08 Jan2008

Tabon Tabon Fruit

by Marketman


Never heard of this fruit before. Thank goodness I had my camera to record it for this blog. We were at a large sprawling home in San Mateo, Rizal last Sunday, where some relatives of my wife were having a mini and rather impromptu family reunion/lunch for 70! I knew the hosts also had large poultry farms and a vegetable farm and I was hoping I could sneak in a tour (no luck, the farms were half an hour away from their home). But when one of the guests arrived with the makings of kinilaw, I was totally intrigued when this “tabon tabon” emerged and was used in the preparation of her kinilaw. A little web surfing hours later yielded its scientific name, hydrophytune orbiculatum (correction: a reader below suggests atuna racemosa as the correct scientific name of this fruit, but not much other information on this fruit at all. Apparently it is native to Northern Mindanao and Camiguin Island (again, if atuna racemosa, it has close relatives in other parts of Southeast Asia and the South Pacific). It physically looks like an elongated chico, with a hard shell, but the pulp inside looks unusual and somewhat like a split brain. It does not appear in several of my reference books on food/produce so it must be considered relatively obscure to non-natives.


Apparently, according to Michaela Fenix, Doreen Fernandez and other blogs on the net, tabon tabon was the key to the assertion that Filipinos enjoyed kinilaw well before the Spaniards arrived (refuting the seviche/kinilaw relationship), because tabon tabon shells were found near fish bones in an anthropoligical site in the south (apparently in Butuan)… The pulp of tabon-tabon is used to remove the “fishy” taste of fish (langsa) and may have other medicinal properties as well. All I know is, it was part of a superb tasting kinilaw, photos and recipe up next! If you are familiar with this fruit, please leave a comment if it has any other uses or plays a role in any other recipes from the South, thank you!!!




  1. Maria Clara says:

    Never seen or heard of this before only from your site now that I’ve seen it. It looks creepy though must be powerful enough to subdue the fishy smell and taste of fish and other crustaceans. I would say it must be the key and secret ingredient of good kinilaw. I would say probably after the blood compact in Bohol between Sikatuna and Legaspi -the locals served their new allies kinilaw prepped with tabon tabon to celebrate the event!

    Jan 8, 2008 | 5:20 am


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  3. dhayL says:

    The first time I heard about this “tabon-tabon” fruit is from the show Ysabella (thru tfc). According to her, it is one of the secret ingredient in making her mom’s “Kinasal na Manok”! I thought this was just some made up ingredients for the show, (sorry), but now that you featured it here, I stand corrected! If I remember it right, she split the fruit in half, and used a spoon, and sort of scrape the meat inside and used a little bit of it only, it looks like that the meat was a bit hard texture wise, is that right MM? And they also mentioned that this tabon-tabon is native to a particular province, but I can’t remember which one..

    I hope that helps…

    Jan 8, 2008 | 5:35 am

  4. Duday says:

    This is such a great blog site, historical food info are also available. You’re awesome MM, very informative site ever.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 7:56 am

  5. maria says:

    What a strange looking fruit–and quite frankly, looks a bit revolting as well. I am excited to learn something new about my Inang Bayan though. Is it edible in itself, and not just used as a food odor killer? Does it belong to the coconut family? In browsing the internet, I chanced upon this as being one of the thousands of endangered species in the Philippines?

    Jan 8, 2008 | 8:26 am

  6. bob says:

    Use it all the time to make kinilaw na Tuna. Scraped off the nut inside into shavings with a spoon after craking the shell in half. For me it adds tartness to the kinilaw and somewhat decreased the acidic taste of the vinegar.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 8:54 am

  7. Marilou See says:

    You are right Dhayl, this is first introduce in the show Ysabella…which I also found out the recipe of Kinasal na Manok was really a brain child of one of contributors or editors of Food Magazine. Sorry, my memory fails me again with name. Anyway, thanks to MM, this fruit pops up again…well I think I got to return back to my library for its more information.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 8:59 am

  8. pusa says:

    first time i heard and saw one too! you’re right, the inside looks like a brain but the husk reminds me of “bunot” :)

    great find! thanks for sharing it with us

    Jan 8, 2008 | 10:46 am

  9. millet says:

    oh yes, tabon-tabon…this is what makes cagayan/camiguin kinilaws distinct, along with biasong (lime, the small native dayap). that’s why NorMin (Northern Mindanao) kinilaws are milky and very fragrant. strangely, davao is just 5 hours’ drive away, but you can’t find biasong anywhere, and nobody makes kinilaw that way.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 10:56 am

  10. k says:

