In the Philippines, drinking alcohol isn’t just a way to relax – it’s tied to the Filipono culture.
This is because alcohol is enjoyed during festivities, healing rituals, and celebratory events. Tuba is one of the most historical and popular drinks that you can find in the Philippines.
What, exactly, is tuba?
Tuba is really just the fermentation of the sap of the coconut tree, which is why it’s called coconut wine. It’s a popular drink for people living in the rural south of the Philippines.
While it’s considered a beverage of the Philippines, tuba is actually enjoyed in other countries, such as India (where it’s known as Toddy), Angola (where it’s called Manjenvo), and Indonesia (where it’s called Tuak).
Let’s explore everything you need to know about tuba, such as what it tastes like, how it’s made, and its different varieties.
What Does Tuba Taste Like?
Tuba is a sweet, naturally carbonated drink. When it’s in bahal form, in which it’s mixed with bark, it can be a bit sour.
Interestingly, after curing it for a few weeks, it becomes vinegar that you can use for cooking purposes.
This is known as sukang visaya. Clearly, tuba has a variety of uses for Filipinos!
What Are The Different Types Of Tuba?
Tuba is made from the coconut sap of palm inflorescence, which is the tree’s flowering stem.
In different regions, tuba goes under different names and how it’s made varies. In Luzon, tuba is referred to by locals as lambanog. It’s made from pure sap so it looks a bit milky white but sometimes it can be colorless, which is why people call it coconut vodka. It’s usually distilled.
By comparison, in the Visayas Islands, this wine is called tuba, bahalina, or bahal. Here, the coconut wine is made by mixing barok, a red-hued bark from mangrove trees, with coconut sap to make the tuba a bold red color.
However, both beverages have coconut sap as their main ingredient. Basically, tuba is made from coconut sap while lambanog is tuba that has been distilled.
How Did Tuba Come About?
Tuba can be traced all the way back to the 16th century, when it was enjoyed during shamanic rituals and spiritual ceremonies before the Philippines was colonized by Europeans.
Back then, it was served as a welcome drink. Nowadays, it features at festivities and celebrations, such as baptisms.
Over time, Philippine history became full of evidence of tuba being a drink that symbolizes the people’s resistance. This is because of the simple fact of how this coconut wine has lasted throughout 300 years of Spanish colonialism and 50 years of American colonialism.
The wine is empowering and a symbol of how the Philippines is focused on preserving its people’s rights.
Tuba can also be said to be a symbol for marginalized people who want a better life, and literature makes references to tuba in an emotional, meaningful way, as it brings to life the economic reality of tuba gatherers.
These gatherers, called mananggiti, have to climb coconut trees to retrieve the sap. It’s a difficult, stressful job because it’s associated with so many dangers, such as bees and snakes. Without the use of many tools, the gatherers climb the trees barefoot, which further endangers their lives.
How Is Tuba Made?
To make tuba, the unopened flowering stems of the palm tree need to be tapped once the palm has reached its bearing stage. The methods of how the coconut palm is tapped is ancient but varies from one location to the next. It’s usually tapped with a piece of wood.
To prevent the flower from opening, the inflorescence is bound with coconut leaves. When the flowering stem is about to produce juice, a length from the end is cut off. The stem is carefully bent over so that coconut palm juice will flow out of it.
The gatherer who has climbed the coconut tree will cut the tips of the flowers to release the coconut sap. The sap, or tuba, is put into a container, which is usually made of glass. The tuba gatherer sometimes uses bamboo that’s cut into a container to collect the coconut sap from the tree.
The tuba then needs to be left in the container until its bubbles are eliminated. Sediment will form, which takes about three or four days. At this point, it is possible to drink the tuba, but it might be a bit too sweet.
After three or four days, the tuba will have to be filtered. It will be transferred into a new container so that the juice can be separated from the sediment that’s formed at the bottom.
One will have to wait for another four or so days before the mixture can be transferred to yet another container. The sediment will mostly have gone by this stage. It’s important to ensure that the container is sealed tightly. It will be put aside and covered for a few weeks.
If, after that time, sediment can still be seen, the liquid will have to be separated from it again. This is a process requiring patience as the tuba will have to be stored for another month.
When tuba goes through a long sedimentation process, it will become stronger and contain more alcohol in it. This beverage is known as bahalina.
How Is Tuba Served?
In Visayas, there are three popular ways of serving tuba:
As singolan: This is when tuba is mixed with soda, such as Cola. This blend makes the coconut wine sweeter if it’s too strong or sour.
As may chaser: This is when the tuba is served with a chaser of soda or juice. This is sometimes preferred because it gives you the chance to sample the taste of the tuba on its own before blending it with a different beverage for a more pleasing drink.
As puro: This is when you drink pure tuba without having any soda or cola to drink with it or afterwards. The tuba can be poured into a glass, which is called a tagay.
Other Ways to Enjoy Tuba
In areas such as Luzon, the tuba is usually enjoyed immediately after being collected from the coconut tree because it can become sour if put aside.
When turned into lambanog, tuba is drunk as an alcoholic beverage because it’s made by fermenting and distilling coconut sap from the unopened coconut flower. However, this drink can also be sweetened with raisins to provide a clear, clean, and crisp taste with a bit of a fruity flavor.
Note that tuba is similar to wine in that it tastes better when it ages for longer. This turns the tuba into bahalina which tastes sweet and fruity.
Where Can You Find The Tastiest Tuba In The Philippines?
Where you can enjoy tuba really depends on how you want to enjoy it.
If you want it to be freshly made, it’s best to head to the province of Luzon. If you’d rather try the reddish-maroon tuba, then going to Visayas is a good choice.
How much alcohol is in tuba?
Coconut sap that’s been collected from the tree has an average alcohol content of 7.3 percent.
Is basi the same thing as tuba?
Basi is a fermented alcoholic drink, but instead of being made from coconut sap it’s made from sugarcane. It’s popular in the northern regions of the Philippines.
Is lambanog popular during celebrations?
Thanks to its 40 percent alcohol content, lambonog is a strong palm liquir that’s consumed during the festive season in the Philippines.
If you’re travelling to the Philippines, one of the beverages you must try is tuba, or coconut wine.
This sweet, alcoholic drink is refreshing and tasty, while also having rich cultural significance. You can find it in different varities, depending on where it’s made, and it can take on different apperances and flavor profiles as a result.
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