Every now and then, government agencies issue reports that many vinegars in the market do not actually deserve the name as they are no more than chemical preparations with no organic elements.

Recently the Philippine Nuclear Research Institute of the Department of Science and Technology reported that “as many as eight of ten vinegar products” in the local market were not made from natural sources. The products, the institute said, did not undergo the “natural process of fermentation of acetic acid, which is the usual process of making vinegar.”

Consumers complained that the questionable products were not identified. But consumers actually need not rely on government agencies to tell them if their vinegar is real or not.

There is a law that specifies just what should be called vinegar. Republic Act 1929 “prohibits the sale of acetic acid in any form in groceries and retail stores selling foodstuff”. Sponsored by Rep. Ricardo Yap Ladrido of the fourth district of Iloilo, it was signed into law in 1957 by then President Carlos P. Garcia.

In drafting the law, Ladrido said the director of what was then the Institute of Science and Technology stated that “acetic acid contains substances detrimental to public health”. The law does not seem to have been repealed nor have there been amendments.

In 1970, then Health Secretary Amadeo H. Cruz issued Administrative Order No. 134 that defined vinegar as the “liquid produced by alcoholic and/or acetous fermentation of one or more of the following: malt, spirit, wine, cider, alcoholic liquors, fruits, grain, vegetables, honey, glucose, sugar (including unrefined crystal sugar and refinery syrups or molasses).”

The AO said, “Vinegar containing any artificial matter such as synthetic acetic acid, or cloudifying agent shall be deemed to be adulterated and its sale is thereby prohibited.”

These official issuances should benefit not just consumers but coconut farmers, too, who may feel they can no longer claim space in the congested vinegar market with all the different local and imported products now offered to consumers.

In fact, making natural coconut vinegar may be financially rewarding for farmers.

In 2005, Arturo J. Liquete, officer-in-charge of the Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA), estimated that coconut growers in Mindanao, who stuck to the traditional copra production, averaged a gross income of P18,073 each per hectare per year, and netted P9,688.40 per hectare per year.

Copra production had little value added. The meat of harvested coconut is dried and sent to local and foreign producers and manufacturers for use as raw material in various products.

Liquete, responding to a question from the Mama Sita Foundation, said if coconut farmers invested in equipment to turn their produce into vinegar, they could earn a gross income of about P411,600 per hectare per year and net P71,040, an additional income of P61,351.60.

Vinegar production, he added, would also earn more for the coconut farm sector in terms of labor wages per hectare per year, about P216,000, compared to the very modest P8,384.60 from copra production. And that was in 2005.

Coconut, or tuba, vinegar production will also expand the coconut farmers’ market. They will be able to bring their product directly to consumers here and abroad.

With people, including Filipinos, being increasingly health-conscious, tuba vinegar has a lot going for it to make it attractive to consumers. Liquete said “studies and laboratory analyses show that tuba vinegar is nutritious and thus good for human health. It contains macronutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus, potassium, calcium, magnesium and chloride (as well as) micronutrients boron, zinc, manganese, copper and iron.”

Liquete said synthetic vinegar, which has taken a large share of the local vinegar market, “…is merely a mixture of water and non-food grade glacial acetic acid plus a colloidal solution (e.g. milk) for cloudy appearance. Consumption of this product poses risk to health, normally associated with gastric ailments.” He said synthetic vinegar used “non-food grade acetic acid,” which suggested the material was not meant for ingestion.

A comparative study of apple cider and tuba vinegars conducted by the PCA Laboratory Services Division found that the local variety stacked up well against the foreign product. Ma. Celia M. Raquepo, division chief, concluded, “It was illustrated that coconut sap vinegar is comparable with apple cider in terms of availability of nutrients and other substances beneficial to the human health.”

But she pointed out the need to improve the quality of production of the local vinegar so as to “re-introduce this product with its nutrients and health benefits that are comparable to apple cider.”

In today’s world, vinegar is not only viewed as food, a condiment, but also as a health supplement. This is the main reason for the popularity of apple cider, which has been associated with many health benefits, from weight loss to relief of acid reflux, even prevention of heart ailments and diabetes.

ImageA study by scientists from China and Pakistan that looked into the health and medicinal benefits of vinegar concluded: “A considerable amount of data suggests that vinegar has remedial value, especially for control of blood glucose in diabetic or pre-diabetic populations. As a medicinal food, vinegar is bearable and engaging, but future studies must better characterize the importance of vinegar for health advancement. Operative therapeutic characteristics of vinegar include reduction of blood pressure, reduction of the diabetes effects, prevention of cardiovascular diseases, and antibacterial and antioxidant activities.”

The researches added, “Depending on the different types of vinegar, total phenolic contents and inherent acetic acid, regular ingestion of vinegar may modify human metabolism and health.” They suggested more research “to determine the therapeutic role of vinegar in different diseases, especially to determine the mechanism of its effects.”

About the author: Linda Bolido worked as reporter and desk editor at the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

“Studies and laboratory analyses show that tuba vinegar is nutritious and thus good for human health.” (PNA photo)

Linda B. Bolido

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