Originally published on BRGY. Cacao Blog
Fermentation is a strange and magical process. Tiny microorganisms, fungi and bacteria, consume and digest sugars and carbohydrates and then excrete wonderful aromas and delicious flavors. From bread to beer, to cheese, wine, chocolate and coffee, kimchi, soy sauce and fish sauce. All the best food and beverages come from some sort of fermentation.
Recently I posted a video on r/fermentation of 2 day old tubá, a fermented coconut sap wine, bubbling in a traditional 5 liter Nature Spring bottle. I got the video while visiting Argao with my Uncles and surveying the land left by my great grandfather.
Our neighbor in the land was ‘Noy Jose, a manananggot, a collector of coconut sap. There was also Dodong who was making a fishing boat, which was curious since we were way up in the hills and no where near the shore. ‘Noy Jose was collecting sap when we arrived and I had to ask if they could make kinutil since I have been looking for someone to make it for me. I’ve always wanted to try it and document it, but every time I go and ask someone when I’m in the provinces I was always met with “the old man or old woman who makes it has already passed.”
Finally I found someone who could make it, with tubá straight from the source. They called it kutir here. Kinutil or kutir is best described as a sort of Filipino mudslide. It is an alcoholic mixed drink that has tubá and cacao tableya as its main ingredients. Condensed milk and Royal Tru-orange, our local orange soda, are added to sweeten the drink, and with the Royal, add an acid component. So why Royal Tru-orange? The reason why has been lost in time but Prof. Raymund F. Fernandez suggests that we should try to find out. My personal theory of why Royal Tru-orange was chosen as part of the kinutil mix was that if fermented right, chocolate can have a dominantly citrus flavor. I was able to achieve this with my own experimentation with tree-to-bar chocolate from cacao pods harvested in Cebu. It had a very dominant citrus smell, similar to kalamansi. I imagine that the old cacao tableyas before large scale manufacturing was varied in flavor. Since the fermentation of cacao was not as controlled, there would be some tableya that would taste of citrus. Using Royal tru-orange could mimic this taste. This is all conjecture but I would like to experiment in making kinutil using pre-american colonization ingredients.
As we walked trough the bush with ‘Noy Jose towards my great grandfather’s land, Dodong was gathering the ingredients for the kinutil. When we returned to ‘Noy Jose’s place maybe an hour later, they were ready to make the kinutil. There was the condensed milk and Royal Tru-orange. And of course, there was cacao tableya and tubá, the main players of the drink, both fermented, both are intertwined in the history of the Philippines and Mexico.
I recently just found out that there was also tubá in Mexico. This was brought over during the Manila Galleon Trade. Brought over to Mexico by Filipinos who settled there during time of the galleon trades, mainly in the Colima area. They brought in the technology of coconut sap gathering and fermentation, and also distillation, which lead to the creation of mezcal and tequila.
Cacao on the other hand was brought over on the return trips from Mexico to the Philippines. The Philippines was the first place to cultivate cacao outside of Latin America. We also inherited the cacao drinking culture. Using the balled up cacao mass made by grinding cacao nibs which we call tableya. We boil the tableya in water in vessels called batirol and stir and aerate it using a batidor or molinillo. We call the drink sikwate. You can adjust the ratios to adjust the thickness of the drink, as well as add sugar to adjust the sweetness to your preference.
Dodong made some sikwate, in this case the tableya was from Guilang’s, a renowned brand of tableya not just in Argao but of the whole Cebu. He then poured the sikwate mix to the pitcher then added tubá. Condensed milk and Royal were then added to adjust the taste. There were no measurements, all made by feel.
Food gentrification is thing I never thought about until about a couple of years ago when my girlfriend at the time needed help with a project that tackled it for her masters. I was able to read up on it and realized that there are potential problems that can be caused by gentrifying a food or beverage. A prime example of the negative side effect of food gentrification is with quinoa. It was once a poor man’s staple food in Peru and Ecuador, but the culture that birthed it can no longer afford it. Another example close to home was the controversy surrounding the restobar Azul in Cebu City. A few years ago Azul filed a registered trademark for the term “Tuslob Buwa” and was granted by the Phil. IPO. Tuslob buwa is a Cebuano streetfood dish that is native to the Pasil area. It’s made of pig’s brain and is communally enjoyed in its original form. There wasn’t much of a controversy about Azul, as it was generally seen as positive as they created a version which was no longer communal thus presumably hygienic. They were even featured in Netflix’s Street Food series without much controversy. However, a tone deaf facebook post from the official page of Azul went viral when, full of snark, they reminded people that they owned the registered trademark for “tuslob buwa.” Everyone and their mother commented on and shared the post. There was righteous anger especially from the residents of Pasil, reminding the owners of Azul that tuslob buwa existed even before they were even born.
The question when doing a gentrified version of a dish or beverage is always, “would this help or hinder the culture that birthed it and the culture that it would create?” These are the problems that needs to be addressed in our times. These are the question that is often tackled by chef David Chang in his Netflix series Ugly Delicious. The Filipinos who settled in Colima, Mexico and who taught their Latin American neighbors the technology of distillation probably didn’t imagine the mezcal and tequila industry that it would generate. The vegan gurus who promoted quinoa never imagined it would cause suffering to the original consumers of the food. For us in the modern interconnected world, with cultures mixing and matching we are tasked to imagine positive futures that can help the most. Much like fermentation the mixing of cultures can cause it to be rotten but much like fermentation through care for the components we can direct the culture, specifically food culture, toward a more delicious and healthier future for all.