Sukang Tuba / Coconut Sap Vinegar


Lots and lots of live vinegar eels (turbatrix aceti) are what make native, unpasteurized coconut vinegar vinegar or suka, “special.” Here is a photograph of a typical vinegar eel, in case you are curious, but actually in a really “ripe” bottle of coconut vinegar, you can sometimes see the eels squiggling around with the naked eye. Eeew, is right. That is almost always the reaction one gets when you tell the innocent or uninformed casual diner that they are downing live eels/worms in their sawsawan with sili. Not to worry, these aren’t parasitic worms, the kind that hang out in your plumbing and give you a bloated stomach and a wicked apetite, these vinegar eels probably faint or keel over as soon as they get to YOUR acidic stomach. The first time I learned this interesting bit of trivia was during a high school biology class where we had to bring in all types of vinegars and discovered why native, means lively, literally… :)


You must read this earlier post on tuba to understand where the base ingredient for vinegar comes from. From the last photo in that post, where the fresh tuba is stored in large plastic containers, the tuba is taken to the vinegar factories, in this case, a small home-based operation right on the National highway to Legazpi. The owner of the vinegar factory wasn’t present when we visited, but we got a quick tour and I was allowed photos while I got a very skimpy description of the process…


The tuba is placed in large vats to begin their natural fermentation process, and as the this gel-like substance floats on the surface, it starts to get more and more acidic. The vinegar is then removed from the bottom of the vats and placed in cleaned glass bottles…


In the old days, the vinegar was left to ferment in tapayan or clay jars, and I can’t help but think the vinegar would taste better in a tapayan than in a plastic barrel…


I was amazed to see these thick glass jars… I liked them so much I wanted to buy them…but didn’t know how to get them home. I was a bit wary of the cleaning process for the jars, just a brush and soap and cool water… no sterilizing at all going on… The vinegar from the large plastic barrels is poured into the glass jars using the faucet built into the base of the barrels.


The bottles are left uncovered on open shelves for a couple of months until the desired acidity level is reached, (5% in commercial vinegars, but I suspect it is lower in these natural vinegars). It is here that the vinegar eels do wonders, munching on the bacteria as the coconut sap ferments naturally…


Occasionally, a wayward and dopey fly or other flying creature ventures into the bottle and if it isn’t overwhelmed by the fumes and is dumb enough to taste the vinegar, it ends up like this dude, hopefully adding a nice flavor nuance to that particular vintage and bottle…


After the aging process, roughly 2-3 months, the vinegar is filtered and bottled and sold. And since it isn’t pasteurized, it will continue to age and ferment until the vinegar eels run out of bacteria to munch on. A large bottle like this one is roughly PHP120-150 worth of organic coconut vinegar, street side retail. I bought smaller bottles and hoped that I could check it in as luggage on my flight back to Manila, but the customs folks at the airport absolutely forbade my coconut vinegar from the plane, bummer. For those of you icked out by the vinegar eels, which are in natural apple cider vinegar as well btw, another step would be to pasteurize the vinegar, heating it to the point of killing all the squigglies, then filtering sediment out and sealing it in a bottle with a stable taste profile. I did a post on one of my favorite “clean” coconut sap vinegars, here, but unfortunately, I seem to have great difficulty finding it for sale in Manila stores on a regular basis… I understand it is now exported to the U.S. as some chi-chi organic coconut vinegar, so readers in the U.S. might have a better chance of buying it…


36 Responses

  1. Great and interesting “tuba” post, MM. Never had a chance to taste “tuba” in my lifetime, and yet after reading this post, I may try it when I visit in 2010. Just for the taste of it…

  2. i forgot all about the vinegar eels in my biology class.saan ba sila nanggagaling?sorry,i may sound stupid but i need an answer,duh.

