Going beyond refined sugar: Traditional sweeteners in the Philippines

It goes without saying that the core of every delectable Filipino meal are the ingredients that provide each dish with distinct twists, flavors, and aromas.

From appetizer to dessert, Filipino cuisine reflects the nation’s general penchant for sweets.

While almost every ingredient is readily available on supermarket shelves nowadays, including sugar, still, nothing compares to natural or unprocessed goods. 

John Sherwin S. Felix, a young Filipino food heritage champion, has shared his research findings on some of the traditional sweeteners. 

Here’s a list of sugar alternatives that you can find within the Philippine archipelago and can incorporate into your meals.


A well-liked alternative to ordinary refined sugar in the Ilocos region is this delicacy known as balikucha. It is a palmier-shaped confection made using pure sugar cane syrup. You can sweeten your tea, coffee, or hot chocolate drink with a piece of this candy or eat it on its own.

Muscovado sugar

This is perhaps the most prevalent sort of pure and unrefined sugarcane on the list.

Merriam-Webster defines muscovado as a “raw sugar obtained from the juice of the sugarcane by evaporation and draining off the molasses.”

The production of muscovado sugar is prevalent in sugarcane-producing provinces such as Negros, Antique, Sultan Kudarat, and Tarlac, among others. 


Pakaskas, otherwise called buri sugar, is a unique sweet treat from Verde Island, Batangas that has long been a source of sustenance for the island’s inhabitants. This native product is made even more special as it is delicately wrapped in oval-shaped dried palm leaves known as “kasitas.”

Pakaskas, according to Felix, is made from the buri palm tree’s sap and consumed as a candy, a sweetener for kapeng barako, or a topping for suman Taal. 

The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) also promotes its use and processing in other goods such as pastillas, yema, sandwich spread, and jam.

Panutsa de bao 

Panutsa de bao, a sugar cane chunk, is another sweetener for snacks like rice cakes. This ingredient is shaped like halved coconut shells, hence the “bao” in its name. Other names for panutsa de bao include sangkaka, tagapulot, kalamay, and sinakob.

Now that you have a glimpse of some of the native sweeteners, the question is, how can you contribute to conserving our heritage food items with or without necessarily growing them? Feliz answered this question in a social media post, listing four things: to know, patronize, utilize, and share. 

“Know. Research about the history, uses, producers, and culture that surrounds our indigenous food. Patronize. Show your support to our producers and ethical pro-local brands. Utilize. Incorporate them in your meals and recipes. Share. Feel free to tell your stories, memories, encounters, and thoughts about our heritage food.”

Some of these food items may be unknown to some Filipinos, but these local finds make the Philippine cuisine rich and full of flavors. 

The search for natural sugar is rising as more consumers gravitate toward choosing healthy food options, so it is hoped that the production and consumption of these traditional sweets or sweeteners will continue.

Read: A visual archive by a food heritage advocate highlights underrated Philippine ingredients

Photos by John Sherwin Felix 

For more information, visit Lokalpedia

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