Tuba, A Marketman Mini-Adventure…


Traipsing through endless coconut groves outside Legazpi, I asked one of the locals if there was freshly made native coconut vinegar for sale in the area… After some discussion, we eventually made contact with one vendor through friends and acquaintances, and the next day headed off to the outskirts of Daraga, several kilometers away, ostensibly to purchase some good native vinegar. When we got to the address, we parked by a roadside stall that only had a few small bottles of opaque coconut vinegar for sale. I asked the vendor/owner a few questions about how the vinegar was made, whether it was the type of vinegar that contained live vinegar eels, etc. While I was thrilled to have found a few bottles of native vinegar, I wasn’t ecstatic, YET. A few minutes into the impromptu interview, the vendor asked if I would like to see how the vinegar was made, from tree to bottle… NOW we were talking… finally, my chance to learn a lot more about native coconut vinegar, which I will break into two posts, the first on tuba, the raw material, and a second post on the coconut vinegar. If I had more time, I could have gone one step further to lambanog, the distilled product from tuba, but they weren’t making any that day… I have enjoyed coconut vinegar for the past 40+ years, and frankly, until now, never really knew how it was made, so read on and experience the fascinating hour or two I spent on tuba and suka


The adventure began with a short ride in our vehicle into the heart of a nearby coconut plantation. We then walked by foot several hundred meters into the coconut grove behind Mang Efren, who was the resident tuba gatherer in that area. Deeper and deeper into the “woods” we went and along the way, Mang Efren pointed out certain trees without coconuts on them, but instead, hanging tubes, called garong, that were collecting the dripping sap.


It was explained to me that the tuba or sap of the coconut was collected only from particular trees, those that were heavy tuba producers relative to their neighbors. As I understand the process, and my Bicolano language skills are non-existent, so I was relying on translators, the coconut tree sends out a flowering stem, which is severed with a scythe and the sap or tuba flows from this cut into the hanging cylinders, called garong. The sap is gathered from these cylinders every morning. A prolific tree can yield as much as a liter or two of tuba per day.


To get the tuba, Mang Efren must climb each and every tree, balance precariously 50-80 feet above ground, gather the tuba from the garong by transfering it to the container latched onto his shoulder, make a new slice or cut to the flowering branch with his scythe, and clamber back down the tree… Notice how he clings, barefoot, with just a two or three toes to the notches in the tree. He clambers up dozens of trees every morning.


Always believing that I was probably a monkey in a previous life (my arms are particularly long and gangly), and ignoring my personal fear of heights, I of course wanted to climb a coconut tree to fully appreciate the whole tuba experience. So with the daraykon latched onto my shoulder, I gingerly attempted to climb a tree. Well, let me tell you, it’s not an easy task for a 43 year old with humongous flat feet. Not only was getting a grip with my feet a nightmare, but the entire bloody tree trunk was crawling with humongous RED ANTS. Mang Efren assured me that these didn’t bite (yeah, right?!) so I tried to climb two or three notches up, only to leap off the tree when the ants started crawling all over my arms. YUCK. They should have folks on The Amazing Race do this task, they would have major conniptions.


Here is a photo of the sharp scythe, or sangot used to cut the flowering stem. Marketman could envision falling off the tree (no safety ropes or harnesses), impaling myself on the sangot, getting doused in fresh tuba from the daraykon, and dying a slow and painful death covered in red ants… Trust, me, buy the tuba and suka roadside instead… :)


The freshly gathered tuba can be enjoyed immediately. I was handed a glass of fresh tuba, collected that morning and I drank about a third of the glass. It was a bit sour, but utterly delicious. Unlike any tuba I have had before precisely because it was so fresh. But I thought it was still a bit more sour than it should be. After discussing this with Efren, he clearly got my drift, he walked off and got another glass from another container and had me try this second glass which was absolutely brilliant. Clean, vaguely sweet, vaguely reminiscent of coconut juice, with just a hint of alcohol. Now this was the finest tuba I will probably ever have; just hours old. The difference? Well it could gross you out a little, as it did me. Apparently, the garong or tube that collects the sap, used to be made out of a bamboo cylinder. These days, so high tech, it is made from a sliced up heavy duty PVC pipe. This tube is cleaned every once in a while by washing it out with water and using a brush to clear the tube. This eliminates yeasts and other natural beings that can speed the fermentation process even if the tuba is just hours old. Basically, the first glass was obtained from LESS CLEAN or not RECENTLY CLEANED PVC tubes, hence it was fermenting faster than the sap from a clean tube. The second glass was from a very recently cleaned tube. Ugghhh. Take a look inside a skanky, older and less clean tube and you wouldn’t imbibe this stuff so voluntarily. Not to worry, I didn’t get sick at all… in fact, I spent the rest of the morning with a slight high, don’t ask me to explain the chemistry, but the sap, which has a high sugar content, also seems to have an immediate alcoholic-like hit. Let’s just say it was harder to avoid the carabao poop piles on the long walk back to the car… :)


