The transformation of Marinduque's uraro cookies
Other than splendid beaches, uraro or arrowroot cookies have made Marinduque famous. Although three other places in the country also produce uraro cookies, the best probably comes from the Southern Tagalog island province.
Uraro cookies for a time were hard to come by because of unsteady arrowroot flour supply. Farmers were switching to other crops because it takes the arrowroot 10 months to grow or once a year harvest cycle.
Traditional processing of fresh arrowroot into flour also takes so much time and energy--crushing fresh uraro using ‘ilod’, which involves a whole segment of polished tree trunk that’s held at opposite ends then rolled to and fro over a rounded wooden frame to extract the juice. The juice is then dried to a fine powder. A sack of uraro flour, equivalent to 35 kilograms, can take a day to produce. The laborious process made uraro flour very expensive.
With such as a pricey raw material, how can the end product be affordable?One of the apparent answers is to improve the uraro-to-flour processing efficiency to cut time and labor costs. This would result in low and affordable prices and ensure production stability of a treasured food treat and tradition.
That’s the decision Mita Rejano Reyes, who manages Rejano’s Bakery in Sta. Cruz, Marinduque, has made to keep tradition and profit mix nicely.
Saving a Tradition
he original Rejano’s Bakery was owned by Timoteo Castillo who opened it in 1946. Castillo’s adopted son, Crisostomo Rejano, had nine children including Mita, the sixth among the siblings.
Mita, a BS Chemistry graduate, was then working at Marcopper Mining Corp. when her parents asked her to manage the bakery. Her siblings either owned businesses, married or deep into their careers. Mita who was then unmarried gave up work at MMC and managed the bakery.
But she soon discovered that running the business was not as easy as it seemed. She had a growing customer base but supply of arrowroot flour remained low and irregular. To try to solve the problem, she encouraged farmers to continue planting arrowroot by buying all their produce. But this wasn’t enough.
Mita acknowledged the solution had to be comprehensive. So she sought help from the Department of Science and Technology Region IV, Department of Agriculture, Department of Trade and Industry, and the provincial government of Marinduque.
DA helped her organize the Arrowroot Industry Council of which she is the president. The council organized the farmers into groups. Each municipality has a chairman and coordinator. Members held monthly meetings, during which they were trained on the appropriate method of planting and taking care of arrowroot crops.
On the other hand, DOST IV, through its provincial S&T center in Marinduque, and DOST’s Metals Industry Research and Development Center helped Mita to acquire the right equipment that could process arrowroot into flour/starch easier, faster, and cheaper. MIRDC tied up with Kolbi, a foreign machinery firm. They did a study on the process involved and developed a centrifuge and related devices for washing, crushing, extraction, and drying.
Mita recently put up the very first uraro processing plant in the Philippines in Barangay Lipa, Sta. Cruz, Marinduque. The MIRDC-Kolbi developed machine now sits in a one-storey building.
With the new machine, processing time of uraro went down significantly. Washing only takes two to three minutes, while crushing is done in five minutes. The machine’s extractor separates the juice and the pulp automatically so that drying time is shortened. From the centrifuge, moist arrowroot extract are taken out, placed on trays, and dried out in a cabinet dryer for 8-10 hours.
The innovative process resulted to high production output ensuring reliable supply of pure arrowroot starch for Rejano’s Bakery and other bakers in the province.
The main ingredient of the arrowroot cookie is the high fiber extract from the arrowroot plant. The arrowroot is a herbaceous plant grown organically between coconut trees in Marinduque. After rhizomes are washed, shredded, added with water, and passed through an extruder, the extract is washed and dried. The result is uraro starch which is used to bake the cookies.
Product Improvement and Innovation
Meanwhile, Mita still bakes uraro cookies the old-fashioned way though with the use of modern tools including a mixer. Quality remains a top concern wrapped on the recipe handed down from two generations.
Along with a winning tradition, Mita also packs experience from her master baker, Danny Monteloyola, who has been with Rejano’s Bakery for 35 years.
Monteloyola bakes uraro cookies every day, repeating a chore that starts with putting sugar, eggs, and milk in a mixer and turn it until the mixture becomes smooth, then he adds butter, and finally uraro flour/starch. The raw mixture is scooped into a piping bag or cookie press, then out to greased baking sheets, and baked in a “pugon” oven until the fresh cookies turn light golden.
To stamp her personal signature on the product, Mita changed the shape of the uraro cookies from elongated to heart-shaped. “I think it’s only appropriate because Marinduque is heart-shaped and it is located in the heart of the Philippines”. She has also developed other cookie variants including sugar-free, sugar-free with pinipig, organic, cinnamon, high-fiber, and ampalaya-enriched.
Packaging has evolved a lot too. The cookies are now available not just in plastic packs but also in attention-grabbing boxes and tin cans. The packaging and labeling transformation came through DOST’s Small Enterprises Technology Upgrading Program worked out jointly by the provincial S&T center in Marinduque DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute’s Packaging Research and Development Center.
Mita’s uraro cookies are now on the shelves of stores not just in Marinduque but also in Manila including the SM’s Snack Exchange and Robinson’s Supermarket.
The commercial success of uraro cookies inspired Mita to explore other uses for uraro flour/starch. In a recent trade fair held in Boac City in Marinduque for example, she made Uraro Pancake, locally known as “Saludsod”, available at the Rejano’s booth. Saludsod is made from shredded buko (green coconut) and juice, egg, and uraro flour mixed into smooth batter and cooked like pancakes.
Mita sometimes also uses uraro flour as thickener in place of wheat flour or corn starch. She also produces pugon-baked pan de sal and other delicacies such as banana chips and Cebu-style boneless, dried dinanggit from small tilis fish. Her chips, however, are not produced in the bakery but are subcontracted to local communities as additional source of income.
With such creative aptitude and open disposition on what technology could bring to her entrepreneurial interests, it would not be any surprise if Mita could just bake up more Marinduque delicacies for years to come. STP