A Treasure of Our Own: The Heirloom Ingredients of Negros

This feature is nominated in the 2024 James Beard Foundation Awards for the Visual Media—Long Form category.

Negros Occidental is a rich, biodiverse province in the Philippines where you can find heirloom ingredients that you have cannot find elsewhere. Also known as the Sugar Capital of the Philippines, Negros is home to some of the best restaurants and the most beautiful heritage homes that have been passed down for many generations.

One of the most distinct features of this region is its biodiversity. Here you can find Batwan (Garcinia binucao), the rare Criollo Cacao, the healthy Tinigib Corn (White Visayan Corn), and Kalingag (Philippine Cinnamon).

Batwan is a fruit that is used for generations as a souring agent. According to Ben Acse, the tribal community leader for Panay-Bukidnon, his ancestors settled in 1952 and took notice of the batwan. They had observed that wild boars were consuming the fruit and when they tried it out for themselves, they saw great potential in its sour taste. Since then, it has become a key ingredient for dishes like Kansi (sour soup).

Meanwhile, Chris Fadriga has been cultivating pure Criollo Cacao at his farm in Brgy., Atipuluan, Bago City. Pure Criollo Cacao has a distinct, seductive aroma with nutty tasting notes. After training in Davao’s Malagos Garden, Chris set up his own nursery for Criollo and eventually started to turn his cultivar into chocolate. He started joining cacao competitions such as the Philippine Cacao Quality Awards and eventually won the national-level competition. He would then go on to gain international recognition at the Cacao of Excellence Award in Paris, France.

Another heirloom ingredient that we should be talking about more is Tinigib Corn. According to Arnel Calago, a third-generation farmer, it is a healthier alternative to rice. Arnel and his family in Purok Mainit, Brgy. Camingawan, Kabankalan City, brought the crop with them when they migrated. Despite his initial struggles, his family weathered through hardship. Soon enough, those around Arnel and his family were eager to grow Tinigib for themselves.

Lastly, November Canieso-Yeo and the people of Don Salvador Benedictor in Negros are the wonderful people behind the preservation of Kalingag–a local species of cinnamon. Kalingag possesses medicinal as well as anti-bacterial properties which makes it a diverse ingredient in one’s household.

November founded Home Organic PH – Plantsville Health, a social enterprise dedicated to sustainable products. Their efforts have inspired local farmers to continue growing and harvesting the cinnamon as part of their livelihoods.

Written by: Miguel Lindog

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