The Pili Nut: In a Nutshell, it’s Perfect
I. About the Pili Tree and Pili Nut
The Pili Nut 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.
With global tastes now putting a premium on much healthier edibles, and with the insistent clamor for new snacking alternatives, the world market is more than ready to welcome the Pili Nut among its gamut of highly-valued food products.
II. About the Philippines and the Bicol Region
The Philippines is a 100-million-strong agri-marine nation enjoying the manifold gifts of its archipelagic ecosystems. Given this richness and diversity of natural resources, the Filipino foodscape is characterized by very unique yet abundantly available products and delicacies, a number of which are not found elsewhere in the planet.
The Pili Nut can be spotted in bushes across tropical Asia and other Pacific islands, but the ones grown in the Bicol Region, southeastern end of the Philippine island of Luzon, are acknowledged as the best-tasting yet. And why ever not; the region is where the best variables for growing Pili converge. This part of the country’s climate, soil and strategic location combine to lend the best conducive environment for the pili to grow well.
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 better fruit.
The Philippines is the only country capable of the commercial production and processing of Pili-based food and by-products, with Bicol supplying 80% of the total output volume.
III. About the Pili industry
Most Pili farmers attest to the fact that the Pili is a low-maintenance crop. It only needs pruning from time to time, requiring minimal fertilizers, or even none at all. Native species that grow as tall as coconut trees would yield its first fruits after five years; grafted trees, shorter therefore safer for barefooted harvesters who climb them, start bearing fruit in three years.
Workers in the industry are predominantly female (58%); they handle the cleaning, cooking, and packing stages in processing Pili Nuts. The male workers (42%) are mainly in charge of harvest, delivery, and de-shelling, the last being an anecdote in itself.
De-shelling a Pili Nut is an epic case of Man versus Machine, where Man refreshingly wins. Pili deshelling machines are not quite successful as they do crush the extremely hard, bony shell, but unfortunately tend to crush the precious kernel as well, in statistics too high for commercial viability.
Retrieving a perfect Pili kernel requires precision only human hands can deliver; this is easily due to the centuries-old tradition of Pili-cracking, enough practice to beat any machine. The Bicolanos call the process pagtilad – cracking the tough nut using a bolo, with unbelievably rhythmic, graceful and accurate whacking. A paratilad expert could easily slice through the thick, hardwood-esque Pili shells, and finish 100 kilograms in a day’s work.
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 countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, and in Hawaii.
IV. Applications of Pili Nut
The pulp of the Pili fruit is eaten as a vegetable. Blanched in hot water for about three minutes, it is perfect for salads, or simply dipped in fish sauce for that tangy kick.
But the most important part of the Pili Nut is its kernel. With its testa stripped off, it is a slender, yellowish-white core. The kernel is the raw material used in various recipes.
Enjoying a significant share of the foreign food market are Pili sweets, pastries, and exotically-flavoured variants. Some examples are
· Crispy Pili, with a very thin sugar coat
· Honey-glazed Pili
· Pili with Sea salt
· Plain roasted Pili
· Mazapan de Pili, tarts, cakes, etc.
The kernel and the pulp are excellent sources of oil, used for baking, cooking or cuisine.The Pili tree sap, known around the world as the Manila Elemi, has a cool, zesty scent that is favoured for perfumes and aromatherapy oils.
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 nature-inspired fashion accessories, such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets.