The Pili Nut: Crown Jewel of Bicol, Philippines
The Pili Nut
Pili (Canarium ovatum), a fruit-bearing tree endemic to the Philippines especially found in the Bicol Region of Luzon Island, yields a kernel precious to the country’s food sector: the Pili Nut.
The Pili Tree is a low-maintenance crop. It only needs pruning from time to time, requiring minimal fertilizers, or even none at all.
The Pili Fruit, green when young and turns into deep purple or black when ready for harvest, is blanched in hot water for three minutes to easily peel the exocarp and pulp, and expose the hard, bony shell.
The Pili Kernel is the most important part of the Pili Nut. With its testa stripped off, it is a slender, yellowish-white core. Only the purest, spotless kernels are used in producing the traditional Pili Nut recipes even the foreign market has come to love.
The traditional de-shelling of the Pili Nut, a legend in itself, is an experiential attraction within the Pili Nut industry. Experts throughout the Bicol Region practice the centuries-old process of pagtilad (that is, Pili Nut de-shelling using a bolo and a wooden board) with precision, speed and strength unrivaled even by modern-day machines.
The Pili Nut kernel has the flavor of pumpkin seed when raw, and takes on an entirely different identity when roasted. It is soft yet crisp, with an easy crunch that surprisingly melts in your mouth, making it a favorite snack food among Filipinos. The same delighted acceptance is true even in other countries that have already obtained the nut as an imported staple.
The Philippines and Bicol Region: Where Pili Grows Best
The Pili Tree can be spotted in bushes across tropical Asia and other Pacific islands, but the ones grown in the Bicol Peninsula, southeastern end of the Philippine island of Luzon, are acknowledged as the best-tasting. And why ever not; the region is where the best variables for growing Pili converge.
Home to at least five active volcanoes, one of which is the perfect-coned and world-admired Mayon Volcano, Bicol’s land is a fecund mix of volcanic soil and generous rainfall.
That typhoons regularly pass through the region does not even pose a problem to Bicolano Pili growers, as the Pili Tree is known as a “stress tree”, that is, the more it is shaken and beaten by storms, the more it blooms and bears good fruit.
The Philippines is the only country capable of the commercial production and processing of Pili Nut-based food and by-products, with Bicol supplying 80% of the total output volume.
In market reconnaissance surveys conducted especially in the United States, it has been found out that the Crispy Pili, a recipe wherein the nut is coated with a very thin film of sugar glaze, is the most-favored variant.
The clamor for salted-roasted variants and other savory flavors has been addressed, and CHOSEN PILI companies are now rolling out Pili Nut flavors such as Sea Salt, and Chili Garlic, for export.
The kernel and the pulp are excellent sources of oil used for cooking or, when scented, in massage therapy.
The tree’s wood, meanwhile, is carved as furniture or home décor.
And the legendary hard shell, formerly only used as fuel, is now being transformed into fashion and home accessories.
The Pili Nut and its by-products have a steadily growing market in the United States, Middle East, Hongkong and China. The Philippines also exports Pili products to South Korea, Germany, France, and Great Britain.
Currently, efforts are underway to promote and protect the Bicol Pili as a “Geographical Indication”: the Bicol Pili G.I.