Filipinos love to eat: enjoying dining in family get-togethers, in fiestas which are virtually eat-all-you can events, or even on the streets or in hole-in-the-wall stalls for quick merienda bites.
We have a Pinoy cuisine unique to the islands that boasts of Lechon, Kare-Kare, Dinuguan, etc., and their regional variants. Though many would say that our cooking took inspiration and form from the various cultures that lapped our shores, the Filipino taste is palpable and it brands our food as clearly our own.
“Filipino food has yet to be accepted internationally,” admitted Dr. Fernando Zialcita, director of the Cultural Heritage Studies Program of Ateneo De Manila University but “speaking about food is an important aspect. We (at the Sociology Anthropology department) are happy to have an event where food is highlighted as a major part of people’s culture,” he stressed during the public launch of Asin Tibuok, an indigenous whole salt manufactured in Albuquerque town of Bohol, which it sponsored together with food giant, Mama Sita.
For its part, the Mama Sita group created various dishes using Asin Tibuok.
The craft of producing this type of salt is rooted in the culture of the community and is distinct as it is detailed. Families in Albuquerque, Bohol have passed on the skills and secrets across generations in order to preserve the quality of the local salt produced.
The entire process starts with extracting the salt from seawater. They first construct a salt bed in coastal mangroves which allows for the seawater to soak the bed of coconut husks for two to three months to increase its salinity. The coconut husks are then gathered and dried under the sun. It can take up to four days to dry it inside a hut like structure with exposed sides before it is lit and the ashes gathered are then turned into brine, giving the fine salt a more earthy flavor.
Salt, the most basic of cooking and baking ingredients, has been seeing more and more gourmet incarnations in a variety of textures, colors, and flavors. Among these are the classic French fleur de sel; Himalayan rock salt (so popular in local weekend markets); Kala Namak or India’s Volcanic “Black Salt”; Italy’s Tartufo Nero or Black Truffle Sea Salt; England’s Maldon Smoked Sea Salt (smoked mainly with oakwood and other hardwoods); Japanese Amabito No Moshio or Seaweed Salt; and Spain’s Sal Marina de Barcelona finishing salt, just to name a few.
From the Philippines, Sugpo Asin is adding spice and recognition to the growing global list of gourmet salts. It is said to be created in prawn farms with bio-diverse methods, and which thus explains its beautiful rare pale pink color and slightly sweet flavor. Another proudly Pinoy seasoning is the Pangasinan Star sea salt, which is also known by its lengthier name Ilocano Asin Philippine fleur de sel sea salt.
Bohol’s Asin Tibuok would definitely be a very tasty addition to the country’s world-class artisanal salts.
This intricate process of salt making is found only in Bohol and has high marketing potential considering the green and organic trend common among the foodies and health conscious lately.
However, most of Bohol’s local population are not aware of the existence of Asin Tibuok due to the widespread availability of commercial salt. The resulting neglect in the past decades has limited its use only as a condiment mainly for rice porridge or used as mineral blocks for livestock.
At present, only three families that produce this unique salt remain; they do it under difficult economic circumstances as the market for it is limited and that distribution outside their locale is still unexplored.
It could have been a vanished cultural heritage had it not been for a group of Dr. Zialcita’s students from Ateneo who went on a Cultural Laboratory in Bohol and were able to discover Albuquerque’s salt manufacturers and document their stories. They then came up with a marketing and communications plan for Asin Tibuok to be known and accepted in the mainstream which in the longer run, will hopefully, expand the number of people engaged in keeping this unique product alive and bring visitors in the area for community tourism.
Other problems that they also seek to address are packaging issues, product development, weak clientele and limited market research.
Those who participated in the Cultural Laboratory also noted the need to improve the entire marketing set-up from production, distribution to shipping schedules. Priced at Php120 for 150g and Php50 for 50g, Asin Tibuok is pricier compared to commercialized salts available in the market.
But its proponents assure customers that when they purchase the salt, they are buying the “purest and cleanest artisan sea salt” and a piece of Albuquerque’s rich tradition as well.
Whole salt is shaped like crystals, and this age-old tradition has shown that amidst these fast changing times when the consumer is deluged by commercialized and albeit, “artificial” products, Asin Tibuok is truly a gem out of rough waters.