SAN FRANCISCO—Guess what was finally at the table and much appreciated the recently held 38th annual Winter Fancy Food Show at the Moscone Center in this city? The lowly pili nut! And why not? This hard to crack nut with the creamy, nutty taste has been sidelined for years since there was just no way to meet the volume that the U.S. and world markets look for. Not anymore.
With the help of the Department of Trade and Industry, the pili nut has been aptly identified as a premium commodity. With precious little supply, the great tasting Pili nut–candied, roasted, salted and buttered–is now in demand, reaching discriminating dessert chefs literally by word of mouth.
The Department of Agriculture has developed fast-growing pili trees that bear nuts in three to six years, unlike its ancient counterparts that bear nuts only after seven years or so. There has not been a machine invented so far that can crack the pili shell without crashing the kernel. Only the experienced bolo-wielding farmhand could do the job. Not an easy feat since your fingers are truly on the line.
The pili nut tree thrives in the Bicol Region of the Philippines, several hundred miles south of Manila. Called a “stress” loving tree, because it loves to be shaken by no less than the strong winds that seasonally wallop the area, the pili tree bears more nuts the windier the season gets. Perfect for the province that lies along the typhoon belt.
While the Bicol Region is known as the site of one of the wonders of the world, the stately Mayon Volcano and its perfect cone, Bicol suffers under continuous monsoon rains and destructive typhoons. But there is a light that shines through the coniferous branches of the pili tree. Soon, pili nut traders and bake shops that produce delicious pili mazapan, nougats, ice cream and whatnot will be raking in big profits, so the Expo participants believe.
At a recent roundtable held at the Philippine Consulate General in San Francisco right after the Expo, Engr. Jocelyn Blanco, regional director of the Dept. of Trade and Industry, Region V, together with Melchor Aguilar, chief of the business development division, reported that the pili traders and candy manufacturers had a successful show, with executive chefs, importers and distributors giving the pili nut a second look.
The pili nut is now described as a regional flagship commodity of the Bicol region, a geographic indication, that this delicious nut will forever only be known as the “pili” nut. Not “almond of Java” as it was once called, but pili nut, (“chosen” nut) the most nutritious nut in the world. “It is rich in calcium, phosphorous and potassium, and essential fatty acids for the heart and other anti-aging properties,” the DTI flyer states.
Attendees at the roundtable eagerly snapped up excess Expo pili delicacies such as crispy pili with honey, salted garlic pili, roasted sesame-covered pili and the oldtime favorite mazapan de pili. These homemade treats of yore were made from handed down centuries-old recipes, handcrafted and wrapped industriously at small family bakeshops. Not anymore. Pili production is now a thriving industry in the Bicol region, thanks to the DTI’s help. Its packaging is updated with attractive label designs and it’s vacuum-packed to boot.
Promotional writeups speak of the pili as a “versatile gourmet treat lending a distinct flavor and taste to many culinary fare. A must for a true gourmand, this beloved nut is an excellent delight when whipped as recipe for roasted potato and pear salad, angel hair pasta with pesto, sauteed beans and even snacks like energy bars and caramel popcorn. It is also a dreamy sensation when concocted into coconut pili rice, pili-stuffed chicken, fish toppings and more…” It has truly gone a long way from the simple tasty pili mazapan wrapped in cellophane.
No wonder Expo participants Maria Lydia Lomibao, proprietor of J. Emmanuel Pastries, Rosemarie Battung, manager of Albay Pilinut and Ryan Detera of Tia Berning’s Pili Candies have much to look forward to. The pili nut is becoming a “piling-pili” or much- favored world nut. Just last week, Heavenly Signature Ice cream of San Jose, California, launched their latest offering, the Honey-Coated Pili Nut Ice Cream and Caramel Crunch Pili Nut Ice Cream. Yummmm. Heavenly!