The gathered tuba is then placed in heavy duty plastic containers (the kind used for gas or kerosene) and either sold as tuba for a few days after gathering or eventually turned into coconut vinegar. Some folks use this new tuba in their kinilaw, to just flavor the dish, not cook it with a very high level of acidity that most vinegars possess… Tuba is sometimes referred to as bago (a day or so old) and bahal or bahalina for a couple of days old… it starts to naturally ferment into vinegar as it ages further…


49 Responses

  1. sometime_lurker, nope, our office manager’s… elaine, refined? Hahaha. That’s a good one, try inexperienced, couch potato, city slicker…

  2. Thank you for this, MM! I was completely ignorant about the process — I assumed that coconut vinegar, tuba, and lambanog were made from coconut juice! So it’s made of sap from the coconut TREE! Would you know, is it true of other coconut liquors, such as the Northern tapuy?

  3. Nice try on climbing up a coco tree. Mang Efren must have been born by the coconut sap! His skills in getting on top of the tree is a real hands on experience. Tuba is great in maja blanca or tibok tibok in the Pampanga area and galapong bibingka using tuba as a leavening agent. Your most recent torta article one of your commenters featured a torta recipe using tuba. Wishing they should continue to use bamboo tubes in collecting the sap as opposed to PVC pipe. Looks like plastic dominates everything now even puto bumbong makers they resort to PVC pipes now.

  4. oh dear MM, i was laughing so hard at your ‘imagined’ fall from the coconut tree:

    “… (no safety ropes or harnesses), impaling myself on the sangot, getting doused in fresh tuba from the daraykon, and dying a slow and painful death covered in red ants… ”

    sounds like the stuff that the old slapstick comedies (Laurel and Hardy, or The Three Stooges) are made of. pero ha, giant red ants? brrrrr! ayaw ko yun!

    curious tuloy ako to get a taste of tuba … maybe when we go to Quezon, hmmm … !!!

  5. You should try tuba gathering from Sasa, a type of palm that grows along river banks. It is not as difficult as tuba gathering from coconut since the Sasa grows at ground level only. The tuba from Sasa is much sweeter, we even use it as sweetener for ginataan.

  6. sonny sj, by sasa, do you mean nipa palm? their leaves are used for roofing on nipa huts… I love the vinegar from nipa palm as well…

  7. the tuba in the picture is translucent.our tuba in bohol is brick red due to a coloring we call Tungog.i don`t really know if it has another use in tuba making.could it be for fermentation?i love few hours old tuba because it is sweet.

  8. Yes, the newly gathered tuba was very terrific. I was thinking of drinking more, but I was worried that the tuba gatherer will have no more to deliver. Newly gathered tuba, lard from the native pig and native eggs, are the secret ingredient on best tortas from bohol.

  9. det,
    tungog comes from “bakhaw” bark, pounded to powder, it delays the fermentation of the tuba from becoming a venigar, and it is hard to make bahalina if you dont put tungog on it. That one in the picture is without any coloring which was recently gathered.

  10. MM, yes it is Nipa palm. The Nipa leaves are also used as wrapper for Suman sa Ibos, as call it. These are the same as the suman sold in Antipolo, only they use coconut leaves.

  11. I remember when we were doing community work in Liliw Laguna, there were lots of tuba gatherers and to spare them from climbing each tree, bamboo poles propped up on top of the tree connect each tree where tuba was to be gathered.Not only do these people climb so fast but they were also fast going from tree to tree balancing themselves precariously on the bamboo poles way up above!Imagine risking your life for a tuba!MM, your death by tuba scenario is funny but come to think of it,that scenario can happen or might have happened to any of these remarkable people!Thank you for posts that are informative.

