Pili oil is quickly gaining favor with food processors and makers of cosmetic products in the Philippines and abroad.

By Oliver Samson

An article by Zarinah, Maaruf, Nazaruddin, Wong, and Xuebing in the International Food Research Journal this year reported that “…oil extracted from pili nut has a light yellowish colour, mainly the glycerides of oleic (44.4% to 59.6%) and palmitic acids (32.6 to 38.2%) and is suitable for culinary purposes.”

The same article stated that “…pili kernel is about 70 percent oil and it resembles olive oil,” which gives rise to the possibility of pili oil taking the place of imported olive
oil in the manufacture of sardines, salad dressings, and other food preparations. Also, pili kernel oil has “high content of monounsaturated fatty acid, which is oleic,” making it
comparable to olive oil.

Research conducted at the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) Biotech funded by Peace and Equity Foundation (PEF) through the Organic Producers and Trade Association or OPTA also found pili oil to be similar to olive oil in chemical and nutrient content, but with more betacarotene. Carotenoids, which are effective as antioxidants, were also found to be present in pili oil.

The concentration of phytosterols, which “cause a fall in the absorption of cholesterol,” was also established, the UPLB research concluded. Its tocopherol (Vitamin E) content has the
capacity to retard lipid oxidation in food products. Pili oil has properties that help rejuvenate the skin, said researcher Melinda Yee, who pioneered pili growing for oil in Sorsogon City in 2005. It can cure skin disorders, restore normal hair color, and control dandruff.

Pili Oil Production

With about 7 hectares of family land in barangay Bibincahan, Sorsogon City planted to pili and coconut, Yee processes much of their yield into oil to meet the demands of restaurateurs and cosmetics manufacturers.

Yee began manual processing of pili pulp and pili kernel into oil in 2007, producing a combined volume of 1,000 liters a month. When market demand for the product rose, she sought
the technology to raise her production levels. In late 2012, she received machines from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) which helped her produce more pili oil.

“The technology from the DOST, which cost over a million pesos, includes a de-pulper, pulp extractor, kernel extractor, filter, filler, and mixer,” Yee said. Equipped with the machines
and relying on her own research and experience, Yee’s production volume rose to 5,000 liters of pulp oil and 3,000 liters of kernel oil per month.

The family farm, planted with several hundred pili trees, supplies her pili processing plant—which is located in the same barangay—with pili pulp and kernels. When the demand for
pili oil goes beyond the capacity of the farm to provide the raw material, she buys pili fruits from local farmers.

Yee sells her kernel oil at Php6 per milliliter (mL) or Php6,000 a liter and pulp oil at Php1.50 per mL or Php1,500 a liter. She squeezes large volumes by order. Pulp and kernel oil in 150 mL, 250 mL, and 500 mL bottles are displayed and sold at her family store, Leslie Pili Products, in Sorsogon City. These are also displayed and sold at Market! Market! in Bonifacio Global City, Taguig, she added.

In 2012, Yee was already selling an average of Php400,000 worth of pili oil in a month, said Teodora G. Laguna, a Department of Trade and Industry (DTI) specialist in Sorsogon.

“Today, the demand for pili oil is rising,” Yee said. “Pulp oil is tapped to meet the growing demands of local and international makers of cosmetic products and wellness centers in the
country.” The kernel oil is mainly bought by food producers, who favor it for salad dressings. Yee noted, however, that both pili pulp oil and kernel oil are good choices for salad dressings and in the preparation of pasta, pizza, and bakery products like cakes.

She also produces scented pili oil, for external use, in small bottles that are also sold at her store in Sorsogon City. They come in various scents, including mint, rose, lemongrass, and
sampaguita.

A Burgeoning Industry

One of Yee’s biggest clients today is Rosalina Tan, a leading figure in OPTA. Tan, who is based in Manila, infuses pili pulp oil into her organic beauty products like lipsticks, lip balms, shampoos, bath soaps, and hand sanitizers. Tan has purchased about 500 liters of pili pulp oil. Another client is Adelina Lim, proprietor of the popular Café by the Ruins along Shuntug Road in Baguio City, who favors pili oil over olive oil for salad dressings.

Abroad, Tess Yutadco, a Filipina based in San Diego, California who manufactures anti-aging cosmetic products, prefers pili pulp oil as a component for her products due to its antioxidant properties; she also wants to patronize a product that’s distinctly Filipino. She has already purchased about 800 liters of food grade pili kernel oil. Alan Troy Cutts, an Australian, purchased 50 liters of pili pulp oil for health and wellness purposes. Gary Tong, a Singaporean, recently bought his first 10 liters of food grade pili kernel oil.

As the pioneer in the pili oil industry in her province, and arguably, in the Bicol Region, the Department of Agriculture is tapping Yee in its campaign to further develop the industry in Sorsogon by training locals on processing pili pulp and kernel into oil.

Most of the people Yee has helped trained have become industry small players who help supply her requirements. She refines their products to meet her quality standards, and her fully
processed pili oil passes the standards set by the Bureau of Food and Drugs (BFAD).

Yee sees it as a good sign that pili pulp and kernel oils are attracting more attention across the country and in other parts of world. She is looking forward to the day when her pili pulp and kernel oils will stand side by side with other oils on grocery and supermarket shelves, providing competition for traditional oils.

This appeared in Agriculture Monthly’s January 2015 issue.