Sorsogon business helps preserve dying art of making ‘tuba’ vinegar

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By Anna Valmero

BULAN, SORSOGON—For retired administrative manager Linda Rebosura-Corsiga, her small business of producing organic vinegar is not only giving jobs to local coconut farmers.

More than anything else it aims to preserve the dying art of making organic tuba vinegar and reintroduces the organic vinegar enjoyed before by Filipinos.

“In most parts of the country, making the tuba or coconut sap vinegar using traditional methods is dying already, simply because the tuba makers do not see a significant market locally as Filipinos patronize what is just available on market shelves,” said Linda, owner and general manager of Sorsogon Foods Enterprises.

Today, most owners of coconut farms prefer copra making, which is actually less sustainable as market prices often fluctuate and buyers tend to freeze prices for copra. In Siargao Island, a kilo of copra costs P40 to P50 only, according to a native.

Coconut sap or tuba is sweet nectar that naturally drips from newly-formed coconut flower buds. Unlike coconut water, which requires the addition of sugar, yeast and acetic acid for fermentation, coconut sap can ferment on its own and thus, is a source of pure organic vinegar.

Tuba is usually collected on coconut trees that are at least seven years old and produces up to a gallon of sap daily. In Sorsogon, Linda collects and processes 450 gallons of sap per day, especially throughout the year except from August to December when sap collection is low.

According to the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), coconut sap has 17 amino acids, vitamins like thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, lysine and inositol, a cancer-fighting enzyme. With these nutrients, kids and adults are encouraged to drink 100mL and a glass, respectively, of non-alcoholic coconut sap daily as a health and energy drink.

“I hope through this small business, we can encourage the tuba vinegar and wine makers to keep this unique Filipino technology alive and give consumers more organic food choices to live a healthier life,” Linda said in an interview during the 2011 International Food Exhibition Philippines (IFEX).

Linda’s company produces organic vinegar made from coconut sap and other specialty vinegars in 750mL and 350 mL bottles. Its products range from classic vinegar, virgin vinegar which  includes “mother-of-vinegar” inside the bottle and spiced vinegars with garlic, ginger, wild honey and chili. Depending on the product, retail prices range from P90 to P325 per 750mL bottle.

Vinegar making has been Linda’s backyard family business since the 1950s, started by the family matriarch, Lola Conching, after whom the organic vinegar brand was named.

After her retirement at the International Finance Corp. of the World Bank Group in 1999, Linda first tried to get into the business of honey bee farming. In one of her trainings under the University of the Philippines Los Banos Bee Program, Linda narrated how bees in her Sorsogon hometown have always been found in coconut trees.

When her professor told her that the bees were sipping coconut sap because it is actually a nectar, Linda and her husband got the idea to revive the age-old family business of organic vinegar making and mix the wild honey with the vinegar to add a distinct flavor to honey vinegar and coconut nectar honey products.

Using her retirement package, Linda was ableto start her business with P300,000 to collect the tuba from local growers. Establishment of a complete processing plant under the standards of the Food and Drug Administration increased her capital outlay to P1 million, which came from her retirement package  and savings.

For the packaging of the products and further product development, Linda tapped the Industrial Technology Development Institute, an agency under the Department of Science and Technology.

To maintain the purity of the vinegar, the collected coconut sap is allowed to ferment alone for six months to a year, after which it will be bottled. Each bottle of vinegar has a shelf life of four to ten years, said Linda.

“Most people think that vinegar can only last for a year but actually, it tastes better as it ages, just like wine. The color changes from cloudy white to winey brown.”

To market the product better, Linda also gained certifications for Lola Conching’s vinegar product line from the Organic Certification Center of the Philippines, United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) and Kosher.

Nutrients contained by tuba vinegars such as pottasium, sodium and magnesium are alkalizing minerals that turn acid body fluids into alkaline, according to the company’s two certifications from two FDA laboratories.

“Certifications help prove your product claims and in terms of exporting, it is easier for your product to enter high-end markets abroad,” said Linda.

With her certifications, Linda was able to strike a deal with a US supplier for 270 outlets of Whole Foods Market, an organic grocery in the US that requires certifications for organic products.

For the US market, the virgin vinegar which was not fermented and contains sediments, filma nd coin-like gels (in mother-of-vinegar products) is very high in demand among 1,500 specialty stores to prove to customers that the product is really 100 percent organic, she added.

Linda’s company exports 80 drums (16,000 liters) of tuba vinegar for clients who then add their label on the product. Lead time for first-time bulk orders is 15 to 30 days.

Get more information about Sorsogon Foods Enterprises

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