Non-Ilonggos do not know what a batwan (or batuan) fruit looks like. To us Ilonggos, there’s one ingredient that differentiates our cuisine from others, and that is batuan fruit. The best friend of an Ilonggo cook and the not-so-secret souring ingredient in our best loved Ilonggo food such as cansi, pinamalhan, KBL (kadyos, baboy, langka) and sinigang. Batwan to us is what tamarind is to Tagalogs.
We even grew up with a joke, although it may sound a little corny. An Ilonggo would say to a non-Ilonggo that “of the many fruits in the forest, batuan (pronounced like ‘but one’) is the best!” The non-Ilonggo would have asked the speaker what that ‘one’ fruit would be. The Ilonggo would then reply, ‘Batwan gani.’ The same question and answer would be repeated until the non-Ilonggo would become exasperated and the Ilonggo would tell him that batwan is the name of a tree and its fruit.
Batwan (Garcinia binucao) sometimes spelled batuan is related to mangosteen. Its fruit is somewhat round in shape, around 4 cm in diameter, greenish in color which turned yellowish when mature. They have a firm outer covering and contain a very sour pulp and several seeds. It has a sour taste but not acidic to the stomach like vinegar and calamansi.
Although we Ilonggos would love to claim batuan as endemic to us, it is not only abundant in Negros and Panay but in most parts of the country as well. Our batuan is also called ballok (Benguet); balikot (Ilocos Norte); bangkok (Zambales); bilukao (Rizal, Bataan, Batangas, Camarines); binukao (Laguna, Bataan, Batangas, Camarines); buragris (Camarines); kamangsi (Tayabas); kandis (Palawan); kamurai; kulilem (Cagayan); and maninila (Albay).
Batwan is used in some areas in the Visayas but it is not as widely used as in Negros and Panay. Apparently, we Ilonggos are the only ones who developed a sort of attachment to batuan’s flavor. Some would claim that they only grew in the forests of Negros but I digress. Batwan is a staple in our kitchen in Oton, Iloilo where I grew up. Batwan is often brought to our markets by vendors from Guimbal and Miag-ao which led me to believe they only grow in upland areas. I couldn’t be more wrong. It is only here in Negros where I saw an actual batwan tree and not in the mountains but in my friend’s house in Victorias City. Having seen a real batwan tree once, I can recognize it anywhere. I saw several ancestral houses in Bacolod City and Silay City with batuan trees. Yes, they grow in lowland areas too.
Probably the country’s first and only batwan plantation can be found in Negros Occidental. ECJ Farms, owned by Danding Cojuanco, has a 10-hectare batuan fruit plantation. They also process batuan into puree which make it easier to transport for all those Ilonggos living somewhere else and craving for batuan for their authentic Ilonggo dishes.
I don’t know how ECJ Farms propagate batwan but based on a study on the “Lesser Known Edible Tree Species” compiled by Helen B. Florido and Fe F. Cortiguerra published by the Ecosystems Research and Development Board (ERDB) of the Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR), here’s how to propagate batuan:
Enclose the area covered by the crown of the mother tree and apply compost in it. Allow the ripe fruits to fall. In two years, the seeds of fallen will germinate.
It’s quite difficult to propagate batwan, no wonder you can’t just grow it from the fruit you buy from the market. I’m glad my friend SB Lito Malabor of Isabela gave me batuan seedlings. Apparently, it is being propagated in their municipality. If you want to impress plant-loving friends, try to give them batuan seedlings. I gave the other two of my seedlings to friends who were just as happy as I was in receiving the seedlings. We can now sit back and wait for perhaps 5 to 7 years before we can reap the fruits from our batuan trees. Though it would also help to pray that our batwan plants are females since batuan is said to be dioecious. Only female batuan trees bear fruits while the flower of a male batwan tree will just fall off. You can also buy grafted batuan seedlings in garden shows which usually sells at P250 per seedling.
Our office once had a visitor from Laguna whose mother hails from Capiz. She asked me where she can buy batwan since her mom asked for it. Fortunately, our itinerary included La Castellana so I took her on a side trip to ECJ Farms at Hda. Candelaria, San Enrique so she can buy some batuan puree. It must be her lucky day! We saw two plastic crates of just-harvested batuan outside the pasalubong shop so we asked the saleslady if we can buy 2 kilograms of batwan fruits. She was hesitant at first since they are not selling fresh batuan and the batuan fruits we saw were meant to be processed into puree.
Pangbulong sa hidlaw (Cure for longing), I told the saleslady. She must have understood how it is to be away from home so she sold us the batuan at only P10 per kilo. That’s a giveaway since it’s currently sold for P1 per piece at the Sari-Sari Store.
Ilonggos continually long for batuan wherever they are in the world. It’s unique sour taste brings back happy memories of childhood and the food we grew up with. I’ve met Ilonggos is Mindanao and Luzon who say they would ask their visiting relatives to bring them batuan fruits. It’s quite fortunate that ECJ Farms developed the technology to bottle batuan puree, bringing this well-loved ingredient closer to Ilonggo homes. Batuan puree is sold at ECJ Farms’ outlet in Tiendesitas while it is sold in Bacolod at the Negros Showroom.
The importance of batuan fruit in Ilonggo cuisine is also recognized by the Department of Agriculture. The agencyhas included batuan as one of the species subjected to DNA barcoding/fingerprinting for resource identification, conservation and protection project. This will enable the Philippines to claim ownership of the fruit so that other interested parties will have to acknowledge the Philippines as the source of the species.
I just love our local cuisine and to share this love for Ilonggo food, my husband and I gave grafted batuan seedlings to our guests in our wedding, among other local fruit trees. They don’t come cheap but we’d rather give something that bear fruit rather than trinkets that just gather dust. The seller was so happy he gave me several large pots of grafted batuan trees with fruits.
The original article was first published on April 10, 2011