FEATURED PRODUCT: Must-Try Local Fruit Jams
For an archipelago nation teeming with a vast selection of tropical fruits, you would think that thick and tart fruit jams have gone unchallenged to pick up the title of a Filipino breakfast staple. Not really. The thing is, Filipinos still prefer cheese, mayonnaise, or margarine as a spread for their pandesal—smooth and buttery that doesn’t quite foil the earthy bitterness of their coffee. Filipinos are known for their sweet tooth (Exhibit A: Filipino sweet spaghetti), but saccharine preserves just don’t sound appealing to indulge in first thing in the morning. Filipinos would wait until after lunch, when their appetite is peaked and reserved for already sweetened dishes, before looking for anything sweet.
One thing is sure though: Philippine “carabao” mangoes, purple yam, and coconut make for delectable dessert and merienda to cool you down in this punishing humidity. Purple yam or ube can be enjoyed all year round, but fruits like the carabao mango are seasonal. The tuberous root vegetable that sports the color of a diva is fascinating to the unaccustomed, but it is common in Southeast Asia as potatoes in the West. Unfortunately, ube is on a limited export supply because of fierce market competition for the food fad. Although China and Latin America are the world’s largest producers and exporters of ube, there is simply not enough to go around and satisfy American consumption, which has doubled to 8 pounds per capita between 2000 and 2017. Carabao mangoes overflow and bless the land with their luscious flesh between May and July. If you are not living in the Philippines, some tropical wonders like the coconut come as cartons of coconut juice or bags of dried coconut meat in the supermarket. It’s not like you can bring whole coconuts to the kitchen and split them open yourself anyway. It’s a tough nut to crack, quite literally, and you would need to exert some manual labor to get it prepared for a Filipino dessert.
You know what makes it easier to get your hands on these fruits without the hullabaloo? Get a jam. Fruit preserves are among the many legacies of ancient Greece, where honey was used to preserve quinces in the 16th century. The oldest surviving cookbook, “De Re Coquinaria,” said to be written by the Roman merchant and epicure Marcus Gavius Apicius who lived during the reign of Tiberius, mentioned the use of sweetener to preserve fruits as early as the 4th century. When Crusaders returned to Europe with sugar, they called the crystallized sweetener “sweet salt” and treated it as a luxury commodity that Europeans had to even lock it up in a safe. Sugar then replaced honey as a sweetener for fruit jams that were only served to the royalty and wealthy Europeans during lavish banquets. Along with advancements in sugar cane cultivation and processing, fruit jams eventually became mass-produced products. Hobbyists can now make their jar of fruit preserve at home using sugar and some fruits harvested from their backyards.
Fruit jams offer several surprising health benefits. Despite the sugar content, fruit jams can help maintain weight when consumed in moderation to curb appetite. Preserves can also provide energy and endurance before high-impact movements. Legend says that Joan of Arc ate quince jam to give her “courage” before heading for the battlefield. Pectin, a naturally occurring starch found in fruits and modified during the jam-making process, reduces the chances of developing cancer and cardiovascular issues.
Jam-making is popular as a hobby and small business idea in the Philippines. Small entrepreneurs sell artisanal jams that offer a variety of fruit flavors like strawberry, mango, and banana. While artisanal jams from the Philippines may not be available in the US yet, popular food brands in the Philippines are exporting best-selling fruit jams that Filipinos love.
PAN DE MANILA MANGO JAM
The specialty chain Pan de Manila is a contemporary take on Filipino panaderya (local bakery) that has captured a sizeable nostalgic fanbase who grew up having soft and fluffy pandesal for breakfast. Aside from brick oven-baked pandesal, Pan de Manila offers a variety of palaman (filling) for a warm bun. Mango jam is the top seller among the selection of fruit jams. It’s the perfect spread when you want to add some sweet and just the right amount of tang to Filipinos’ favorite bun.