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True (Sagada) Orange

I’m playing on the carbonated drink Royal Tru Orange and its boast about having
“pulp bits” to support its name.
Earlier this month, I began to write about fruits and the holiday season, then somehow
got into the mystery of Sagada oranges being very much in demand in Baguio and
Manila, Quiapo and Divisoria included. Through the years, though, strong doubts
have emerged about how truly Sagada they were. During the holidays, I actually
discovered oranges with stickers that read “Sagada” but were from China.

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I sent an SOS text to Mai Taqueban, a fellow anthropologist whose husband is from
Sagada, and she sent me oranges that were much smaller than the “Sagada oranges”
from China and had varying tastes, some sweet, some sour.
I then sent an SOS to readers to help me untangle the mysteries around Sagada
oranges and got very helpful responses, including photos of the oranges being sold,
and oranges still on trees.
First, yes, oranges grow in Sagada, and Rock Inn has become a popular destination for
tourists who want to pick oranges at P80 a kilo, with an eat-all-you-can deal for 30
minutes while inside the orchard!
Second, it seems there are different varieties. The China Sagada oranges are all navel
oranges of one variety, but the Sagada oranges are more varied. Readers reported
three to seven types, some sweet, some sour. An important feature: Sagada oranges
are green, or orange and green. The Chinese “Sagada” oranges are a bright (Chinese?)
yellow.
Third, the search for the origins of Sagada oranges is the stuff historians would love.
A Wikipedia entry says the oranges were developed by the Bureau of Plant Industry,
but Maria Rita Lucas, education dean at Centro Escolar University, gave me a link to
Cordillera Now’s website, which says the oranges were introduced by Spaniards
(Sunkist and Hamlist) and Koreans (Ponkan).
Mai Taqueban sent me a long excerpt from a biography of Eduardo Masferre (1909-
1995), famous for his photographic documentation of the Cordilleras. The biography
credits Masferre’s father, Jaime, together with other Spanish soldiers, for orange, as
well as coffee, cultivation in Sagada and other towns in Mountain Province.
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Another reader, Wilson Sy, wrote about an American contractor, Caltrans, introducing
oranges when its employees were working in Mountain Province on an infrastructure
project. The roads were part of an attempt to win the hearts of people in an area with
active insurgency, and the oranges became part of this winning-hearts campaign.
Back now to supply and demand. Readers pointed out that there is a distinct season,
November to February, for Sagada’s oranges, and that the supply isn’t even enough
for Cordillera consumption, so the ones sold in Manila all year round are unlikely to
be from Sagada.
There we have it, the Sagada orange puzzle, which offers us some lessons. Arnold
Abarquez, who was in Sagada for orange-picking, said that while they might not be as
sweet as imported ones, knowing we have our own oranges made him feel proud.

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We do identify oranges with the United States, and maybe, deep down, we never
thought we could produce oranges in the Philippines, or were not aware we are
already producing oranges locally. Alma Rosario Alambra and Victoria Angeles
reminded me that Nueva Vizcaya has Satsuma oranges, and a variety, Perante, named
after the Filipino who worked on its cultivation.
Now to the marketing. Sr. Guadalupe Bautista of the Good Shepherd Sisters convent
in Baguio, said she is disturbed by vendors selling Sagada oranges from China, but
also pointed out that cashew in Antipolo sometimes come from Palawan, and
strawberries being sold in Baguio suddenly all got labeled as coming from Sto. Tomas
because of the “Forevermore” teleserye. Sister Guadalupe said it’s the customers who
make the final choice, but that this should be an informed choice.
We can’t go after the Chinese for using the Sagada label, but we should wonder why
they caught on so quickly to the marketability of a Sagada brand. This whole saga
should encourage us to pour more resources into a fruit industry. Indigenous fruits still
have large untapped potential, and, as we saw with the oranges of Sagada and Nueva
Vizcaya, there may be more “western” crops that can thrive in the Philippines.
Last piece of orange information: Did you know that Royal Tru Orange — first
developed by San Miguel then bought by
Coca-Cola — is sold only in the Philippines?
Besides the readers whose names I mentioned, let me thank others who sent in
informative, and sometimes entertaining, e-mails: Pete Marquez, Annamarie Fresnedi,
Isabel Escoda, Katrina Monseratt Siat-Roque (photos and more photos) and Cecille
Estipona-Olipas.
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The Sagada Genuine Guide Association (SAGGAS) said that the Spaniards brought the Sunkist and
Hamlin varieties in the 1900s, while the Ponkan variety was introduced by the Koreans in the same
decade. Orange picking season lasts from November-February, the coolest months of the year.
The “Sagada Orange” is a variety developed by the Department of Agriculture. The first seedlings were
propagated in the province of Kalinga but it became more popular in Sagada. It is colored orange with
green patches.

22JUN2005

Superb Sagada Oranges


by Marketman
The thrill of the “hunt― is often enough to get me
up at an ungodly hour to trek to a market and poke
around. Occasionally, the hunt yields a brilliant find…
in this case, superb Sagada grown oranges. I always
knew that the North was producing more and more oranges
of various varieties and quality levels. A big article in one of
the local papers just last year chronicled the travails of
growers who were finding it difficult to match the price of
cheap imports, etc. So I was not surprised to find several
vendors in the Baguio market offering “Sagada
Oranges.― But one vendor in the center of the market
had a box filled with enormous and unblemished
oranges, claiming they were not only from Sagada but
sweet and seedless to boot. They were some of the
best looking oranges I have seen in the local markets
so I started to bargain. At a starting price of P160 a
kilo, this was nosebleed material. I haggled it down to P120 a kilo and bought just over
one kilo with the intention of tasting them back at the hotel and returning if I needed to buy
more.

Later that day, I peeled an orange with great


ease (the skin readily separated from the
orange sections inside), popped one section
into my mouth and literally moaned.The juice
was sweet and flavorful, there was not too much
pulp and there were almost no seeds at all. A
definite hit! Delicious! I believe these are
Valencia oranges (as opposed to Navel) that have
apparently taken to the Sagada hillsides and thrive,
bearing wonderful fruit. The oranges looked like
they were freshly picked and I was guessing had far
less insecticide sprayed onto their skins and/or wax
to ensure that they kept for months in cold
storage… so the skins looked brilliant and I was thinking ahead to candied orange peel…

The next day I returned to the market, got to the same


orange vendor and bargained like crazy until she
agreed to P110 a kilo and I bought nearly every orange
in her box. Using a standard juicer, we squeezed 2-3
oranges to make the finest fresh orange juice I have had in
years. The flavor was clean, the juice nearly pulp free and
“smooth―. If I had a bottle of dry champagne they
would have made spectacular mimosas (orange juice
and champagne drink usually served at brunch)! At
close to P80 a glass this was a luxury but well worth
it. I tried to justify my extravagance by saving the orange
peel and throwing them into a ziplock bag and into the fridge
for later use. If you get a chance to taste these Sagada
oranges, please do so. Perhaps not all of them are as good as
the ones I got but how nice that we grow these in our own
back mountains as it were… Now why don’t chi-chi
restaurants in Manila start using some of this great
locally grown produce in their dishes???