  12. MM, why is it I remember tuba in my childhood to be a reddish-orange-brown liquid straight from the coconut tree which was very sweet before fermenting into an alcoholic drink. Back in Negros Occ., the roadsides would be lined with tuba being sold in the late afternoon for sale. Even the tuba vinegar sold today is this color? Is my memory wrong?

  13. Ah, tuba! I love this stuff as a child, yes, I drank tuba when I was a kid! If memory serves me right, I believe my father even brought me up the tree one time (we have a ladder), but this is where it gets hazy—couldn’t remember the details. But I remember that my parents would boil the tuba to a honey-like consistency and taste.

  14. Lex, apparently some folks add the pounded bark of a bakhaw or I believe mangrove tree, the powdered bark colors the tuba, but ore importantly, apparently inhibits fermentation and probably adds a distinct flavor to the vinegar. I know which vinegar you type on your comuter off, it is the same vinegar I enjoyed as a kid on provincial sorties…

  15. Ooohh, what a timely post! I just got off a trip from Romblon where a typical day ends with freshly harvested tuba, and grilled pugita as pulutan. The bamboo receptacle commonly used before has now been replaced by guess what? An empty 1.5 liter Coke plastic bottle.

  16. MM,
    Native suka is best for fish paksiw. That’s we always have native coconut suka at home.

  17. When I had to do a bit of research on the tuba and lambanog, my friend and I went into the coconut plantations of Quezon. Alongside with the tuba gatherers was a young chemist who showed us their community distillery! I was also told that the best time to harvest tuba was during the early, early mornings when the sun is still about to rise. Kaya madilim pa lang, they’re already climbing the choice coconut trees. I really do not know if what they were telling me was just a bit of yarn, but that was what I recalled quite well.

  18. Native coconut suka is also best for adobo (either chicken or pork). We get our supply from Leyte. We always have them at home.

  19. We call newly harvested tuba “lina”(emphasis on last 2 letters, pls) here in Leyte. Its sweet and good to drink. Definitely, tuba suka is good for kinilaw, sawsawan (sinamak) and paksiw because the sour taste is not sharp like the manufactured ones. Do you know that to speed up the fermentation process, we place tuba in glass bottles and put it under the sun until the desired sourness of obtained?
    I also think that the famous and expensive “pinakurat” vinegar makes use of tuba that’s why is so good!

  20. Pedro, You’re right, it is the bahalina used to ferment the torta dough that results in the inimitable flavour that cannot be replicated using baking powder or soda.

  21. Homebuddy

    We do the same in Bago City, Negros Occidental to speed up the process.. Oh, I miss home:(

  22. Thank you for the Bikol posts. My family is from there, so your posts bring back lots of good memories!

  23. what a revelation!like katrina, i always thought lambanog and suka was made from coconut water.i prefer cane vinegar though.i brought a case here with me from our trip last year.i like the sweet sour flavor of it.would you please feature that and how it’s made next time =).This is very informative.it’s kinda good to know where the stuff you feed your body comes from.THANKS MM.

  24. MM, off topic, but most people I know I wouldn’t recognize if all I saw was their back. Thanks to your numerous ‘anonymous’ pics you now have one of the most recognizable backs in town. Has anyone recognized your back or your profile, specially in known MM territories such as the Salcedo market? heheh

  25. hi mm, for how much did you buy the roadside tuba? did you buy a whole container? :)

  26. I love tuba! And bahalina too! When we were kids, if we want to drink tuba, we mix it with Coke. I remember being sick (I just can’t remember why) and they mixed tuba with raw egg and let me drink it. Which I didnt by the way, but my dad’s family can slug it up so quick. Does anybody know what that was for? Bahalina during fiestas are served alongside with wine in my lola’s home.

