The Inbox

Preserving a family legacy: sukang Iloko

Catherine and jars of fermented vinegar

Text and photos by Leilanie G. Adriano, VERA Files

Catherine Pascual Abadilla, 66, exactly knows what she wants and she does it perfectly to preserve her family legacy of producing a stimulating aroma and a very strong taste of a dark  liquid Ilocanos are known for ages—Sukang Iloko.

Cormel Foods, derived from the combined names of Abadilla's father Cornelio and grandfather Melchor,  has evolved as a home-based leading producer and distributor of a chemical-free organic vinegar popularly known as the Ilocandia's original sukang Iloko. It is now also a multi-awarded family-owned company, commercializing tropical fruit wines and distilled spirits here and abroad.

Disturbed by the selling of adulterated vinegar in the local market (that is, adding chemicals and food coloring which are not good for the health), she said this triggered her desire to preserve the unique taste and quality of Sukang Iloko labored by her old family back in the rural village of Araniw, Laoag City.

As a food technologist, Abadilla was concerned about the safety of consumers. Adulterated vinegar is not accepted by the Department of Health standards.

Through continued research and technology development, she perfected the traditional vinegar-making formula she inherited from her elders who used to own a small holdings of vinegar-making in a sugar cane-producing rural village in the city.

She said the process of fermentation was one of her favorite subjects at the University of the Philippines where she took BS in Food Technology. This inspired her to pursue her study when she took a master's degree in Food Science in the same university. Her graduate level dissertation entitled "Physicochemical and microbiological characteristics of Basi during fermentation" was all worth it when she tried her developed technology to their home-grown vinegar-making venture.

"At first, my aim is to improve vinegar and basi which are being sold at the public market using recycled plastic containers without any label," Abadilla said.

Abadilla couple and staffBut things changed in 1996 or about 16 years ago when Dr. Saturnino Ocampo, then the regional director of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in Region 1, motivated her to commercialize her developed technology instead. That time, the DOST started its aggressive promotion of ripe technologies beneficial to local communities and she was then teaching at the Mariano Marcos State University-Home Technology Department in Batac, Ilocos Norte until she retired.

Together with her husband Camilo, 67, and their two children, the Abadilla family decided to put up a 100-sqm. processing building beside their ancestral home located at the heart of the city to start up the project.

From an additional 50 earthen jars the DOST provided them to increase their production, they were able to create a product following by word of mouth.

Raw materials (sugarcane and tropical fruits) were initially sourced out from their small farm but with increased demand, they trained several farmers to deliver them the needed supply.

She takes pride in keeping the original Sukang Iloko, a chemical-free organic vinegar derived from naturally fermented sugarcane juice and plant extracts locally known as samak that turns the liquid color into black.

The popular Sukang Iloko comes with a unique product label consisting of a heritage house like those preserved in Vigan, Ilocos Sur, a kalesa (horse-drawn carrier), earthen jars and samak leaves to indicate that the product was processed in the century-old tradition of fermenting sugarcane juice and samak in earthenware jars. It also maintains a standard 4.5 acidity level, obtaining a quality seal approved by the Bureau of Foods and Drugs (BFAD).

From their original product Sukang Iloko, Cormel Foods  has develop additional product lines such as basi and other tropical wines from duhat (java plum), mango and bugnay (wild berries). Their latest baby product is the duhat juice now being tested in the local market during trade fairs and exhibits organized by government agencies.

Since its conception, the DOST has assisted Cormel Foods to develop and improve its products.  The DOST gave them a zero-interest loan worth P500,000 payable in three years to cater their customers' growing demand for Sukang Iloko.

After graduating from the first Small Enterprise Technology Upgrading Program (SET-UP I), the DOST gave them another P800,000 soft loan (SET-UP II) payable in three years without interest. This time, said amount was used in their tropical fruit wine-making business that evolved through time.

But their Sukang Iloko remains as their prime commodity. To date, Cormel Foods is producing at least 500 gallons every month to meet their product demand.

A number of hotels, supermarkets and distributors from Metro Manila and the neighboring provinces of Cagayan, Ilocos Sur and Abra directly buy from them.