  3. Your article deserves to be published at the United Nation Newsletter for endangered production of a local main ingredient which our forefathers developed out of their backyards and batalan and still being utilized up to this time with some modification of plastic tools. Vinegar is used across the archipelago in lots of our food from adobo, dinuguan, pinangat, kinalaw, paksiw and many more vinegar-based meat and fish stewed. Your third picture is the mother vinegar the gel like formation on top – it is the heart and soul of vinegar making like the queen been in honey production and winemaking. It is in this process where the baby vinegar eels are born. The natural acidity present in vinegar making I believe guts out all the undesirable and offensive elements present around its production area. If you want to make your own flavored vinegar you need to get a piece of the mother vinegar and keep in a jar or a bottle of aged vinegar with all the eels swimming at the top edge of the bottle along with fruits to your liking to flavor your vinegar.

  4. Please bring your coco vinegar to a hard boil for at least 5 minutes to kill any bacteria or other harmful organisms before using specially in salads. Just remember it was coco vinegar purchased at Talisay beach, Cebu in 1956 before you were born, that gave amoebic dysentery to 30 guests and landed all in the hospital. We kids were spared because we ate ketchup with the lechon. The acidity is not high enough to kill the germs. If you ever get amoebic dysentery you are a carrier forever and technically barred from the USA if you ever admit to it.

  5. Sister, thank you much for enlightening the gray area in vinegar much appreciate it.

  6. MM,

  7. sister, yes, a hard boil is a good idea, and in fact most commercially sold coconut vinegar is boiled before being bottled and sold. The amoebic dysentery is actually a higher risk due to the bottle being unclean (re-used and improperly sterilized), the addition of say fresh ginger or siling labuyo that has soil particles and other gunk on them, etc. than the pure coconut vinegar itself. The natural eels in the vinegar are not parasitic.

    Coconut vinegar at roughly 4% acidity, is less “sour” than say standard commercial vinegars like del Monte at 5-6% acidity, so it seems less grating on some foods… det, good grief, how did you manage that? det, I think the beginnings of the eels are in the tuba to begin with…

  8. Sister, thank you. Getting amoebiasis from vinegar never occurred to me, will keep this in mind from now on.

  9. I buy mostly commercial vinegar but a good native vinegar would be nice and sister just shared a great ‘safety’ tip when partaking of one…these 2 posts on vinegar is definitely a crash course for me(vinegar101..)and I actually learned a lot about this often-called for ingredient but unfortunately, hard to come-by:( GREAT POST,MM!

  10. MM, are we not allowed to bring them here in the us?i brought some from my trip last 2005 and used it up’s gross though.if i had seen this before i probably won’t be so enthused using it.eeewwww.does the cane vinegar have the same thing?

  11. rachel, I think you would have to bring the pasteurized vinegars with you to the U.S. and besides, most locally commercially sold vinegar is probably pasteurized… its the provincial ones from the backyard makers that may not be pasteurized. As for cane vinegar, if it is organic and non-pasteurized, they might have the eels as well… again, not to worry, the eels don’t do you any harm… just gross under a microscope! :)

  12. Tuba added with ‘tungog’, food coloring from ‘bakhaw’ plant, a kind of mangroove, has less acidity than tuba without any additive. ‘Tungog’ delays the fermentation of the tuba to venigar because the natural sweetnes of tuba will be slightly changed, however, tuba with ‘tungog’ gives off more bubble or foam, like that of a beer. One distinguishing mark of a newly gathered tuba, one with tungog, is that it continously bubbles by itself so that it if you cover tightly, it builds up a pressure and there is a possibility that the cover will burst out. But the taste of tuba with ‘tungog’ is better than one without. Bahalina cannot be made unless the tuba is with a ‘tungog’ and the better bahalina is that with a higher alcohol content. The older the bahalina, the higher the alchohol, to the extent that it is almost combustible. One gallon of bahalina is a result of almost at least two gallon tuba at the start. This is because you have to regularly sift this, until no sediment is left. The test without tasting, if the bahalina is already riped is by tapping the gallon with your finger nails, if it produces a high pitch sound, then it is ready for drinking. This process takes at least a year. The best bahalinas are at three years old or more. Some brewers bury the bahalina in the mud after it no longer produces sediments and no longer builds up a pressure.