    Tabon tabon is a common ingredient in our kinilaw and i was surprised to know that visiting friends and relatives ( i live in cdo)are clueless what it is. Kinilaw is not the same for us without tabon2.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 11:41 am

  11. det says:

    my family lived in misamis oriental up until i was six years old.i remember tabon tabon as a vital ingredient for making kinilaw along with biasong.it is has a fragrant smell but if i remember it right it gives a sliht mapakla taste to the food.anybody,pls. correct me if am wrong ang tagal tagal na kasi.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 12:56 pm

  12. alilay says:

    i was watching Tablescape the new show with Angel Aquino and Chef Bruce and they featured Camiguin and i remember the locals using the tabon-tabon in their kinilaw

    Jan 8, 2008 | 1:41 pm

  13. ihid says:

    Am a native of cagayan de oro, another term for biasong is “suwa”, it is similar to lime.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 1:46 pm

  14. ihid says:

    also tabon-tabon is believed to “disinfect” the fish.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 1:56 pm

  15. ddac says:

    Tabon-tabon, biasong ( the latter being the fruit of the kaffir lime )and good tuba – the three most vital ingredients to a “perfect” kinilaw…

    Oh, and I remember… as a little girl, when Dad was making kinilaw and tabon-tabon was not available, he would send me out where there were coconut trees and have me bring back a “potot” or two. this, as substitute to the tabon-tabon.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 1:58 pm

  16. Marketman says:

    ddac, interesting you should araise the very young coconut alternative, I was just speaking with a Boholano who described the same item… cool.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 2:11 pm

  17. det says:

    potot has a mapakla taste,so am i right when i said tabon tabon has the same taste?

    Jan 8, 2008 | 2:30 pm

  18. Marketman says:

    det, yes, it has a mapakla or aphud or astringent mouthfeel, slightly bitter taste…

    Jan 8, 2008 | 2:59 pm

  19. Ebba Myra says:

    wow, I learned so much.

    Jan 8, 2008 | 8:19 pm

  20. Vennis Jean says:

    First time I’ve seen and heard about tabon tabon MM and I grew up with kinilaw eaten alot by my family because i grew up in Surigao del Sur where there’s an abundance of fresh fish thats great for kinilaw.But my uncles use kalamansi or biasong ,nipa vinegar and sometime coconut milk(gata).By the way,biasong is now cultivated in some small farms and they do pop-up at the local palengkes of Davao City and Davao del Norte sometimes sold at 5pesos for 12-15 pcs.But you can almost always find them in the taboan markets.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 1:33 am

  21. konjaro says:

    In the part of Bohol where I grew up , we use potot in kinilaw. Kinilaw is not the same without it.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 2:52 am

  22. nang says:

    my aunt used this fruit when she served us kinilaw in iligan city a few months back. her kinilaw was fantastic and had a little coconut milk and lime mixed in with the vinegar. it does impart a slight “mapakla” taste but that’s what made the kinilaw interesting and novel to the taste buds.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 9:22 am

  23. Cathee says:

    Hi Marketman! I’m glad that you’ve finally featured tabon tabon on your website. I grew up in Q.C. but have been living in Mindanao for almost 6 years now (both North and South). I was in tuna land (GSC) for 5 years, so kinilaw is a staple food I’m familiar with. My first encounter with tabon tabon was last year when we moved to Butuan City. I’ve had kinilaw from Gen San and Davao before and I didn’t know that North Mindanao had a slightly different version. For some reason, kinilaw with the use of tabon tabon had a more milky and “malinamnam” taste than one without it. Now, I always make use of tabon tabon and biasong (native lime) whenever I prepare kinilaw (so far, fresh Mol Mol or Parrotfish is the best fish kinilaw for me).

    In Ysabella’s Kinasal na Manok, I think tabon tabon was used to remove the “lansa” from the chicken. Here in the CARAGA region, tabon tabon is primarily used for kinilaw and I haven’t encountered any other use for it.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 11:25 am

  24. Dodi says:

    Hi MM!
    I am from Cagayan de Oro, and yes, I use tabon tabon as an ingredient in making kinilaw to remove the “langsa” and I contend that it does make for a superb kinilaw regardless of the fish being used.By itself, it really has no distinctive taste which can overpower the inherent taste of the fish, it is also super-“mapakla”(“super” seems to be an operative word these days) but it does ENHANCE the quality of the fish being used that’s why the kinilaw is much tastier. hehehe, know I know that tabon tabon is really a Northern Mindanao peculiarity as I have been wondering why many other knilaw are disguise by a lot of “siling labuyo”.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 11:46 am

  25. sonia says:

    Help! — from anyone from Cagayan de Oro or who knows the place well enough. Which restaurant serves the best kinilaw?
    Thanks MM for a ll the info about tabon tabon —and kinilaw

    Jan 9, 2008 | 6:24 pm

  26. nikki says:

    im from talisayan,misamis oriental and familiar with tabon-tabon.kinilaw is different without tabon-tabon.talisayan is 2hours away from cagayan de oro but we have a lot of kainan which serves kinilaw.u should try kan-anan by the sea.talisayan is the next town after balingoan.