"This is why Ilocandia's  Sukang Iloko is not readily available in groceries unlike other commercial vinegars," their son Anthony, who supervises the marketing and distribution of their products, said.

(VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for "true.")


Editor’s note:Yahoo Philippines encourages responsible comments that add dimension to the discussion. No bashing or hate speech, please. You can express your opinion without slamming others or making derogatory remarks.

  • ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February
    ToyotaPH continues it’s strong sales in February

    Toyota Motor Philippines (TMP) sustains its strong sales in its February performance. Toyota’s strong performance last month was due to the  high demand of the Vios, with sales of 2,012 units and of course the rest of Toyota’s line up such as the Fortuner, Innova, Wigo, Hilux, Avanza and Corolla Altis. Toyota’s luxury brand, Lexus, recorded 60 units last month. …

  • No apology, but Noy seeks understanding
    No apology, but Noy seeks understanding

    There was no apology, but President Aquino yesterday expressed regret, took “full responsibility” and appealed to the nation for “deepest understanding” for the Jan. 25 Mamasapano raid in which dozens died, including 44 police Special Action Force (SAF) commandos. “To every Filipino who has felt failure or has been hurt because of the events related to this operation, it is with abiding humility that I ask for your deepest understanding,” Aquino said in a speech before the 246 new graduates of …

  • MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician
    MVP on endorsement: Thanks, I’m no politician

    Businessman Manuel V. Pangilinan is grateful for Sen. Miriam Defensor-Santiago’s praise and presidential endorsement, but says he is not a politician. In an interview on the sidelines of the launch of the search for The Outstanding Young Men (TOYM) of the Philippines 2015 Wednesday night, Pangilinan dismissed the idea of running for president in the 2016 elections. “I’m not a politician, I’m just an ordinary business person,” he added. Santiago endorsed Pangilinan as a presidential candidate …

  • No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP
    No Lenten break in operations vs lawless groups – AFP

    The Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) is not suspending its offensive against the Abu Sayyaf, New People’s Army (NPA) and other lawless groups during the Holy Week, an official said yesterday. Lt. Col. Harold Cabunoc, AFP public affairs office chief, said the AFP leadership is leaving it up to area and division commanders whether to raise the alert status in preparation for the Holy Week. Those deployed in areas where there are ongoing law enforcement operations against terrorist groups …

  • Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP
    Probe harassment vs human rights lawyer, CA orders AFP

    The Court of Appeals (CA) has ordered the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) to investigate a human rights lawyer’s claim of harassment, including surveillance, by several military officers. In a 22-page decision, the former Special Sixth Division of the appellate court granted the petition for writ of amparo and habeas data of Maria Catherine Dannug-Salucon. The CA ordered the AFP to identify the officers behind the surveillance and file charges against them. The CA ruling said …

  • Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP
    Noy vows to dismantle bata-bata system in PNP

    President Aquino vowed yesterday to dismantle the culture of factionalism or the bata-bata system within the Philippine National Police as he continued the search for the next PNP chief. Speaking at the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA) commencement exercises here, the President said the country needed solidarity among leaders and members of the police force so that the policemen would be effective protectors of Filipinos. “Our challenge to the next chief of our national police force: …

  • Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl
    Envoy to expats: Retire, invest in Phl

    Retire and invest in real estate in the Philippines, especially now that the country has made it to the top 10 retirement destinations in the world. This is the message being spread by the Philippine embassy in Washington, with Ambassador Jose Cuisia Jr. leading the refrain in meetings with various Filipino-American communities in the US. In his talks, Cuisia said that an affordable cost of living as well as warm climate and people are just some of the things that make the Philippines a top …

  • PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson
    PNPA spotlight falls on Ampatuan grandson

    The stigma of being a namesake of the principal suspect in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre did not prevent Cadet First Class Andal Ampatuan III from entering and graduating from the Philippine National Police Academy (PNPA). Ampatuan III, now with a rank of police inspector, is a grandson of former Maguindanao governor Andal Ampatuan Sr. The younger Ampatuan was among the 246 graduates of the PNPA “Lakandula” Class of 2015. Ampatuan III’s mother is Bai Rebecca Ampatuan, a daughter of the …


Should Aquino be held accountable over the Mamasapano operations?

Poll Choice Options