Life
- 1. Highest source of electrolytes known to men.
- 2. Same consistency as human blood plasma; can be used as IV liquid.
- 3. Smoke from burning husks is a natural mosquito repellent.
- 4. Dried fronds are the best fire starters.
- 5. Coconut meat has more potassium than a banana.
- 6. Good natural work out climbing up a tree to pick a nut.
- 7. Goes great with Rum, Genever, Gin, Cognac, Pisco and Scotch.