Producers of anti-diabetes yacon tea, juice, wine eye Japan market
Nueva Vizcaya farming entrepreneurs and food science experts are now pilot-testing yacon production through the Nueva Vizcaya State University’s (NVSU) Technology Business Incubator (TBI).
They see the prospect of shipping these products out to Japan.
Japan already imports raw yacon from the Philippines as a succulent ready-to-eat product like raw singkamas–jicama or Mexican turnip– that Japanese eat as salad.
“We will have a good commercial potential for yacon products if we emphasize its health components because of phytochemicals. Many studies have already been conducted (proving this),” said Dr. Perlita C. Tiburcio, NVSU vice president and food science specialist.
NVSU is jumpstarting yacon’s commercial scale production through a bigger 100-kilo food processing. This is from an earlier limited 10-kilo scale.
“This volume will make commercial scale production more realistic than laboratory stage. It will be evaluated for ROI (return on investment),” she said.
NVSU is funding the pilot yacon production, while the Bureau of Agricultural Research (BAR) has a separate research for yacon processing that will also use the Commission on Higher Education-funded P1.2 million TBI facility.
Organic farming of yacon may also be a focus of its commercialization as the Japan market discriminates in favor of organic food produced without much chemical fertilizer or pesticides.
“Yacon is still in its infancy stage but is now becoming an identity of Region 2. Its processing will add value to the crop and will potentially increase farmers’ income in small-scale cropping systems where inputs like fertilizer are not a necessity,” said BAR Director Nicomedes P. Eleazar.
NVSU has already completed product development for yacon, and several products have already turned out to be a product testing success. After trying on different variants for the juice, it has come up with a delicious pineapple-yacon juice. It has also developed yacon pickles and preserves along with wine and tea.
Aside from its being known as a regulator of blood sugar, yacon is also known for preventing colon cancer.
Tiburcio explained that source of the sweetness of yacon is healthful since it comes from inulin, rather than from glucose. Inulin is not a digestible carbohydrate, a non-digestible sugar, therefore not contributing to blood sugar rise.
Inulins belong to a class of fiber called fructans, and it is used as a storage for energy by some plants through the roots or rhizomes.
A 50-hectare land in Claveria, Cagayan is prsently the source of raw yacon for a contractor that ships this to Japan. For the processed form of yacon, wines already reach Japan through hand-carried transport of Filipino balikbayans that use the wine as gift or pasalubong.
In Nueva Vizcaya, an area of at least five hectares in Dupax is a source of yacon for Fred’s Wine which is being assisted by NVSU. A family enterprise of Wilfred Dugaysan, Fred’s Wine is now distributed in pasalubong centers and SM stores.
NVSU’s pilot production will involve physico-chemical and nutritional evaluation of yacon products. It will determine presence of the healthful phytochemicals before and after processing.
Yacon farming can be attractive to farmers. While sweet potato or camote may just be priced P8 per kilo at farm gate, yacon’s price can peak to as high as P80 to P100 per kilo during off season.
However, food processors may also have the option of sourcing yacon tubers in uplands where price may go down to P15 to P30 per kilo, although this may peak to P50 during off season.
NVSU’s TBI already has equipment for commercialization of the products including quality control gadgets, sealing machines, a meter for sugar soluble solids, and processing utensils.
Government agencies including the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) have been lending their support for yacon production in Nueva Vizcaya. DOST has given a grant for improved labels for yacon wine bottles. Alcohol kits that test alcohol content in wine has also been granted for yacon.
NVSU has been trying to attend many trade exhibits in order to promote yacon products.
“Some traders think that we’re already capable of exporting our products abroad,” said Tiburcio.
Yacon’s other known health benefits due to its oligofructans and phenolic contents are skin rejuvenation, reduction of blood triglyceride level, and alleviation of hyperglycemia, kidney problems, and osteoporosis.
The government also intends to explore many uses of yacon, not only of the tuber, but other parts of the plant so as to leave no waste and maximize its marketing.
“The processed products should also be in convenient ready-to-eat form so as to extend the availability of this therapeutic food to different parts of the country,” said Tiburcio.
NVSU is continuing to develop many recipes for yacon even as its earlier products have already been found to be palatable to trial tasters.
“It is important to develop the food into one that is highly pleasing to the market, or commercial success will be at stake,” said Eleazar.
Aside from making taste superior, NVSU has also been developing techniques in order to keep physical appearance attractive.
In pineapple-yacon juice, pineapple not only gives a distinct tasty flavor, but it gives a Vitamin C supplementation to the juice. Pineapple juice was also used as acidulant instead of citric acid. Acidulants are additives that give a sharp taste of food, aid in setting of gels, and act as preservatives.
Other fruit flavorings also make other blends that give yacon a unique taste.
In order to control enzymatic discoloration of the juice, sulfiting– adding of adding of sulfur dioxide in wine-making— is done.
“The use of sulfite instead of heat to inactivate polyphenol oxidase eliminated problems on haziness and discoloration,” said Tiburcio. “Blending yacon with pineapple and hagis wine improved the flavor and minimized the harshness of the wine.”
Pasteurization is also used to preserve and strengthen shelf life of the juice.
For yacon pickles, two flavor enhancers are basil and oregano.
For the preparation of yacon-oolong tea, slight maceration of the chopped leaves of oolong tea, followed by heating eliminated the tea’s grassy odor and developed a darker color and tea-like flavor. Oolong is a traditional Chinese tea.
For more information, please call Dr. Perlita C. Tiburcio, 0927-228-2326