By OLIVER SAMSON
In the southern part of Sorsogon, the pili nut without the pulp but still in hard shell is called lagting. The nut removed from the shell is known as ilog, which is rapidly pronounced, unlike its Tagalog counterpart that means “river.”
The seven towns comprising the southern part of Sorsogon are Barcelona, Gubat, Bulusan, Santa Magdalena, Bulan, Matnog, and Irosin. They speak a dialect known as Waray Sorsogon and are producers of pili nuts.
When Covid-19 restrictions started to ease about two years ago, couple Jayson Encinares Embile and Gretchen Eduarte Embile started buying lagting.
Couple Jayson Encinares Embile and Gretchen Eduarte Embile. (Embile Raw Pili Nuts)
Jayson used to work at a cooperative in the town of Gubat and Gretchen works as a teacher at Sorsogon National High School in the province’s lone city.
Most of the pili nut producers who sell lagting have coconut as their main crop. Some of them have 20 pili trees on the coconut land they till. Others have less, or even more.
But the pili trees that thrive in the middle of hundreds of coconut trees provide them with additional income, so, they regard the pili trees dearly. The price of a kilo of pili nuts could be three times higher than the price of a kilo of copra, which is their main product.
And pili nuts–sold as lagting–take much less time to harvest and process than the coconuts. Harvesting and processing pili fruits into lagting also requires much less manpower and expense.
Ensuring nut quality
Since the couple sources their lagting from different farmers, ensuring nut quality becomes an essential measure that has to be undertaken in growing their venture.
The quality of the nuts can be calculated based on the appearance and touch of the shell. When the couple sees the lagting are new and clean, they easily accept them.
Some lagting sellers employ different methods in making more money out of their lagting, Gretchen shared.
“Some sell us lagting that are 50 percent new and 50 percent old,” Gretchen said in southern Sorsogon dialect. “In that case, we lower the price per kilo by a half.”
When the price of lagting is P90 a kilo, but are 50 percent new and 50 percent old, the couple buys them at P45 a kilo.
And before accepting lagting that is half new and half old, the couple cracks some of the old lagting open to assess the condition of the nuts.
“Nuts turn yellowish and start decaying when stored for a long time,” Jayson said, also in the southern Sorsogon dialect. “That’s why it’s important to unshell some pieces to check on the quality before accepting them.”
Mold grows on old nuts, especially when the lagting are stored for a very long time, Jayson explained.
Lagting could be stored up to one year when dried properly, he said. Beyond one year, the nut’s quality would begin to deteriorate. But Jayson said, in practice, they store lagting up to five months only to ensure the quality of the nuts.
The couple prefers fresh lagting, but accepting old ones is part of the business. They simply find ways to get the best out of them. “There are sellers who mix some young pili nuts with mature ones, Jayson explained.
The young nuts are mixed with the mature ones to give the lagting more weight. “We just remove the young lagting from the mature ones before accepting them,” Jayson said.
Sugar doesn’t stick to young pili nuts, Gretchen explained, so pili candy-makers refuse them.
Young pili nuts also quickly degenerate, added Jayson.
Some sellers even dip young lagting in soy sauce to make them look mature, Gretchen disclosed.
As a start-up, the couple has already encountered scheming sellers, but about 70 percent of pili producers who bring lagting to them are honest, Gretchen said.
The pili producers who sell the couple lagting come from the towns of Gubat, Barcelona, Bulusan, Casiguran, and Prieto Diaz, but most are from Gubat, which is the couple’s town.
Lagting are relatively dry when sold by pili producers. But the state of dryness from the farms is not enough to keep the nuts in good condition for a long time; they have to be dried in the sun for two to three days.
Drying pili nuts still in shells in the sun. (Embile Raw Pili Nuts)
The couple pays helpers to dry the lagting they’ve bought, creating opportunities to earn for locals who need to eke out a living.
It usually takes two to three days of sun drying before the lagting could be finally stored, Jayson said. Lagting are easily cracked open when properly dried, and the nuts inside the shells are also dry.
Ten kilos of ilog (unshelled pili nuts still in brownish skin) could be removed from the shell in one day by a single helper, Jayson said.
Unshelled pili nuts. (Embile Raw Pili Nuts)
“If the helper can remove 10 kilos of nuts or more from the shell, it means he is already an expert in cracking the nut out of the shell,” Jayson said in southern Sorsogon dialect. “Most can unshell about eight kilos of nuts only in a day.”
Shipping raw pili to different parts of the country
The couple ships the unshelled nuts across the country. Most of their buyers are pili nut confectioners. They ship to as far as Sultan Kudarat, Palawan, Manila, Nueva Ecija, and Quezon.
Unshelled pili nuts ready for shipping to a confectioner in Lucban, Quezon. (Embile Raw Pili Nuts)
They sell unshelled pili nuts at P600 per kilo. But when the buyer is getting in volume, they lower the price to P570 per kilo. In the town of Gubat alone, dozens of pili nut candy-makers buy nuts from the couple. “When there is a shortage of ilog in Gubat, the pili candy-makers here come to us for supply,” Jayson said in southern Sorsogon dialect.
The couple keeps the Embiles Raw Pili Nut Facebook page updated.
Pili nut season
Pili nut season falls in the months of July, August, and September. During these months, the supply of pili nuts is at its highest. But during these months, the price of pili nuts is also at its lowest, Gretchen explained.
Pili fruits. The ones in black are mature. The others in green are still young. (Embile Raw Pili Nuts)
At the time of the interview (July 12, 2023), a kilo of lagting is bought at P60 in the town of Gubat, she said.
The lowest is P50 to P55, Jayson added.
But during the months of November, December, and April, the price of pili nuts is at its highest, Gretchen said. A kilo of lagting is bought at P90 to P100.
When the coconut farmer just got his lagting sold, a smile gets on his face. Then, he uses part of the money to buy some luxury. Maybe a few bottles of cold beer, and some branded ice cream for the kids.
There’s money in pili shells
The pili shells give Jayson and Gretchen additional income.
Bread bakers in the town of Gubat, who still use the old school oven, source the couple for pili shells. The bakers use them in making fire when they do baking.
They give the shells at five pesos per kilo, Jason said.
One does not need to till a field to make money in agriculture. As Jayson and Gretchen show, one can create opportunities for oneself if they can connect people along the value chain.
Photos courtesy of Embile Raw Pili Nuts