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.
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.
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.
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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