Friday, May 23, 2008

Kalingag (Cinnamomum mercado)

Yesterday was the International Day for Biological Diversity. To celebrate (albeit late!) this morning, I planted a wild cinnamon tree native to Mindoro. Once used for food, it is now fading into the backdrop of conventional agriculture and plant sameness. Plant sameness is the opposite of biodiversity. It is when things get boring and food gets typical.

Kuya Jon, the farmer who gave me the seedling, called it "kalingao" and had me on a wild goose researchase. He said only that people used to use the leaves for flavoring adobo, and that he considered it to be kind of like laurel in this respect. (Kuya Jon is trying to bring back old varieties of trees in his native Mindoro.)

It was only until I acquired the great and heavy book of Philippine Culinary Vignettes and Period Recipes by Felice Prudente Sta. Maria that I discovered the plant's identity.

In the 19th century, a certain Padre Juan Martinez de Zuñiga mentioned the kalingag plant as already thriving in Mindoro mountains. A 1700s colonizer used it to flavor ragout. It was being touted by this Spanish fiscal as some kind of wonder-spice that tasted of "cinnamon, clove and pepper all combined", and was proposed to compete for trade with Dutch spices. Apparently, these requests were not entertained and kalingag remained wild for the most part.

And so I will kind of show you how I transplanted it. I dug a hole with a piko or pickaxe. Fortunately, it had been raining and our poor soil was at least soft.

This hole I filled with some partially eaten worm compost. The worms have grown as large as babys' fingers. Silly me to think they would drown while I was gone! The holes I had made on the bottom of the worm box drained all the rain out.

Then I parted the compost, put the kalingag in, and covered it with some wire mesh. This is because creatures like chickens and people pass through this area, and I will be quite sad if they step on the seedling. I hold it to be quite a rare sort. I can't wait to start using it for food.

Although some internet sources equate kalingag with the more common "first class" kanela or cinnamon, they are not identical. In Pampanga, the plant is called kalingad, in Cagayan it is kuliuan or uliuan, in Bataan it is called samiling. Locally used for digestion problems and yeast infections, it is also helpful in situations involving lice.

Now that I think about it, I think I will go outside and encircle in with broken pots and more obstacles.


Greg said...

right on!

phin.ancheta said...

I hope it's not too late for me, but I really want to have seedlings of kalingag. It's also good in lowering bloodsugar, cholesterol and blood pressure. Im Pasaig. Thanks

phin.ancheta said...

I'm from Pasig. Just email me if you still have. Thanks again