  13. Wow! P120-150 is quite expensive. Here it cost P50.00 per gallon only. For those of you in Manila, why not import coco vinegar from Leyte thru the Bus Lines that ply from Leyte to Manila. I’m sure it doesn’t cost much, you just have to pick it up from their garage or terminal as soon as it arrives. I’ve been sending my brother coco-vinegar from Leyte this way because it’s not allowed by airlines anymore.
    MM, now everytime I make saw-saw with my sinamak, I will forever think of those eels!!! Hahaha.
    Nice tibod, that’s antique for sure.

  14. mayeb you could also feature coconut sap sugar. people from PCA (philippine coconut authority) says that it’s very nutritious and that ants don’t flock it even if it’s left in the open. however, the price ranges from 200-400 pesos per kilo. that’s 3-6 times more expensive than muscovado!

  15. MM, thank you for showcasing Filipino “biotechnology” — which is exactly what this is. Amazing! Do you ever wonder if this could be heading for extinction soon?

    I was watching a segment in Balitang Amerika a couple of days ago about a couple who decided to import Philippine sea salt here in America. They package the stuff in nice native boxes with ribbons and sell it for an arm an a leg here as gourmet salt.

    I thought, that can also be done with our native suka. It’s really all about the packaging. And we have so many varieties and flavors. In Pampanga, they make the red vinegar from sugar cane, the whitish stuff in Paombong and so on. Sounds like a business plan.

  16. Our family used to make a delectable dessert out of the tuba gel, or “latak” as we call it.
    To prepare: carefully skim off the gel from the top of the fermenting tuba. Clean the gel thoroughly by picking out all foreign matters (fly, mosquitoes, dirt and other sediments), then wash the gel several times to remove much of its acidity. Cooked the gel in heavy syrup flavored with pandan and langka, just as you would cook nata de coco. Sweetened “latak” definitely taste better than nata de coco.
    Regretfully, we haven’t enjoyed this treat for sometime now coz my beloved aunt who painstakingly cleans the “latak” has since crossed to the great beyond. May God bless her soul.

  17. sonny sj, that dessert/delicacy sounds interesting… I hope someone documents the recipe so it doesn’t disappear forever… leah, someone is exporting our native coconut and sugar cane vinegars… I think I did a link to an earlier post on one of those comercial exporters. kahlil, the orange tuba is colored with the bark of a tree, I think a mangrove tree. misao, I have never run into coconut palm sugar, unless you are referring to panocha, which I have done a feature on before, but it wasn’t that expensive… lee, did you eat them?

  18. Great post on vinegar, MM! I’ve just recently discovered Mama Sita’s Coconut Nectar Vinegar. It tastes pretty close to the ones I found at a Negros trade fair in Rockwell a few months ago. It does have “sediment”, which the bottle label states. I’ve never heard of vinegar “eels” before, so after reading this post, I ran to my cupboard to check if the sediment was actually “eels”. The sediment doesn’t seem to be “squiggling”…or maybe that’s just wishful thinking, he he! The label does say 4.5% acidity. Anyways, Mama Sita’s vinegar will do for the meantime while I look around for the real thing!

  19. Speaking of “suka”, I’m looking for it in Macau. Found some suka from P.I. eg. Datu Puti. Usually chinese vinegar is made of rice, not so tasty as our coco suka. so, I missed that suka sa tuba which my lola made it and keep in tapayan, and we used to soak the kinilaw before it was eaten.

  20. were making vinegar man..but the eel really help to make the tuba”sour” but the idea of let it open is bad..coz us what i see in your pic..theres a dead flies..yakish..they should cover it with a cloth..
    can u email this to me the step they done im making the suka..were they buy that glass jar?..see yeah..

  21. Hello can you supply coconut vinegar going to singapore?
    If you could what is the minimum purchase and how is the payment done?Pls contact me 09206711810…thanks

  22. Coco palm sugar is not panocha, as we know it. The production process is the same but panocha is made from sugar cane while coco palm sugars are made from fresh tuba.

    And it’s not right to call them muscovado, too. They look the same but their similarity ends there. Coco palm sugars are subtly sweet, with no lingering aftertaste. Plus, they have low Glycemic Index values – which means they don’t cause blood sugar spikes. Especially important for diabetics and weight watchers.