    Jan 9, 2008 | 6:55 pm

  27. Jul says:

    Tabontabon is one must ingredient in kinilaw in the island province of my birth, Camiguin. Tabontabon tree is a beautiful tree, very symmetrical. With the earth-colored fruits hanging, it looks gorgeous. Can be an ornamental plant, only, it grows big. The fruit doesn’t disintegrate easily,even when opened or when the inner part is exposed. In fact,some would bury the whole fruit for future use. Nothing can beat the kinilaw from Camiguin, CDO and the nearby towns in Mis Oriental because of these ingredients: tabontabon, suwa (native lime) and lots of sili.

    For good kinilaw in CDO, try Manokan restaurant, beside the Trinidad Building along Yacapin St.

    Jan 10, 2008 | 12:10 pm

  28. Cyra says:

    Best kinilaw in Cagayan de Oro and Camiguin are made in homes. Ask around in Camiguin for someone to make it for you. Be warned, some use a lot of MSG in it.

    Jan 11, 2008 | 1:33 pm

  29. kantogirl says:

    Kitchen newbie question: What’s a ‘potot’? Is this the small, aborted baby coconuts which fell to the ground? TIA.

    Jan 12, 2008 | 6:05 pm

  30. kulasa says:

    First time I’ve heard about tabon-tabon. How large is the fruit? Does it come from a tree or shrub? May MM you can being me a branch one time (he he).

    Jan 12, 2008 | 7:47 pm

  31. Marketman says:

    kulasa, I haven’t seen the tree, but the fruit is medium sized, like a large chico… kantogirl, I think potot is the very young baby coconut, not necessarily the ones that have fallen…

    Jan 12, 2008 | 9:30 pm

  32. Catarman says:

    whooa! a camiguinon here, although i haven’t been there in ages, i grew up eating kinilaw (fish straight from the sea!) with tabon tabon! i’ve never eaten another kinilaw again in my life, i don’t think it will ever be the same or that safe eating kinilaw here in the city. oh you made me miss my hometown so much and the food i grew up eating with!

    Jan 17, 2008 | 11:20 am

  33. May says:

    is there tabon-tabon in manila? I miss eating kinilaw Cagayan de Oro style :(

    Jun 8, 2008 | 2:48 am

  34. berny says:

    yup.!! that is one of the secrets we visaya have in our KINILAW (not kilawin as so many people wrongfully call the dish). another alternative thats even better is whats known in negros as “DUNGON”. its kinda like a nut. it looks like the mantle of the portuguese man o war jellyfish. you crack the nut, take the content which looks kinda like a brasillian nut, rub it gently on the dried tail of a “page” (stingray. exotic enough yet? hehehe..) to grate it finely, a drop of water now and then helps. if you do it right, you end up with a smooth, milky substance that you add to your “tarug-ho” (bluemarlin) kinilaw. now that makes the best kinilaw you have ever tasted in your life bar non i tell ya.
    oh by the way, dungon and tabon tabon are not used to remove the “lansa” of kinilaw. we use kalamansi or lime juice to remove it (aha.!! di lang pala suka ginamit hehehe).
    tabon tabon and dungon imparts a “mapakla” taste thats quite unique. it makes you wanna eat more and more kinilaw.
    hope you guys would have the opportunity to sample the dish. =)

    Aug 26, 2008 | 1:01 am

  35. Jelo says:

    I encountered the tabon-tabon first in the book by Edilberto Alegre and Doreen Fernandez about Filipino Drinking Culture. I forgot the name of the book though…

    Doreen Fernandez mentions the tabon-tabon fruit again in her book “Kinilaw”.

    The fruit’s flesh is very astringent, much like unripe bananas and other than using it to remove the fishy taste and smell, the fresher fruits are used to waterproof baskets. The fruits are sliced in half and the milky sap fills up the gaps in the weave.

    Sep 26, 2008 | 11:04 pm

  36. Maya Jalled says:

    Hi! Where in Manila can I buy tabon-tabon? Never thought kinilaw could get any better until after I tried it in CDO.

