Why are people talking about heirloom in food? All of a sudden, we are promoting heirloom rice, heirloom tomatoes, heirloom eggplants. These plants were propagated using their own seeds. Like how Nature intended it to be.
In modern times, seed manufacturers started to make seeds that you had to keep buying for it to become a profitable enterprise. So agriculture became a business. And seeds now cannot be produced by the farmer. He has to buy each time he needs to plant.
But now we are going back to heirloom. This way, farmers can continue to plant using their own seeds. Heirloom rice, heirloom tomatoes, how does one really know what is heirloom?
One product we are so proud of is our heirloom rice. Through visionary leaders like Vicky Garcia of Cordillera’s Rice Inc., Vicky is able to get international markets for our heirloom rice from Kalinga—Jekot, Unoy, Tinawon—these are just some of the heirloom varieties Vicky is taking to Slow Food in Turin.
In this year’s Salone del Gusto and Terra Madre, the Philippines will be showcasing 30 varieties of rice, coffee, cacao, grains and fruits in the Ark of Taste (www.arkoftaste.org). These products, all heirloom and facing the danger of extinction, will now be displayed to the rest of the world. The Ark of Taste envisions cataloguing 10,000 varieties, which we may never see anymore if the farmers stop planting them.
We also have Kadios, or Black eyed peas, which are popular in Negros Occidental. It is very difficult to get Kadios into Manila as most of the production is consumed in Negros Occidental. But Kadios is part of heritage cooking of the Negrenses—in KBL or Kadios, Baboy and Langka (peas with pork and jackfruit).
Our millet or “kabog” is a grain that is now just found in the Visayas. I tasted millet in a suman (rice cake) some years ago. I saw it again being milled by a friend from Negros and did not know what to do with it. This is why promotion needs recipes ad taste sessions. Otherwise, everyone thinks rice cakes just come from rice flour or maybe even from wheat flour. (Oh no!)
We also discovered the Criollo Cacao as we were doing community work in Bohol. The tablea was so good I had to check what they did to it to make it so naturally sweet. It turns out, my Cacao expert co-author Josephine Ramos tells me, it is the pure variety that the Spaniards brought in the 1700s. The rest of the popular varieties now found in Davao are hybrids of the Trinitario and Criollo or Trinitario and Forastero.
Bohol, however, has remained pure and use only the heirloom variety. Sounds geeky? You will taste the difference if you get the chance to eat Criollo.
For coffee, there is nothing that will face extinction more than the Barako. I discovered this threat back in 1999 and in fact we started a “Save The Barako” movement, in a foundation I first headed for coffee. Barako trees were being cut because there were markets only for Robusta. Barako was for home use and the trees were bigger and occupied more land than Robustas. After our campaign, Barako demand went north and till today its price has come closest to premium coffee Arabica. But we still need to plant more trees. I will bring the coffee beans to Salone del Gusto as well.
And so we go about promoting heirloom varieties and its preservation. Coffee, cacao, rice and even tomatoes. If you taste heirloom tomatoes, you may never go back to your usual large salad tomatoes. Unless they are grown organically. The sweetness of heirloom is way different than the huge tomatoes we now have in the markets.
How about you? What heirloom food have you tried or been exposed to? Or is everything already looking the same in your grocery basket? Try shopping at weekend markets, or go and visit a farm. Our Coffee Farm Tour will head to Cavite on Oct 25.
You may join by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or sending a message to 09088831218. Limited seats!
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Chit Juan is a founder and owner of ECHOStore sustainable lifestyle, ECHOmarket sustainable farms and ECHOcafe in Serendra , Podium, Centris QC mall and Davao City. She also is President of the Women’s Business Council of the Philippines and President of the Philippine Coffee Board Inc., two non-profits close to her heart. She often speaks to corporates, youth and NGOs on social entrepreneurship, women empowerment, and coffee. You can follow her on twitter.com/chitjuan or find her on facebook:Pacita “Chit” Juan. Email her at email@example.com