  23. Talking about coco sap vinegar is a very interesting one, especially its relation to tuba.
    I am an Organic Vinegar producer here in Leyte(Tabontabon, Leyte in particular) with the brand name NoggiN (Sukang Leyte) Pure Coco Sap Vinegar.
    The difference between a Tuba(red wine) and a Vinegar is that the former is a coco sap mixed with a bark( called barok/tungog here in Leyte), while the latter is purely a coco sap that is left to ferment like what was seen in the picture.
    The vinegar that is left to ferment without the aid of a new technology, like tester is most likely to harm the user.
    One, its acidity is not in conformity with BFAD regulations and could go as high as 10% acidity which is harmful to the body.
    It will also cause many stomach diseases as mentioned above and the worst can damage the liver.
    That is why almost all commercial vinegars have the acidity of 4.5%.
    This time people are more wiser in choosing products and tends to go ORGANIC to do away with preservatives.
    NoggiN(Sukang Leyte) Pure Coco Sap Vinegar, was recognized by the Bu. of Domestic Trade- Makati City, Phils., as one of over 500 SME’s all over the Philippines to have passed the screening of participants for inclusio to the PHIL. FOOD PRODUCT CATALOGUE, and One among the 5 vinegars included.
    If anyone is interested to try my organic vinegar, its now available at Island City Mall in Bohol, Collonade Supermarket in Cebu City, CVC Supermarket in Caloocan City(Next week) and if you are a Leyteno, its readily available at Asia Trading, Highway Comml, Hi Tech Grocery, God Send Grocery and many more( all in Tacloban City).
    And if anyone is to know more about the product call me at Tel. (053) 332-7852/7843, Cell 09166661212. Try and experience the “SARAP Asim to the end” vinegar.

  24. My pare gave me a bottle of this product and my husband and I will love to know where we can find it besides in Barstowe California. We are in Killeen Texas, hope u can help us cuz we really love the taste is perfect and thats how my dad does his from the coconut,anyway I am from Guam.

  25. Wow this is really great! glad i found this kind of site… I learned something and dagdag knowledge and knowledge is power hahahha :) My father in law is making this kind of vinegar no other ingredients added it’s all in natural process. Thanks MM. By the way baka gusto nyo magbili ng coco sap vinegar

    just contact me cell 09056595681 / 09107673751. email to

    Just want to help my father in law and let the world know that we have quality and one of the best coco sap vinegar. we have also coco sugar good for diabetic person.

  26. I need a little help. I have some wine vinegar going and I don’t understand the difference betwwen the vinegar eels and the floating Mother. Some say that the wisps of goo floating in the vinegar is the Mother, and others, the floating “skin” on top.Those that talk of eels are feeding them to fish. Hmmm.



  27. Phil, I do have another post on native vinegar, here, that has the mother floating in it. The mother looks like translucent coconut meat, or for lack of a better comparison, slightly opaque snot. I am not a vinegar expert, but from what I understand the vinegar eels are typically in all-organic, NON-PASTEURIZED vinegars, and though a gross thought, the eels actually help to make the vinegar and add flavor…

  28. Last December 2009,when we have our vacation in our province, our family was thinking for a good business idea for this year. One of my officemate asked me a favor to bring sukang tuba when i get back in Manila because she was once tasted our homemade spicy vinegar and find it “masarap;-)”

    My sister and I started to use the recipe of Sukang Tuba from our lola way back in Romblon. So we decided to make spicy coconut vinegar using the said old recipe. We called it ” PAIG”- which means strong taste tuba!It is naturally extracted from the coconut sap added with different kinds of spices.

    We are just starting to introduce PAIG to our circle of friends and colleagues. If anyone interested to buy, you can try our PAIG at a very affordable price. You may contact us at 09089763228 (malou) / 09083098409 (menn) or you may email us at more details.

    -godspeed for all those who started their business-

  29. I love the lecture of Ms. Linda. I hope we can get some insights from her. We just started to venture into vinegar business with my sister*

  30. Marketman, you featured my coconut nectar vinegar a few years back with the old label. You may want to visit my website ( so you can have a look at my other variants.



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