    Sep 30, 2008 | 7:31 pm

  37. leonardo i.sabellina jr says:

    hello mam/sir,
    I read the very artistic and informative book ok kinilaw of ms fernandez. In my taste, Tabon2 is the best for lansa remover of fish.Just want to inquire if you got into the chemical contents of tabon2?I know it is one of herbal medicine to cure stomach troubles.Thank you so much.More power and God bless.

    Nov 13, 2008 | 3:17 am

  38. tyrone says:

    I believe that tabon tabon is one of the ingredients of making kinilaw. But, we are not considering this as fruit. Tabon tabon has also medicinal element. This is good for diarrhea and ulcer.

    Nov 16, 2008 | 10:40 pm

  39. david says:


    I happened upon this site and thought you all might enjoy it. It has a wonderful pictorial site making kinilaw. Evidently this is one of the best places in Mindanao to eat it. Enjoy!

    Dec 22, 2008 | 9:33 am

  40. Marketman says:

    david, thanks for the link. Robyn, of Eating Asia, is a favorite of mine and is on the links page of this blog, she does read marketmanila too. She also did a wonderful feature on a Philippine christmas meal for Saveur in the Dec 2008 issue.

    Dec 22, 2008 | 10:50 am

  41. Ricky says:

    First i saw tabob tabon was in the teleserye Ysabella. But last saturday a friend of mine from dipolog he brought 2 pieces. Since then i like kinilaw with the help of tabon tabon. As the taste not like the usual we had before. Again this coming April, I will have a basket of tabon tabon. Ricky

    Feb 9, 2009 | 4:35 pm

  42. emalcdo says:

    kinilaw is common here in this province(Misamis Oriental), whenever there is a seller of fishes visiting residences, you may expect a package for making kinilaw, of course, it includes tabon2x, vinegar(“tuba” the “bahal” variety), onion(s), ginger(s), salt and sili(mini chili). Yeah indeed, folks here said that tabon2x is made for removing the “fishy”-smell, and an Investigatory Project was made by my classmate that tabon2x has adhesive properties, hence it absorbs the “smell” into it. nothing that i heard it can be eaten whole, i suggest the best kinilaw is to try out on their own :)

    Apr 26, 2009 | 5:35 pm

  43. anding says:

    i miss kinilaw with tabon tabon, suha, ginger, luya, sili, calamansi and tuba. hmmmm. miss it so much. la kasi dito sa canada. hehehe

    May 17, 2009 | 4:16 am

  44. mimi says:

    tabon tabon is extremely good in making kinilaw!
    kaso lang wala akong makita dito sa cvite…

    baka may nakakaalam sa inyo kung saan ako makakabili nito dito sa cavite – manila…pls pls…txt me at 09291615623 tnx

    for me eating knilaw without tabon tabon is no good..errrr

    May 19, 2009 | 4:53 pm

  45. Dante says:

    Kinilaw withour tabon tabon is not complete added with suwa or dayap in tagalog? Using tabon tabon for kinilaw (raw tuna or malasugui or tangingui) prevents indigestion as it has an anti-bacterial property.

    I’m from mindanao and i missed our local delicacy kinilaw or sinuglaw ( kinilaw added with grilled pork belly ) must try! Hope to introduce it here in new york as mindanao’s delicacy.

    Jun 20, 2009 | 7:51 am

  46. Dante says:

    Using tabon tabon for kinilaw (raw tuna or malasugui or tangingui) prevents indigestion as it has an anti-bacterial property.

    I’m from mindanao and i missed our local delicacy kinilaw or sinuglaw ( kinilaw added with grilled pork belly ) must try! Hope to introduce it here in new york as mindanao’s delicacy.

    Jun 20, 2009 | 7:54 am

  47. Vee says:

    Hey! Thank you for posting this… I am heading for a BBQ party and I boasted about this native delicacy from my place (Southern Mindanao). I asked all the friends about this “tabon-tabon” but no one knows about it.. When I search the net, this page surprised me! Now, my search for this ingredient won’t be that hard coz I can show the picture to my friends to find it in the supermarket…

    Thank you again!

    Jul 12, 2009 | 4:11 am

  48. may says:

    Anyone who have done an investigatory project about the antibacterial property of tabontabon fruit? I am a graduating student and i find this fruit interesting. Please help me..

    Jul 14, 2009 | 7:17 pm

  49. leonardo i. sabellina jr says:

    To all my friends/kababayans in CDO/ tabon-tabon adiks,

    I am so appy and pleased to announced my “Popoy’s Kinilaw” is available here in Manila.For more details please cal my residence tel. no. 7316415 or my cel 09192391092.POPOY’S KINILAWS ounce tasted hahanaphanapin mo…Thank you so much MM for the website and more power.

