By Patricia Bianca S. Taculao

Batuan, pronounced “bat-wan”, is a fruit indigenous to the Visayas and is a member of the mangosteen family.

It commonly grows wild and is used as a souring agent because of its acidity, much like the tamarind (locally known as “sampaloc”) when mixed with the well-loved Filipino dish sinigang.

“Locals in the Visayas are familiar with the fruit. They use it in making dishes like balbacua, a type of beef stew, and cansi, which is an Ilonggo dish that’s a mix of both sinigang and bulalo,” said Francis Salviejo, the liaison officer of MFK Agri Products and Technology.

The batuan tree can grow up to 12 meters tall and has a smooth, dark grey bark. Its fruits are edible and are described to be sour in taste.

Despite this, a Negros-based agribusiness, MFK Agri Products and Technology, reimagined the batuan as a sweet treat: jam.

“If Baguio has strawberry jam, here in Negros we have batuan jam that’s sweet and locally-sourced, so it’s a win-win for both farmers and consumers,” Salviejo said.

Since batuan grows in the wild, the couple was able to source from farmers in Negros Occidental without much trouble. However, they only accept fresh batuan, which means farmers need to deliver their produce strictly on, or only a day after, harvest.

One way to determine if a batuan is still fresh, according to Salviejo and many of the farmers they source from, is by checking if its skin looks smooth and shiny and if it’s still firm to the touch.

Aside from the quality of the fruit, the couple only accepts the green variety because of its flavor properties and consistency when processed, as opposed to the red batuan which is said to have a bitter aftertaste.

“We usually get 10 to 20 kilos every harvest season which results into two kilos of batuan jam,” Salviejo said.

He added that it takes about three to five years before a batuan tree fully matures and its usual fruiting season occurs during the October to November.

During its peak season, which is from January to April, batuan can be bought for P30/kilo. In the meantime, batuan can be sold in the market for P300/kilo during off seasons.

Salviejo and his wife, Gina, used to work overseas before they came back to the Philippines in 2014 and decided to go into farming. They initially started out as hobbyists but later on developed an agri-business that deals with processing natural ingredients to consumables.

By 2017, they established the MFK Agri Products and Technology where Gina was named owner of the venture.

During the same year, Salviejo attended a seminar given by the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research on how to process batuan into other by-products.

Batuan jam, which is made up from the batuan fruit that is native to the Visayas, can be used as a sandwich spread.

Currently, the couple only uses the manual processing technique, which means they only use blenders to mix the raw ingredients such as batuan, sugar, and honey to create their jam.

Apart from their jam, the couple also makes batuan jelly and pickled batuan (or batuan atchara). They’re even planning to develop a sinigang mix made from batuan to provide a healthier alternative to preservative-filled mixes while also giving the market a taste of what many people from the Visayas enjoy.

Batuan health benefits

One of the reasons why the Salviejos decided to work with batuan is because of its health benefits.

“Batuan can reduce the amount of cholesterol in the body, lowering the risk of hypertension and other related diseases. Since it’s usually sour, it can even help prevent diabetes because it helps maintain blood sugar levels,” Salviejo said.

The fruit is said to also contain antioxidants that help rid of free radicals in the body, making the consumer less susceptible to different types of diseases.

According to Salviejo, knowing all the benefits of the fruit helped them decide on what kinds of products they wanted to give to the public because it is something that they can incorporate in their diet, not just something eaten every once in a while.

“People can partner our pickled batuan with any of their meals or they can snack on the jam by spreading it on crackers or in between two slices of bread. This way, they can enjoy the health benefits from the fruit on a daily basis,” he said.

A healthy snacking alternative

Before the couple dabbled in batuan processing, they started with organic rice production. They were even featured in the January 2016 issue of Agriculture Monthly, where they discussed the potential of colored rice.

A photo of the Salviejos selling colored rice. (File photo/Agriculture Monthly)

Aside from that, the couple is involved in mushroom production and processing as well.

Similar to how he learned about batuan processing, Salviejo attended a seminar in 2014 by the DA-BAR on how to grow as well as market oyster mushrooms. He then utilized this knowledge when he and his wife set up their agribusiness.

They labeled their mushroom products “Mumshie,” which is a play with the word “mushroom” rather than the millennial slang for “mother.”

“We used oyster mushrooms because they were easier to grow since we produce our own using fruiting bags; it’s also a suitable variety to be transformed into other products such as chips,” he said.

He added that it was his wife behind the value-adding ideas and innovating the raw ingredients into something that consumers find appealing.

“She comes up with our different products as well as some of the flavor varieties that we offer. One of which is our mushroom chips,” Salviejo said.

The couple guarantees that they only use natural ingredients in their chips to fully give their customers a healthier snacking alternative. This means that they don’t use artificial flavorings such as powders and preservatives.

“Our flavors include original, spicy, garlic, and chili garlic. We don’t go for commercial flavors like cheese or sour cream because that would compel us to use powdered flavorings which is what we’re trying to avoid,” Salviejo explained.

In addition to their mushroom chips, the couple also sells mushroom atchara, mushroom bagoong (which ranges from mild to spicy), mushroom piaya, sinamak, empanada, and polvoron.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s December 2019 issue.