Everyone who enters Laoag City via the Gilbert Bridge is welcomed by a humungous “M” sign. The golden arch is trademark of a global food chain that is home to fatally cholesterol-laden food products including French fries, fried chicken, and burgers.
Somewhere in the city, however, another big “M” is gaining ground, slowly but surely, thanks to a lady who has extensively researched on, developed, and commercialized a greeny wonder.
Dr. Lorma Matias-Valera, a professor at the Mariano Marcos State University College of Industrial Technology (MMSU CIT), has revolutionized malunggay technology, finding a way to marry off gustatory delight with good nutrition.
Born in Cebu but raised in Laoag City, Valera started cooking using original malunggay recipes in 1987, which her fellow teachers enjoyed. Half a decade later, she started the first malunggay-processing project, successfully coming up with different flour-based, malunggay-fortified snacks.
MMSU President Elias Calacal, who encouraged her to come up with a project proposal in the processing of malunggay snacks, approved the project after tasting one of Valera’s original concoctions, malunggay ice cream.
Not long since, malunggay ice cream gained a considerable following which includes former President Fidel V. Ramos, who describes the product as “food for the gods”.
Seeing the potential of Valera’s work, the Technical Education and Skills Development Authority (TESDA) funded another project for the processing of more malunggay recipes. Today, other malunggay products are available and being developed: pretzels, sugar bread, pasta, polunggay (malunggay-based polvoron), malunggay-based flour, pastillas, among others.
Valera, who holds a master’s degree in education major in practical arts and a doctorate in educational management, has since been invited to a number of cooking demonstrations and product exhibits sponsored by different agencies and higher education institutions in many parts of the country. The malunggay-based products she developed, which are now being promoted by different government and non-government organizations, have been showcased by major national television stations, and featured in national newspapers, magazines, recipe books, and websites.
Valera believes that processing malunggay (moringa in English and marunggay in Iluko) and other vegetables can be the solution to varying stages of malnutrition suffered by 3 of 5 children throughout the country.
Each ounce of Moringa contains seven times the Vitamin C found in oranges, four times the Vitamin A of carrots, three times the iron of spinach, four times as much calcium as milk, and three times the potassium of bananas.
Among the other health benefits identified by marunggay lovers include immune system strengthened, skin condition restored, blood pressure controlled, headaches and migraines handled, diabetes sugar level managed, inflammations and arthritis pains reduced, tumors restricted, and ulcers healed. Indeed, marunggay is not considered “nature’s medicine cabinet” for nothing.
In 2007, Valera served as resource speaker at the launch of “Malunggay in the City” in Metro Manila. Sponsored by the Department of Agriculture, the program aims to encourage urban poor communities to plant malunggay to help fight hunger, poverty and malnutrition in urban areas.
“Eat your vegetables,” children are always urged by adults. However, vegetables must first taste delicious and look appealing if people are to be encouraged to consume them. Here is where the marunggay fairy comes in: churning out food that no kid can resist.
But it is not only children who are drawn to Valera’s recipes. During a television shoot for Negosyo, atbp., the program of the Department of Science and Technology-Technology Resource Center (DOST-TRC) aired on the National Broadcasting Network, DOST-TRC Director General Antonio Ortiz could not help but flash a boyish grin after tasting malunggay ice cream and pastries. Thereafter, Ortiz pledged to help commercialize malunggay technology nationwide.
Valera acknowledges the significant help extended by incumbent MMSU President Miriam E. Pascua is most supportive to the project. She says she is also thankful to have dynamic team members in the malunggay project, especially Prof. Teresita N. Pablo, also from MMSU CIT, who helped her develop some of the recipes.
“We do not have to look far to generate technology. In fact, they are just within our reach. It’s just a matter of looking at the potential around us,” explains the 1998 Most Outstanding Home Economics Teacher Awardee of the Philippine Home Economics Association.
Valera looks forward to having malunggay-based products exported globally, if only the products’ shelf-life and packaging can be fine-tuned. With ten million Filipinos, many of them Ilocanos, living in every corner of the world, it will not be a total surprise if malunggay becomes the next big thing in a planet battered by economic woes.
Valera may not be a fairy of magic carousels, glass shoes, and enchanted fortresses, but her ability to let people discover magic in the ordinary is power beyond measure.
“I just want to help people realize that malunggay is not a lowly viand after all,” says Valera.
As malunggay technology continues to show much promise, one hopes that it will grow further and generate more jobs. Sadly so, many crew members of McDonald Laoag are former students of the malunggay fairy.