Featured Products: Are Filipino Vegans Snacks Worth a Try?
Making chips out of fruits and vegetables has been a familiar scene in the countryside of the Philippines ever since Filipinos learned that dried crops could be turned into crunchy snacks. Filipinos munch on these to pass the time or sell them in sealed pocket-size plastic bags for sale without even having the slightest contemporary notion of a vegetarian diet as understood by the current wave of mindful eating. They just know that homemade vegan snacks are healthier, not to mention cheaper, alternative in far-flung rural areas where every precious penny is reserved for practical needs of a family. They can either buy the ingredient from a farmer or harvest it themselves from the backyard. The crop is then sliced into thin pieces and cooked in oil until crunchy.
Several food crops have become a staple for making local chips due to their inherent sweetness and nutritional value: cassava, banana, taro, and bamboo shoots. Below we give you a summary of the research-backed health benefits of consuming food products made of these crops as your merienda.
Cassava is a tuberous edible crop domesticated in South America some 8,000 years ago. It is a perennial crop that can outlast the drought and withstand harsh conditions brought about by climate change. For this reason, the African continent has been cultivating this “famine-reserve crop,” now a staple of the African diet as rice is to Asians, after being introduced by Portuguese traders. Cassava is also endemic in many parts of Asia. In fact, Thailand has replaced Africa as the largest exporter of cassava. However, Thai people are not particularly fond of cassava and consider it only as a cash crop. Meanwhile, the cassava-loving Filipinos rank only the 37th largest exporter in 2019 due to market competition and the impact of severe typhoons in recent years.
Still, cassava remains abundant and enough to supply the local demand for this alternative source of carbohydrates during rice shortages. According to a study by Chongtham, Bisht, and Haorongbam (2011), cassava root is an energy food that efficiently produces large amounts of carbohydrates per hectare. The properties of its carbohydrate content help maintain weight and sustain energy to get through the day. It also contains essential vitamins and minerals such as iron, potassium, calcium, copper, magnesium, zinc, and manganese to boost the immune system and overall physiological functioning.
But what happens to cassava’s nutritional value when processed? Fret not because baking or frying cassava to make chips do not significantly reduce its nutritional quality. In fact, Moura, Miloff, & Boy (2015) suggest that retention of provitamin A carotenoids remain high for baking (70%) and moderate for frying (54%). However, this may vary depending on the variant of cassava and cooking time. These cooking methods are also effective for removing cyanogenic glycosides that can cause cyanide poisoning, though only suitable for sweet cassava variant that grows in Asia and South Pacific (Montagnac, Davis, Tanumihardjo, 2009).
Now here is our final take: homemade cassava chips get our vote of confidence. Unless you intend to eat them raw, cassava from the Philippines is generally safe to eat as it contains less toxin content due to cultivation techniques and growing conditions. Processing them into chips follows safe standards that ensure their export quality and mass consumption. Due to limited studies, we can’t say for sure that cassava chips retain a significant nutritional value of the crop but, hey, this is far better than snacking on preservatives and chemicals.
You are already familiar with bananas, but you might not be aware that the yellow fruit is a superfood that packs more health benefits than you might think. Bananas are affordable and don’t seem much, but they are dense with bioactive compounds with the high antioxidant potential to ward off cancer and many chronic diseases related to the heart and brain. Of course, bananas deliver an immense amount of potassium for muscle and iron to boost vital functions. Most importantly, bananas contain serotonin that improves chemical reactions in the brain to prevent depression or mood swings and ease body tension caused by stress (B. Sing et al., 2016). It is also worth mentioning that the benefits of bananas include its advantageous effect against microbial infections, lowering cholesterol levels, and preventing neurodegenerative diseases (Kumar et al., 2012).
One of the opportunities for post-harvest processing of bananas that Filipinos have developed is turning the fruit into chips using better drying technology, rather than solar or air drying techniques, that retains most of the nutrition value, fresh taste, and natural color of the banana. Banana chips can be stored for up to 147 days in a cool dark place to retain their crunchiness (Mohapatra et al., 2010).
Taro is a root vegetable that thrives in the humid tropical climates of South Asia, East Asia, Southeast Asia, and Pacific Islands, but it can also be found in regions as far as Africa and through the Americas. While taro is a staple ingredient in iconic Filipino dishes, the tuber crop remains unfamiliar to the rest of the world, with scarce research showing interest in what it is, its potential as ingredients, and its benefits. As Matthews & Ghanem (2020), taro is an “orphan” or minor crop with no international commodity status and receives little care or attention in terms of research and getting an arable land. No taro-specific data exists regarding its nutritional value, much less about processing opportunities for its root. Currently, the Philippines ranks as the third-largest producer of taro, following China at first and Japan at second, based on 2013 data reported in 2019.
Recent research by Temesgen & Retta (2015) tells us that taro was endemic to Papua New Guinea as evidenced by archaeological evidence of taro processing dating back at least 10,000 years. The nutritional value of taro is mainly composed of starch, an essential source of energy, and high in minerals while having low protein and fat content. The study adds that taro is highly digestible and very moist that makes it an ideal infant food. Taro starch can benefit patients dealing with digestive diseases such as peptic ulcer disease and liver problems. While taro protein is relatively lower than starch, it is considerably higher than sweet potato, yam, and cassava. Protein from taro contains essential amino acids and tends to be found in concentrated amounts underneath the skin. Lastly, Englberger and colleagues (2003) conclude that specific cultivars of taro can supply lactating mothers with over half of their daily calcium requirements (two giant swamp taro) and three times their zinc requirement (500g of fanal taro).
Currently, taro chip production has become a sustainable and empowering livelihood in Southeast Asia. Locals have learned the management and cultivation of the orphan crop for environmental sustainability and gained scientific knowledge and skills to uplift quality of life in farming communities (Dirpan et al., 2019).