By LYN RAMO
BAGUIO CITY — A university-based research institution is about to introduce etag, a Cordillera preserved pork, in commercial scale. They would infuse it with 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 began from a research in 2009.
Besides promoting etag in commercial quantity and quality, the Agriculture and Resource Research and Development Consortium (HARRDEC) also seeks to develop handling and packaging methods to prolong 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 like the Kankanaey and Bontocs of Sagada call it inasin. Others like the Benguet Ibaloy and Kankanaey call it kiniing or kinuday.
Under whatever name, the etag’s 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, prepares her inasin by rubbing the meat with a generous amount of rock salt and a little vinegar to prevent flies from swarming on the meat when she hangs it under the sun to dry for at least three hours daily for seven days.
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 etag 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 usually 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 joining the merry-making.
The HARRDEC study, however, agreed that the traditional way to preserve etag oftentimes attract flies and rodents, thus the etag could be harboring 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 cater to the consumers who prefer meat products that are unique in taste and flavor. He added that a growing opportunity for exporting the product through the local market is encouraging.
Sagada’s experience with foreign visitors patronizing etag has encouraged local restaurant owners in the area to serve the delicacy, which is now fast gaining acceptability even among foreign guests, according to BSU Professor Ruth S. Batani, one of the 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 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 in the very preparation of etag.
“Once bacteria have set in, the pork preservation could not be completed,” said BSU Researcher Sherilyn B. Balauro in her presentation. She is involved in the study as a research leader.
Among the Igorots of the Cordillera, pinikpikan is incomplete without the etag, which is not readily available in supermarkets or even in wet market. It usually takes a Cordilleran in a household to make the etag, especially the best etag which should be from a native pig belly (liempo) or the part where the lean meat is layered with strips of fat.
The next challenge is the supply of native black pigs, usually used in Cordillera rituals to appease the spirits. Not everyone could raise a native pig, especially in urban centers because these require a wider area on which to range freely.
Baguio mentions a farm in Nueva Ecija specializing 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%), are willing to pay as much as P100 [$2.30] (54%) for a one-fourth kilo of etag, or P400 ($9.21) per kilo. They also liked the vacuum-packed (70%) cold-smoked (58%) etag.