Text by Henrylito D. Tacio
Photo from DOST and Wikipedia
No doubt about it: Filipinos love pancit canton. Even foreigners who have visited the country and tried it can attest to its delicious taste. Oftentimes, it is served during birthdays and special events as it symbolizes long life.
What is amazing about pancit canton is that it can be prepared using a variety of ingredients (pork, chicken liver, sausage, shrimp, and a variety of vegetables), which makes it look festive. The usual seasoning is soy sauce and calamansi, which are squeezed on top of it before eating.
Pancit canton is a Filipino version of noodles that is stir-fried and made from wheat flour and eggs. Also known as flour sticks, it is often described as Filipino chow mein. It was brought to the country by Chinese merchants long before the Spaniards came.
As stated earlier, a pancit canton is made of wheat flour and eggs. But some Filipino entrepreneurs are adding some twist to it: they literally add squash to the popular noodles. Yes, pancit canton with squash.
With technology coming from the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), some business-minded farmers of Cabadbaran City in Agusan del Norte tried it – with success.
“Farmers of this fertile valley in the eastern part of Mindanao have started processing their excess squash production into a high value product, a very tasty and nutritious pancit canton,” reported Emmanuel Piñol when he was still the chairman of the Mindanao Development Authority (MinDA).
“The pancit canton with squash tasted a lot better than the commercial version,” said Piñol, who is running as senator this coming election.
One of the problems of Cabadbaran farmers was the overproduction of squash during the summer months.
“The price of freshly harvested squash could be as low as P1 per kilo, prompting farmers to just throw away their produce rather than lose money bringing it to the market and spending for transport,” Piñol reported.
An idea came to Mayor Judy Chin Amante. ‘Why don’t the farmers add squash to pancit canton?’ she thought. The idea came into fruition when the DOST provided them with the much-needed technology.
According to the DOST’s Food and Nutrition Research Institute (FNRI), pancit canton with squash is a nutritious noodle prepared from a blend of wheat flour, squash puree, salt, egg, and noodle improver.
“The technology has opened a window of opportunity for Mindanao’s squash farmers who have perennially suffered from the problem of oversupply during the summer months,” Piñol said.
Right now, the Cabadbaran farmers are producing pancit canton with squash only on weekends, depending on orders from local consumers. “The product is gaining popularity,” Piñol reported.
The PHP Noodle Haus, an association of marginalized women in barangay Talib in San Luis, Batangas, is following suit.
“We want to thank FNRI and DOST-Batangas for the new technology they have imparted to us,” said Aurrea B. Addun, PHP Noodle Haus president. “This is really a big help to our business since it makes our products more nutritious and saleable.”
The FNRI reported that noodle products are well-accepted by all classes of consumers since children and adults take noodle products not only for their snacks but also for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.
FNRI’s research also showed that canton noodles are consumed daily by seven out of every 100 households and weekly by 36 out of every 100 households.
One good thing about squash is that it is very nutritious. For one, it is typically high in vitamin A.
“Vitamin A is a nutrient important to vision, growth, cell division, reproduction and immunity,” the Mayo Clinic explains. “Vitamin A also has antioxidant properties. Antioxidants are substances that might protect your cells against the effects of free radicals – molecules produced when your body breaks down food or is exposed to tobacco smoke and radiation. Free radicals might play a role in heart disease, cancer and other diseases.”
The Geneva-based World Health Organization estimates that 250,000 to 500,000 children become blind each year because of a lack of vitamin A in their diets. Not only that, about half of these children die within 12 months.
Vitamin A deficiency also depresses the immune system, raising overall mortality among children from other causes such as diarrhea, measles, and pneumonia. For these diseases, the additional toll is estimated at 1 million preventable deaths a year, or around 2,700 per day, mostly among children younger than 5.
“While Vitamin A deficiency remains a public health problem in the Philippines as it affects more than 1.7 million children the age of five and 500,000 pregnant and nursing women,” DOST said in a press release, “the partial substitution of vegetables like squash in place of wheat flour in noodles commonly consumed by children and adults in found effective in addressing this deficiency.”
According to DOST, a 50-gram serving of pancit canton with squash can provide 16%, 20%, and 24% of the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) for energy, protein, and vitamin A, respectively for 4-6-year-old children.
Aside from squash, vitamin A can also be obtained from other foods, including the liver of chicken, beef, pork, and fish. Most of them, however, can be found in root crops (carrot and sweet potato), vegetables (broccoli and tomato), milk products (cheese and butter), and fruits (papaya, mango, melon).
Squash is believed to have originated in South America, probably in Peru or Chile. It is a member of the cucurbit family, which includes pumpkins and gourds as well as cucumbers, muskmelons, and watermelons. However, the name squash is applied to certain varieties of the species Cucurbita maxima. Today, squashes are now grown in most parts of the world.
Aside from vitamin A, squash also contains protein, carbohydrates, potassium, sodium, calcium, phosphorus, and vitamins B and C. Squash contains high potassium, which reduces urinary calcium excretion; people who eat high amounts of dietary potassium appear to be at low risk of forming kidney stones.
In addition to the fruit, other parts of the plant are edible. Squash seeds can be eaten directly, ground into paste, meal, “nut” butter, or even a fine flour. The flowers, leaves, and tendrils can be eaten as vegetables. Unknown to many Filipinos, squash flowers are found to contain lutein, a plant phytochemical that prevents cataracts.