Muscovado sugar: The healthy option

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By Ver F. Pacete

As I See It

Tuesday, July 29, 2014


I LIVE in Silay City where Hawaiian-Philippine Company is. This sugar mill (HPCo) is producing white sugar (blanco directo), brown sugar... and muscovado sugar. (This is the sugar I am using for my brewed coffee.) The star in my story is the muscovado sugar.

The primitive system of extracting juice from cane consisted of exerting pressure on a hand-or foot-lever against a fixed wooden surface. According to my resource person, this technique was later improved by crushing cane between two upright wooden rollers using human power.

With the arrival of Chinese immigrants in the Philippines during the early decades of Spanish Occupation, stone cylinders replaced the wooden rollers, and carabaos were used to operate the crude extractors. Muscovado or unrefined sugar (still with molasses) became an important trade item.

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Steam power, like the "maquena de vapor horno economico" of Yves Leopold Germaine Gaston of Silay from imported machinery and equipment, replaced human and animal power in the milling-processes. At the turn of the century (or even earlier than that), the Gaston muscovado from Buen Retiro was considered the best (and the most expensive).

I had my personal experience with muscovado mill (galingan) in our village, Barangay Rombang, in the town of Belison, Antique. My uncle, Pelagio Luces, would always alert me when his La Carlota sugarcane is ready for cutting. "Noy, bring espading because we will do the slashing after lunch. We have to load our sugarcane in "carosa" (small sledge-cart pulled by a carabao) to the "galingan" of Hipolito Casalan".

That would excite me because (again) I would munch the La Carlota sugarcane and working in the mill would give me a share of tasty, newly cooked muscovado sugar. The work was just "dagyaw" (bayanihan) among the friends of Uncle Pelagio (a.k.a. Iyong). After cutting sugarcane, we would be cleaning the "cawa" (cauldron). It is made of steel and shaped like a big bowl.

The "galingan" was "molino de sangre" (wooden rollers operated by carabaos to extract the cane juice). As a teenager, I would be there with friends and relatives for the work. The juice would be heated in five "cawa." Impurities (sapwa) are manually removed until the concentrated syrup is left. The cooking is headed by a "maestro" (expert) who would give order on what should be done next.

When the syrup is crystallized, the "maestro" would whisper to me, "Noy, get ready..." I would get a bunch of young "saba banana" and dip the whole bunch in the "cawa." Presto! When the sugar-coated bunch of banana cooled down, I have my "pinasugbo" (banana brittle) already. My relatives would also get the syrup and form it in coco shell or bowls to produce "bati-bati" (hard giant candy). They could mix it with coco milk or sesame seeds. Girls of my age would want to stretch the syrup and make "butong-butong" (soft candy).

The "maestro" has a vital role in the cooking of muscovado. The process was primitive. There was no laboratory and the purity of sugarcane juice could not be tested. The temperature (boiling point) was never consistent. The fuel used was the "kansyaha" (dry sugarcane leaves). The dryness of the fuel could not be maintained during rainy days.

If muscovado is undercooked it is "dulit" (wet). If it is overcooked it is "batok" (burned). If it is well-cooked (no lumps or "bilog") and the color is sparkling brown, it is superior (first class). Cooking with proper timing takes several hours. Bystanders near the five "cawas" would feel hell-fire hotness. The workers pulverizing the lumps were all sweating. (It cannot be avoided to have drops of sweat in the muscovado.)

The finished product would be placed inside the "may-ong," cylindrical sack (50 kilos) made of "buri" leaves. From the syrup in the "cawa", one could also make "pulot" (sugarcane honey) and peanut candy (bandi). Half cooked juice is "lasaw" (jelly). It could be used as sandwich spread, or as substitute for viand when eating rice.

The ritual after cooking muscovado is "Panuba-tuba" (drinking spree with "tuba"). "Tuba" is matched with native chicken adobo. A cup of muscovado is set aside for the fairies and for the soul of the ancestors, the guardians of the soil and the sugarcane fields.*To be continued

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on July 29, 2014.

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