  27. leytenos and some others who have tasted our tuba will swear you will never taste anything better than tuba from leyte. as a leyteno, i of course agree whole-heartedly. out tuba also has an orangey tinge, on account of the “barok” (“tungog” in cebuano), which i gather is imported from malaysia. at least that’s what i recall having been told by an elder during one of our sessions.

    as a child, i was also forced to drink a concoction of tuba, native chocolate and raw egg called “cotel” or “Kutel”, which was supposed to be an energy tonic.

    i don’t know about that, but from my 20’s, i’ve preferred tuba (preferably bahalina)with sumsuman (pulutan) of lechon bisaya, kinilaw na anything and kamote.

    any unfinished tuba (very rare) is then allowed to ferment further into “so-oy”(suka, vinegar). add the necessary spices and you’ve got “pinakurat”!

  28. Hi MM, tuba gatherers are called “mananggete” in Leyte, probably from the root word “sanggot” which is the term used for both the knife and the process of gathering the sap. Thank you for this entry which brings back fond memories of family :)

    kyang2x, that concoction reminds me of what we waray folk call “kotil” which is made from a mixture of tuba, raw eggs, tru-orange and milk. Back then, this was given to sickly, thin children and purportedly helped them gain weight and get healthier.

    To make the red tuba, powdered “barok” (this is the bark of some tree that we know are imported from somewhere and retailed by local dealers) is added to the clear fluid. At different stages of the fermentation process, the mixture is called “buraghak” – mixture is opaque and bubbly, still sweetish and gives you a terrible terrible headache the day after, “bahal” – 1-6 months old, which is oftentimes drank with coke or pepsi and “bahalina” – 6 months and older, mellowed and has a higher alcohol content and can be drank by itself. The process of aging the stuff is quite tedious, needing to be transferred from one container to another every 2 weeks to remove the sediment that settles at the bottom of the container. There has to be a technique to doing this without agitating the liquid too much and not getting any of the stuff into your clothes since the stains dont come out at all! This sediment may be collected to make into “su-oy” or vinegar. Really aged, properly fermented tuba is quite similar to a good red wine in taste and color. I have an uncle who takes out his prized 5 year old tuba only for very special occasions. He stores these in tightly sealed antique big glass containers called “dama de juana” in dark secret places that are off limits even to his grown sons and daughters :) This beverage is much cheaper compared to beer and bottled wines so its the drink of choice in Leyte. The picnic menu of my family would always include tuba, coke, sinugba and boiled unripe bananas.

  29. I have about a 1L of sweet tuba every Sat and Sun. It gives me my sugar high and very good for my digestive system

    Been wanting to do a post on tuba on my own blog…but surely nothing like the way MM did it. Mine will just be cold, sweet and laxative :)

  30. At the risk of sounding mayabang, yes, the best tuba comes from Leyte and since I hail from Palo, Leyte, that is where THE BEST tuba comes from. Hahaha…. No Choy. I forgot what it is exactly that makes our tuba reddish though definitely, it is from the mangrove tree. NOT imported. Strictly local. Many of my cousins and uncles from both sides of the family make tuba–for selling and for family use. One time, even colleagues stationed in Bohol intimated that they do get the tuba they sell from our hometown.

    I never liked kutil myself but mothers drink that. I prefer mine with pepsi as chaser. Okay na rin pure though I just couldn’t compete with my cousins everytime we had our reunions. I used to be the butt of jokes for not being able to drink as much as they can. Mahirap daw talaga pag laking Maynila…. Memories….

  31. Yehey for Leyte and Leytenos! Indeed our bahalina puts us in the national map.

  32. When I saw your white tuba I remembered the tuba sa nipa my father and his brothers enjoy early in the morning whenever we were in Surigao del Sur (my Grandmother has 3 nipa palms on her backyard) she never runs out of suka because of that. Though the nipa suka is more sour than that of the coconut suka. But here in Davao del norte there is an abundance of coconuts so there are a lot of suka and tuba sold on the roadsides and small sari-sari stores. Kyang2x I guess you’re refering to Kinutil (kutir for surigaonons) its a drink made of tuba,raw eggs,evaporated milk and tsokolate(tablea) that have been mixed. well, and same as your relatives my relatives on the father side can drink it in buckets. They also have boracay(if I remember correctly) using tuba, tablea, rhum, and whatever there is at hand but no eggs. Bahalina is the tuba that is no longer fresh.

  33. My lola gave me tuba when I was quite young… the older folks in the village would let us drink tuba…enjoyable post MM.

