Description and Characteristics
Kaong palm, also known as sugar palm, is an upright medium-sized palm tree. Upon reaching its maturity age which is more than 15 years, it grows to a height of up to 15 meters and a diameter of about 40 centimeters. The stalks attached to the trunk have leaves that are arranged on each side. The base part of the stalk (the part that is attached to the trunk) is protected with firm black fibers called “kabo-negro”. As the tree grows taller, its stout trunk gets distinct disk-shaped scars from stalks that are already detached to it. Each stalk can grow to up to 8.5 meters and can have 100 or more pairs of linear leaflets (up to 1.5 meters long) attached to its sides. Once maturity is reached, kaong palm starts to develop flowers. The male flower, in a dense cluster of 4 feet long, is purple and has an unpleasant odor; while female flower clusters are longer and ripen very slowly into glossy, plum sized fruits. Flowers usually become ripe fruits in a span of two to five years that’s why one can see fruits in the palm almost all year round. The fruit is rounded or depressed rounded, about 5 centimeters in diameter, contains 2 to 3 seeds, and turns from green to yellow. The jelly bean-shaped seed inside is smooth and translucent white.
Location and Sources
Usually abundant in forested areas in lowland up to the altitude of about 1400 meters, kaong palms are endemic in the Philippines. It can be found in Luzon (Rizal, Cavite, Bataan, Laguna, and Quezon), Polillo Island, Biliran, Visayas region and Mindanao region. The Kaong palm tree grows close to human settlement and sometimes grows in the secondary forests to the border of primary rainforests. Countless kaong trees thrive along waterways in the town of Indang, Cavite that is why it is tagged as the “Kaong Capital of the Philippines”. Furthermore, kaong palm trees are widely distributed throughout the country as it grows in natural stands or cultivated in most islands and provinces.
Application and Product Output
Kaong palms provide a variety of products and benefits such as food source, food ingredients, medicinal benefits, crafts, and furniture. Just like other palm trees, kaong palm has a firm trunk/bark that can be used as barriers, flooring, furniture and tool handles. The leaves are sometimes used for thatching roofs, and are woven into coarse baskets and roofs for cottages in resorts. Also, the midribs of the leaves are cleaned and used as rough brooms. In other traditional systems, kaong roots’ decoction is used for bladder problems, lungs; assists digestion and improves appetite.
Moreover, its buds make an excellent salad while the immature seeds are being boiled with sugar to form a kind of sweetmeat/gel which is then bottled and made into the well-known Kaong ingredient for different desserts such as Filipino’s “halo-halo”. Processed sweet kaong gels are usually immersed in syrup and are put inside jars which are available in many stores and supermarkets in the country. This kaong gel is a very popular ingredient for salad and can be eaten alone as dessert. Another important food product from kaong is the vinegar which is derived from the palm’s sap. Stalks could be tapped for its sweet sap a few months before the flowering. Sap is generated through the help of fruit flies which aids in the production of sap in the palm tree. Normally, a tapper could collect 10 to 12 liters of sap per day per tree. Sap are then processed to derive different products such as tuba (a distilled liquor), vinegar, sugar, syrup, alcohol, bio-ethanol, and as feeds for hogs. Roots of kaong palms are also used as insect repellents in some provinces. On the other hand, ripe fruits of kaong are said to be a violent poison for dogs.
Considered as the most important industrial yield of this palm is the black, tough fiber locally known as “yumot “or “cabo negro” (commercially known as gomuti fibers). Cabo negro is a black, horsehair-like fiber that’s well-known for its durability to either fresh or salt water, and for being fire-resistant. Cabo negro are initially used in making ropes and as many studies and research concluded its promising capacities, it is now used as cleaning brushes, filters, thatching materials, fishing materials, baskets, bags, home decors, and other handicrafts. Product outputs are originally black but they can be made into different colors using dyes. The last product that can be made from kaong palm is starch which can only be obtained by cutting the tree. Starch is produced from the inner part of a kaong palm that’s usually 20 to 25 years old. The interior fibrous parts of the trunk are cut into chips which are then crushed, pulverized, washed with water several times, and then finally dried under the sun to produce starch. Many of kaong palm products are being exported internationally thru different consumer-products companies such as RAM Foods, and Gem Foods International, Inc.
Production and Sustainable Consumption
Currently, there are already many small and large scale productions for kaong products especially for kaong fruit, sugar, and vinegar production. There are so many small and big local companies that manufacture and bring to market different kinds of bottled kaong products. Also, the rapid demand for renewable, cost-effective, and eco-friendly materials, drives the production of cabo negro. In order to continue its supply, companies are establishing sugar-palm plantations. Furthermore, non-government organizations with the support and aid from the government have conducted projects, seminars, and hands-on training for the propagation, care, and sustainability of kaong palm trees. One of these organizations is Sugar Palm Research, Information and Trade (SPRINT) which have already propagated seedlings that were planted in the kaong nursery inside Cavite State University (CvSU) SPRINT Center to sustain Indang’s and nearby communities’ sugar palm industry. The Department of Science and Technology (DOST) are also conducting trainings for farmers and local communities for the propagation and responsible farming of kaong.
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