Is there such a thing as healthy, processed meat?

The Department of Agriculture – Southern Tagalog Integrated Agricultural Research Center (DA-STIARC) in Lipa City gives a resounding yes to this question through a project on meat processing that makes use of herbs and spices instead of synthetic ingredients that are made up mostly of chemicals.

Going Natural With Processed Food 1

With the high population of native pigs and native chicken in the province of Batangas, the project team figured that the meat from these native animals, once processed and enlivened by natural herbs and spices, would not only be a good match, but a downright healthy mix.

Why native animals?
Native pigs are known to be more adapted to local conditions especially under the Philippines’ changing climate pattern. Also, they are considered to be more resistant to diseases and parasites and are low maintenance as they are able to grow well on indigenous or locally available feeds. Native pigs are best known for the unique taste and crunchiness of their meat, making it a more gastronomically appealing choice over hybrid pigs.

Native chickens possess similar qualities, particularly their high resistance to diseases and the ability to subsist on farm by-products, thus requiring minimal care.

These attributes are seen as good for ease of production especially for rural growers. Moreover, their benefits to health, compared to commercially-bred animals, are an advantage adding to their appeal as rural enterprises.

Getting rid of unnatural ingredients in processed meat
Nowadays, people are becoming more conscious of their health. This is manifested by the rising demand for safe and natural foods in the market. Ironically, processed foods, specifically, processed animal meat, still dominate the market despite the insistence and preference of people in choosing healthier, natural food products. This was the motivating force behind the project, “Technology Development and Commercialization of Production System and Meat Processing from Organically Grown Native Pig and Native Chicken”, led by Wilmer Faylon, a Senior Science Research Specialist at DA-STIARC.

Generally, the project aims to increase the income of the native animal raisers through commercialization of technologies developed for the production of organically grown native pigs and chicken and processing of the meat with the use of natural ingredients. Thus, the project also targets to develop the technology for healthy processed meat, to cater, not only to the creation of livelihood for the native animal raisers, but to the promotion of the consumers’ health as well.

The project followed already existing technology in raising native animals by means of organic practices. The animal growers utilized sakwa, or gabing San Fernando, cassava, and madre de agua or trichantera as feeds for the native pigs. For the native chicken, they were fed with forages such as trichantera, indigofera, ipil-ipil, and Arachis pintoi (mani-mani). The animals were reared for ten months, in 200 and 300 square meter paddocks for native pig and native chicken, respectively.

In shunning the use of synthetic ingredients and chemicals in preparing processed meat from native pigs and chicken, essential organic herbs and spices were established in a 100-square meter nursery in the station that will be used as natural substitutes.

The herbs and spices used in the processing and development of meat products, include Philippine oregano, Thai basil, Chinese celery (kintsay), hot pepper, annatto (atsuete), black pepper, garlic, and lemongrass along with nipa palm vinegar, rock salt, naturally fermented soy sauce, cassava flour, and raw sugar.

Making the call for healthier processed food
With alarming reports from health organizations regarding processed foods, the government can be an instrument in raising awareness to encourage more people to consider healthier alternatives.

The processed meat presently available in the market cannot be seen to be a declining industry as its value and the demand for it from the standpoint of commerce and convenience remain strong and, therefore, still has a big following albeit health risks. That’s why the project team deemed it is high time that people are made aware that they have better, healthier options with food processed with natural ingredients.

Now, there can be healthier options for tapa, burger patties, tocino, smoked ham, siomai, and lechon belly, thanks to the research team behind this project who thought that health is indeed, wealth. ### Daryl Lou A. Battad