Study to end up commercializing Igorot etag
BAGUIO CITY -- A university-based research institution is on its way to introduce etag, Cordillera preserved pork, in commercial scale with its value-adding interventions to ensure food safety, quality and high market acceptability for the native delicacy.
Launched in a recent press conference at the Benguet State University (BSU), the initiative to bring etag to more consumers started with a research in 2009, which the Highland Agriculture and Resource Research and Development Consortium (HARRDEC) took to task.
Besides promoting etag in commercial quantity and quality, HARRDEC also seeks to develop handling and packaging methods to prolong product shelf life and enhance acceptability to all types of consumers, including local and foreign tourists.
Etag, Igorot ham to some, is traditionally smoked or sun-dried salted pork from native pigs. Although there are several claims as to its origin, many places in the Cordillera find etag a delectable addition to the pinikpikan, another Igorot delicacy for chicken or duck meat.
Some call it inasin, like the Kankanaey and Bontocs of Sagada. Others call it kiniing or kinuday, like the Benguet Ibaloy and Kankanaey.
By whatever name etag is called, the meat processing involves the addition of salt and either smoking or sun-drying for the meat to dry.
Elizabeth Busiley, a native of Sagada, Mountain Province, makes her inasin by rubbing the meat with a generous amount of rock salt and a little vinegar to prevent flies from swarming the meat as she hangs this for at least three hours daily for seven days under the sun to dry.
She then hangs the sun-dried meat above her firewood-fed stove to preserve it further. As she needed etag to enhance the flavor of pinikpikan or her vegetable dishes, she just cuts a little from the stuff hanging right above the cooking vessel.
By the time the last batch of etag is gone, there are available extra meat from the rituals she is asked to attend. In the Cordillera, it is common to see raw pork being distributed to people who attend a funeral ritual and the like. Even during weddings, raw meat from the couple's parents would be distributed to thank the guests for sharing in the merry-making.
The HARRDEC study, however, yielded that the traditional way to preserve etag oftentimes attract flies and rodents that the etag could harbor maggots in the process.
"By ensuring that the processes are sanitary and hygienic, maggots do not find their way into the etag," said Dr. Synan Baguio, assistant director for Livestock Research Division of the Philippine Council for Agriculture, Forestry and Natural Resources Research and Development (PCARRD).
In his presentation during the Technology-to-people media conference that launched the commercial etag, Baguio said there is an increasing concern for food safety and the environment; and an increasing per capita meat consumption.
While he recognizes the limited supply he said the native pig could survive climate change and global warming because it could live on simple conditions and even on limited resources.
The commercialization of etag according to Baguio, will even cater to the consumers who prefer meat products that are unique in taste and flavor, adding that a growing opportunity for exporting the product through the local market is even encouraging.
Sagada's experience with foreign visitors patronizing etag has encouraged local restaurant owners in that tourist destination to serve the delicacy, which is fast gaining acceptability even among foreign guests, according to BSU Professor Ruth S. Batani, one of four research leaders involved in the etag study.
For every kilo of native pork, the researchers recommend to add just 180 grams of rock salt. They used a covered canister to shake the meat and salt to ensure uniformity. They then arranged the meat on a covered platter and allowed it to cure for at least five days, after which the meat was either hot-smoked for two days (16 hours) or cold-smoked for five days (56 hours).
The difference for the smoked and sun-dried etag lies in the thickness of the meat. The smoked meat is one-inch thick while the sun-dried is only half-inch thick. Meat is hung to dry under the sun for 56 hours or seven days.
To ensure that no fly could touch the meat, the dryer is covered with polyethylene plastic.
The consortium tried packaging the commercial etag using the polyethylene plastic and the vacuum packaging to enhance market acceptability at the same time ensuring product safety.
Etag in the flea markets at present proved to be high in microbial content, according to the HARRDEC-PCARRD study. While Cordillerans have developed their own way at ensuring clean and sanitary preparation of etag-enhanced delicacies, HARRDEC wants to ensure the safety right from the preparation of etag.
"Once bacteria has set in, the pork preservation could not be completed," said BSU Researcher Sherilyn B. Balauro in her presentation during the same forum. She is involved in the study as a research leader.
Among the Igorots of the Cordillera, pinikpikan is never complete without the etag, which is not readily available in supermarkets or even the wet market. It usually takes a Cordilleran in a household to make the etag, especially that the best etag should be from a native pig belly (liempo) or the part where the lean meat is layered with strips of fat, best suited to make bacon strips.
The next challenge is the supply of native black pigs, usually used in Cordillera rituals to appease the spirits. Not everyone could raise the native pig, especially in the urban center because these require a wider area on which to range freely.
Baguio mentions a farm in Nueva Ecija which specializes in breeding and raising native pigs in commercial scale.
"We can encourage farms like this to produce more resilient livestock with the commercialization of food products that utilizes native meats, such as free-ranged pigs and chickens," said Baguio.
The study also included a market research, which involved a survey among local supermarkets and commercial outlets; and the etag-consuming and non-consuming public as respondents.
The market study showed that end-consumers, who usually eat etag once a month (61%), were willing to pay as much as P100 (54%)for a one-fourth kilo of etag, or P400 per kilo. They also liked the vacuum-packed (70%) cold-smoked (58%) etag.
Cold-smoking is done at 26 to 43 degrees centigrade for five days or at least 56 hours. # Lyn V. Ramo
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