  34. My father was from Bicol, born in Camarines Sur. He was a Manila boy most of his life as he was only a little boy when the family moved to Manila, only to seek shelter in the “badangs” (forests? jungles?) of Bicol during the Japanese occupation.

    He would fondly tell us of memories when he and his younger brother would go “nanunuba” and he said it was so delicious. After seeing this post, how I wish my Dad was still alive so I could share with him. Unfortunately, I’ve never gone to Bicol but my Dad’s memories, along with some Bicolano words I’ve learned from various yayas, are the extent of my Bicolana half. My Kapampangan side from my mother is the more dominant culture in the household as we grew up in Pampanga.

    So, MM, thank you for these Bicol posts and I will definitely share with my siblings. We lost my Dad unexpectedly so this is sure to bring some tears of sadness mingled with joy to the family. Thanks again. (sniff, sniff)

  35. I got sad after my initial post so here’s a mababaw observation to lighten the mood… did anybody notice Mang Efren’s bulging bicep? Hanep sa workout, ‘no? I’d call it the “sangot” effect. Hehe.

  36. MM, can this day old gathered from a clean container juice be marketed as something like wine?

  37. the tuba are not only from leyte. i come from samar and we have plenty of coconut plantation (helped me and my siblings go to college). our suka was for our consumption, we gather the old left-overs tuba in a gallon, pour into it left-over suka (also out of tuba) and place it under the sun for a few days. then it will turn into a very good one. The color of tuba which is red is caused by mixing it with a bark of a tree we call in waray, “Barok”. It makes the tuba taste bitter because a fresh tuba has light color and taste sweet. I must admit though, that the best Bahal comes from Leyte. We learned how to make Bahal from them.

  38. Hi, do you know where to buy miniature lambanog in the philippines? Please help me find one it is for our wedding on december ’08 thanks

  39. is it safe to use the PVC in storing(temporarily) the tuba from the coconut flower?, cause as we all know that PVC has a poisonous chemical content that can harm us…

  40. Maupay. I am doing a study on tuba right now. By reading the blogs on MM, I got a wealth of information. Most of them I’ve already known being a Leyteno myself. I would like to hear more stories, old sayings, songs, comedies with Tuba. Edilberto Tiempo’s story on The Grave Diggers is one example I’ve read so far. Any movies where the actor or villain drinks Tuba? It is always San Mig or Tanduay that the directors show in their movies. Poor Tuba is forgotten, when in fact it is the dominant drink in Leyte and Samar.

  41. hi ginnel, we have a sukang tuba straight from Romblon..if you want to buy you can email me @menn_08@yahoo.com.We started to venture fresh tuba this year.

  42. maupay nga adlaw h iyo nga tanan! since 1988 my family is engage in developing and concentrating in bahalina business! our bahalina is ranging from 1-5 yrs old.

    for me bahal and bahalina is differnt, since probbly bahal is 1month to 4 months, and bahalina is an aged cocowine from 1 yr and so on.

    We are proud that everytime there is a tuba feast, our bahalina is consistently representing our town(Palo,Leyte). Tuba feast is being observe every october thats why the event is sometimes called Octuba feast.

    Actually we have a numerous consumer in different places here in the philippines, and they keep on coming back to have its exceptional taste. And probably this waray 13 can testify to that since one time he came to our place and gave a tumbs up for his appreciation. Doc Pancho I salute you for your intention in developing of what we have here in the Philippines.

    Anyway,tuba is very safe since this wine is purely organic without the entervention of preservative. But of course you have also todrink this moderately..the wine is 12% alcohol and good for every occasion.

    The truth is we keep in going for the development of this bahalina because of you guys who believe that our local wine can compete those imported commercial wine.

    Kung indi kpa nk tikim,one time pg nagawi ks sa leyte hanapin mo nag Palo at malamang ituro ka s amin.

    Thank you po n mayrong ganitong site! at least n ppromote natin ang sariling atin.. marami tayong produkto dito sa pilipinas at sa totoo lang…mas masarap pa minsan kaysa ung galing sa labas.

    Marami akong idea tungkol sa tuba…open akong mg share sa mga nalalaman ko because I love doing this…tagay na!!!!



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