By MADELAINE B. MIRAFLOR
The Philippine Coconut Authority (PCA) is now attempting to save the country’s century-old lambanog industry amid rising cases of poisoning involving the coconut-based alcoholic beverage.
“As lambanog comes from the distilled sap of the unopened coconut flower, it is in the PCA’s best interest to protect the image of the industry,” PCA said in a statement.
“Coconut products are the country’s biggest agricultural exports and source of employment and livelihood. Hence, the PCA through its Regional Office in Lucena City has been actively coordinating with the concerned LGUs [local government units] and FDA [Food and Drug Administration] to help address the problem besetting the lambanog industry in CALABARZON area,” it added.
Last Christmas, as much as 11 people died while hundreds were hospitalized in Laguna and Quezon for suspected lambanog poisoning. This was around a year since 20 people also died in the regions of Southern Tagalog and Central Luzon after drinking lambanog. As a result, the sale of lambanog is temporarily banned in Laguna.
Commonly described as “coconut vodka,” Lambanog is a Philippine alcoholic beverage distilled from the sap of the unopened coconut flower.
The lambanog industry is a century old and one of the traditional coconut-based industries of the country particularly in Southern Tagalog area.
In the late 1990s, the Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI) of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) collaborated with the three biggest lambanog distilleries of the country to standardize the distillation process. The collaboration has improved the quality of the product.
Exports of lambanog followed, initially to Taiwan and Cambodia in 2001. Since then, it has enjoyed increasing exposure and popularity in the international markets.
Coconut Lambanog Distillers Association (COCOLAMBDA) President Alfredo Amorado said that genuine coconut lambanog can never be poisonous due to the fact that the maximum percentage of methanol that can be produced from distilling a fermented coconut sap is only 2 percent which is separated from the lambanog beverage during distillation.
As such, the 11.4 to 18.2 percent reported methanol content found in the samples gathered by FDA after the poisoning incident in Laguna and Quezon may be a result of adulteration and not from the naturally-produced lambanog.
Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a non-drinking type of alcohol. It is flammable and poisonous liquid. It is mostly used to create fuel, solvents and antifreeze.
According to the FDA report, ingestion of 30 ml of methanol is potentially fatal. Absorption through the skin or via inhalation may also lead to toxic effects. This is due to methanol being converted to formaldehyde and formic acid in the liver.
PCA Officer-in-Charge Administrator Roel Rosales said the public should only buy lambanog from FDA-licensed and PCA-registered producers and retailers.
In support to FDA’s efforts, PCA creating a Technical Working Group to work closely with FDA and other concerned government agencies to ensure safety of the general public.