Thursday, October 27, 2011

Harvest Ingredient 25: Calamansi

I'm treating this as a special "guest native ingredient," since they are native to the Philippines--and comprise the back bone of Tagalog cuisine in all of it's varied glory.  Unlike the bitter or Seville oranges used in some traditional foods of Mexico and Central American, Calamansi cannot be easily duplicated by mixing other citrus and/or mild vinegars together.  The Calamansi has a completely unique flavor that is quite complex, with bitter, sweet and sour all interwoven.  The sour flavor is almost impossible to duplicate, and considering that some of the most widely used recipes for these weird little "green lemon" are simple preparations that comprise much loved dipping sauces.  In fact, the Philippines is basically the land of dipping sauces!  When calamansi is used, they are usually only mixed with one other ingredient, such as soy sauce or the native shrimp paste bagoong.

Ripe Calamansi

Known in the rest of the world as a "Calamondin orange," it does ripen to a "golden tangerine" color, but in the Philippines, it is almost exclusively used in it's unripe green state, further highlighting it's sour taste.  It is not uncommon to receive a couple of these tiny light green oranges on your plate, with just the tops removed, like you would a lemon wedge in other parts of the world.  In addition to fresh and citrus dipping sauces; it is also used in ceviches, Ades (drinks), as a base for seasonings paste, such as annatto, canned sodas, and it a whole class of dishes called "sinigang" in the islands (Calamansi sinigang seasoning packs can be purchased).  It is indispensable in the native ceviche KinilawIn some "down home" households traditional Bifteck (Beef Steak) wouldn't be proper bifteck without "kalamonsi."  It also flavors lamb chops, Filipino Fried Chicken, barbecues, traditional fruit salads, in relishes and some pancit (noodle) dishes.  It also the backbone of Toyo't Kalamansi, a traditional soy sauce concoction flavored with garlic and chile. The juice for cooking can be purchases sold in bottles.  When ripe it flavors layer cakes and cupcakes, is candied for use alone, as a garnish or in fruit cakes and baked goods, as well as fruit pies and coconut confections, as well as gelatin desserts, candies and sorbets.  In the modern Filipino household it makes a luscious Kalamansi Chiffon Pie. It is also popular made into a marmalade; and it dries well.  It is also sold as a powder for easy seasoning, and is great rimming glasses for Filipino style margaritas.  It is also sold as a concentrate and as an extract.  Knorr and Maggi also sell calamansi "soy sauces."  It goes into flavored teas; and it is a popular home flavoring for vodka the Filipino households.  There is even a calamansi flower honey.

They also have a variety of non-food uses as well.  They are used in everything from cough drops to beauty products.  There are soaps, body washes, skin care products and, of course, perfume.  Eskinol makes a Calamansi facial wash. Tawas has a roll on deodorant.  Human Nature makes a Calamansi hair conditioner.  In it used in the laundry room as an ink stain remover.  In the Philippines products bearing the image of the much beloved orange can be found on place mats, handbags, key rings, chops stick, ceramic soup spoons, belts and dishes--you name it, somewhere in the world, calamansi decorates it.

Calamansi is the Tagalog/Filipino word for the fruit, in a couple of the major Visayan languages of the islands it is simuyaw or they call it limonsito borrowed from the Spanish word for the fruit; in other parts of the island chain it is known as suter.  It has a number of really useful medicinal qualities, including a popular hot drink for coughs.  The juice is used to treat bug bites and skin inflammation reduction.  It is also a natural acne medicine.  A poultice of the juice, mixed with pandanus leaf and sea salt to put on abscesses.  The juice is also mixed with pepper as an expectorant.  In the Philippines the root is used in child birth.  The little trees are very easy to grow and they like containers, so they can be brought indoors during the winter months.  But they don't typically grow more than five years, so buying a new one each year to stagger the ages of home grown trees will keep in fruit, since they can take up to two years to bear fruit in the first place.

As far as nutrition is concerned, they are, like most other citrus fruits high in vitamin C.  They also have a full range of fats:  saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated.  Unusual for citrus, for their size they are quite high in protein.  They are a good source of fiber and are very high in Vitamin A and a wide range of B vitamins. And they have a nice amount of magnesium and phosphorus. 

Fresh calamansiade with mint

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