One government agency that continues to support the development of products from indigenous plants that are hitherto unexploited is the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) of the Department of Agriculture.
We have written earlier about the wild raspberry that is abundant in the area of Mt. Banahaw in Quezon which is now being made into wine, jam and juice, thanks to the financial support of BAR.
This time, the research agency is providing funds for the upscaling of initial research efforts on an indigenous tree in Batanes that produces a lot of small berry-like fruits which are usually just left to rot under the trees.
The tree is locally called Arius in Batanes but is known botanically as Podocarpus costalis. Actually, this tree is usually used as a landscaping material in Metro Manila and elsewhere in the country. For some reason, however, it is only in Batanes where the tree produces a lot of small fruits that look like they are “double-bodied” because each fruit has a fleshy portion that is attached to the peduncle while a portion that protrudes at the other end is a round part that contains the seed. When ripe, the fleshy part of the fruit is swollen. It becomes bright red to purple or black while the seed-bearing portion remains green.
Children as well the adults may eat the sweet, somewhat sticky pulp but they don’t really eat much. Each person usually eats two or three fruits at a time. It is the birds that love to eat the fruits and it is believed that the proliferation of the tree in many parts of Batanes could be attributed to the birds. The seeds that go with their manure germinate and eventually get established. The Arius tree does not grow very big.Under Batanes conditions, it may be just one meter to five meters tall. That is advantageous because harvesting of the fruits would be easy. It grows well in elevations from sea level up to 30 meters above sea level.
The Arius tree bears some fruits that are harvested in summer, particularly in March or April. However, it is observed that the main crop which starts as flowers in April and May are harvestable from July to October.
The project leader in the Arius tree research undertaking is Roger Baltazar, the director for research and extension of the Batanes State College in Basco. Baltazar’s group has already conducted initial research and development regarding processing of the Arius fruit. They already have produced wine, pastillas, tart, jam, fruit preserves and tea.
With the new funding of about P1.6 million that BAR is about to release shortly (as of this writing, June 15), improvements could be further achieved. The products could be developed in such a way that they are of export quality. It is believed that since Batanes is one island that is isolated from the rest of Luzon and away from pollution, the products derived from the Arius tree could be considered organic. In which case, they could command a premium price.
In his proposal, Roger Baltazar stated that special focus will be the production of Arius wine. From the time of harvesting and transporting, special care will be observed so the fruits will not get crushed or bruised.
Baltazar said that in making wine, they will adopt the methods used by the local sugarcane producers in the province. The seed portion of the fruit will be separated and the fleshy portion crushed for easy extraction of the juice. The crushed pulp will be boiled to soften it and thus enhancing fermentation. Yeast and sugar will be mixed but the proportions will be studied to find out which will give the best results.
The fermented juice will undergo aging, racking (transferring from one container to another), filtering and fining before the wine is bottled. Bottling and design of packaging will also be given special attention so that the product will become something really special.
|Fruiting Arius tree in Batanes, Podocarpus costalis.|
|Fruits of the Arius tree. Dark portion is the
fleshy part. The green contains the seed.