NOTHING is more at home in the Cebuano gut than bugas-mais (corn grits).
For lunch, we had goso (seaweed), fried fish, and rice-corn combo. Since we are island dwellers, the first two dishes are regular fare on our table.
The third dish is courtesy of the University of the Philippines Los Baños (UPLB) team, which conducted a recent inquiry to determine the feasibility of promoting a combination of 70 percent rice and 30 percent corn throughout the UP system.
What struck me while I was organizing the FGD in Cebu was the general puzzled reactions: why combine rice and corn?
The Institute of Plant Breeding, Crop Science Cluster of the College of Agriculture of UPLB placed the rice-corn blend’s health benefits on the product label: the low glycemic index of corn promotes slow digestion, which in turn prevents the sudden rise in blood sugar, builds up stamina, and diminishes the craving for snacks.
Though helping diabetics, dieters, and the “figure-conscious,” corn grits lag behind rice. According to an article by Dr. Serlie Barroga-Jamias on uplb.edu.ph, some people think that mais is only fit for the poor or livestock.
To promote this “food for champions,” the UPLB researchers produced, after several taste tests, a rice-corn blend that “tastes and looks like pure rice”.
Perhaps needed in Luzon, is this dietary sleight of hand required in Visayas and Mindanao, traditional corn-eaters?
During the 2008 rice crisis, the Cebu Province promoted sinanduloy, which combines rice with the cheaper and more nutritious kamote (sweet potato).
However, it will take more than the nation’s problems with rice production and importation to reduce Filipinos to the measures demanded by wartime deprivation.
Contemporary Cebuanos eat rice and corn separately. Cebu has no shortage of sellers, with buyers even choosing the milled size of the corn grits.
In wet markets, Numero Disesais (no. 16) costs P700 for a sack of about 48 kilos. That’s about P28 per kilo of corn grits while the Ganador variety of white, polished rice costs about P50. For budget-conscious Cebuanos, the P65 price of a kilo of rice-corn blend is steep.
However, after learning that friends in the south of Cebu now buy bugas-mais when they once planted corn for consumption, I realized that more than taste trends and market prices determine the future of corn-eating.
Climate change has made many Cebu farmers balk at investing in fertilizers and pesticides. Raising pigs and goats is quicker and more lucrative.
Coupled with “unlimited rice” and the fast food trend of exclusively serving polished rice, will bugas-mais eventually disappear from our tables and palates?
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* First published in SunStar Cebu’s February 19, 2017 issue of the Sunday editorial-page column, “Matamata”