    Daghang salamat!

    Popoy sabellina jr

    Jul 17, 2009 | 9:31 am

  50. jun b.. says:

    popoy ive been trying to call you coz i was exited to order your popoys kinilaw originaly from cdo,,at im sure timplang bisaya with tabon tabon,,

    Jul 24, 2009 | 3:18 pm

  51. leonardo i. sabellina jr says:

    hello jun b,

    your right popoy’s kinilaw is pure timplang bisaya.I got this templa from my barkada 15 years ago.Please contact me in my office tel no 9957974 (office hour).salamat

    Jul 28, 2009 | 10:02 am

  52. Ulysses Ferreras says:

    Hi! I am a botanist and I wish to correct the scientific name of tabon-tabon mentioned in your article. There is much misinformation circulating around the internet about tabon-tabon as Hydrophytune orbiculatum. I do not know how this name came about. The genus Hydrophytune does not exist in the checklists we have for Philippine Plants, neither does it exist in Mabberley’s Plant Book (2008). The true scientific name of tabon-tabon is Atuna racemosa. It is a tree found from Thailand to the Pacific Islands, Malay Peninsula, Singapore, Sumatra, Borneo, Sulawesi, Moluccas, New Guinea and the Philippines.

    Jul 29, 2009 | 10:15 am

  53. Marketman says:

    Ulysses, THANK YOU so much for that information. It is always a pleasure when someone with more expertise is able to correct, add information or shed some light on a topic I don’t know much about. Again, thank you, I will up date the post above to reflect your comment.

    Jul 29, 2009 | 10:45 am

  54. Ulysses Ferreras says:

    Please accept my sincerest thanks as well for updating your post. Unfortunately, the mistake has also crept in with DOST, other blogs and university publications and it will take me some time and extra effort to correct this.

    Jul 30, 2009 | 8:49 am

  55. Mark says:

    kurek ka dyan !!!

    Sep 11, 2009 | 5:01 pm

  56. Ricky Du says:

    Last holy week. Me and my friend went to dipolog to attend their family reunion. Tabon tabon there is just like a Lemon tree, very ordinary to the people. You can buy at anytime. Wish someone will tell me where I can but here in Manila. Ricky

    Sep 15, 2009 | 11:15 am

  57. Francis Ocampo says:

    We just started manufacturing an instant kinilaw sauce with tabon tabon! :) my dad had was assisted by DOST in formulating the perfect kinilaw sauce! my dad gre up in zamboanga del norte and we have our factory there and as well as the farm that we have the raw materials inlcuding tabon tabon trees!

    The sauce is not out in the market yet so if you want to distribute and use it for your food businesses you can contact me at 0917-8479269!

    We are pure bisaya so we know our product and we know what and how the original tastes like. You can now enjoy the original kinilaw at the convenience of a bottle :)

    Sep 18, 2009 | 6:21 pm

  58. el_jefe says:

    where can i buy sedlings of tabon tabon? any one?

    Oct 30, 2009 | 12:50 pm

  59. leonardo i sabellina jr says:

    If you want to know more about Poy’s kinilaw you may visit my blog:


    Nov 23, 2009 | 1:10 pm

  60. james toledo says:

    only the bisaya speaking people in mindanao commonly use tabon tabon particularly in kinilaw…without tabon tabon, the kinilaw wouldnt be perfect. maka wala sya sa luod.( takes away the disgusting taste and smell) and it serves as neutralizer to the dish. like the umami taste.

    it is scraped with a spoon and you mixed it with vinegar and then take away the “sapal”..its the secret ingredient to a tasty kinilaw.
    im from pagadian and it is very common in mindanao markets. here in cebu i saw none and they dont even know that spice.

    Dec 9, 2009 | 1:39 am

  61. Abraham Pineda says:

    I just encountered this fruit today in my own house(December 27, 2009)! I was searching in the net for ideas about the Digestive system when my father called me. I went outside and saw him holding a chico-like fruit. “Chico ba ‘yan kasi nagugutom na ako eh. (Is that a chico because I am really hungry right now)”, I asked. “Hinde (No)”, my father replied, “Isa itong prutas na kung tawagin ay Tabon-tabon (This is a fruit called tabon-tabon)”. I never knew that tabon-tabon can be used as an adhesive! We used it to glue the broken wood handle of the itak. We extracted the “sap” of the tabon-tabon fruit and used it as a woodglue. I am going to use it for my investigatory project on my school: Cebu City National Science High School
    If you really want to know how to use the tabon tabon fruit as a woodglue, e-mail me at my yahoo account: abspin56@yahoo.com

    Dec 27, 2009 | 12:51 pm


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