Ubod / Heart of (Coconut) Palm


For some bizarre reason, I always thought that the ubod, or heart of palm, came from the center of an entire coconut tree trunk. Obviously, that is incorrect, not to mention that a LOT of heart of palm comes from several different types of palm, many of them grown in Central and South America. A few years ago, I was told that the ubod was only gathered from the topmost section of the coconut trunk, right up where the leaves were located. It seems a bit wasteful to cut down an entire coconut tree for this little section of edible material, but apparently the tree is only sacrificed here when it is no longer highly productive, has been damaged as a result of a storm, cut to make way for development/construction, etc. And the rest of the trunk is turned into coco lumber. Fresh ubod is perishable, hence the mass ubod eating marathons that probably occur after major storms have felled hundreds of trees in the provinces. Having learned all of this recently, I have still remained an ubod neophyte in that I never knew how to pick the really tender and “prime” ubod. I often bought really fibrous and tough pieces that were less than appetizing. That is, until I finally saw an ubod being prepared from scratch at the central market in Legaspi last week.


In the photo up top, you can clearly discern that the piece of coconut trunk is the topmost portion of a coconut tree. It is being carefully “peeled” and trimmed by the guy with the bolo. There is very little of the coconut trunk with the “hard” outer bark. This piece is mostly made up of the section that is just under the leaves. Once this initial process is complete, the ubod is divided into different quality grades, with the softest, finest and ultimately most coveted section coming from about 2/3rd down this piece in the photos to the top. It is here that the ubod feels more like a stiffer banana trunk than a fibrous coconut trunk. I think that most of the time, Manila consumers end up with the lower third of this section, hence the highly fibrous pieces. When you see the different pieces of ubod that vendors have in their stalls, you can easily discern the prime pieces from the less desirable pieces. Unfortunately, in Manila, you often don’t get a chance to see the different sections, the ubod is already cut up, and often it is the less desirable sections of the coconut trunk…


In this third photo, the lady vendor is chopping up the lower third of “the piece”, and you can tell because of the shape of ubod on her counter and she is cutting it up into relatively large and thicker pieces. This section is ideal for recipes where the ubod is stewed or cooked for a longer period of time, so that it softens and absorbs the flavors of the dish…


But in this fourth photo, you can see the guy cradling what is clearly a more desirable center piece of ubod probably from the upper third of “the piece” like that in the photograph up top. This piece was hand-sliced to an incredible thinness and apparently when quickly blanched it is the basis for a classic “ensalada” mixed with tomatoes, etc. But what I would really like to try the next time I am this close to superbly fresh and wickedly thin slices of ubod is to blanch it briefly, plunge it into an ice bath, drain it, then serve it with a vinaigrette and shavings of parmesan cheese. Maybe throw in some arugula, endive or radicchio. Yum, I think. The problem is, where will I find the good stuff in Manila???


18 Responses

  1. Never seen ubod right off its trunk phase only from your informative posts. My exposure to ubod was at the wet market where it was sectioned and cut to chunky pieces for retail sale. Love much ubod lumpia with lots of shrimp, crab meat and celery definitely no meat at all with homemade lumpia wrapper and loose lumpia sauce and pair it with ube ice cream or ube halaya for dessert. It is a combo made in heaven. My grandmother used to make pickled ubod with whole shallot and garlic like atsara type of concoction by blanching first all the ingredients, drained and poured the boiled and cooled vinegar mixture which was very good. Blanched ubod like you said is also good in salad with shaved aged cheese, vinagerette dressing and hard boiled eggs.

  2. I heard about ubod before but I never realized the coconut tree has to come down, I felt sad about it, really now am a bit sad. I just hope it’s worth eating it, and hopefully they telling the truth about the not productive tree or damaged ones. Thanks for the information MM

  3. After the Milenyo and the Reming typhoons, we had lots of ubod which we had to consume really really quickly as there was no electricity for the fridge. It got so that whenever I would see ubod being brought in, I am filled with dread. Suffice it to say that it took me several months before I could eat ubod again.

    One great and simple way of eating it is simply cooking them in coconut and adding sardines in it.

  4. That is a massive amount of ubod! I always thought it was a small chunk, not such a large log.
    This also makes me wonder about the coconut as a member of the palm tree family. I had thought that palm trees were smaller. Coconut trees never come to mind when hearing the word palm tree. I’m going to have to look all this stuff up now!

  5. When we had several coconut trees cut, the men cutting it were already eating the choicest part of the ubod :-). It can be quite like eating subtly sweet buko meat (but has a firmer form of course). I find it always best eaten as fresh as can be. Of course, we had to freeze the remaining but then something is lost —I cannot really describe it. Maybe that is why market vendors in Manila do not really want to sell it. For one, transporting it is bulky enough and too, for people who know what good ubod is (fresh as in fresh) cannot assure the consumers of a good buy. It takes also a lot of energy and sharp bolo/machete to take out the ubod as I observe. And has anyone thought of a good way of preserving ubod—like burong ubod?

  6. I remember when I first ate ubod ng niyog. My lola sauteed lots of garlic,onion and tomatoes then added the ubod…they used “sardinas” it was so delicious and the sweetness of the ubod really shines, that from time to time i crave for it.

  7. hehehe…i remember when i was a kid, i couldn’t understand why people would prefer ubod for lumpia (bec. back then i like singkamas more). na parang laging fiesta tuwing magbubuwal sila ng puno ng niyog, dahil for sure, me lumpia after, hehe.

  8. I remember, when we were kids, we would scoop the center of the ubod, to the consternation of my mom, and just eat it raw. Anything as fresh as the one pictured does not seem to need anything.

    My mom would cook it in fresh lumpia or ginataan. These days however the texture is as hard as bamboo shoots, and not as tasty.

    Ever tried ubod ng saging, I heard from my mom that they used to eat it during the war when food was scarce. We tried it once and it was not bad at all.

    I am enjoying your post and blogged about it too, most of your food entries reminds me of the old days, when we don’t have to worry of re-engineered food, and naturally organic.

    That is a good way of propagating the Filipino culture. Salute!

    Cheers —

  9. I often see men cleaning the bark off a coconut tree and they sell the ubod from it on Lakandula Street here in Tondo. And vendors here in Divisoria will chop/slice ubod in front of you when you buy fom them. Never bought from them though. The family is not into ubod.

  10. When visiting the philippines I always ask if we can get some atcharang ubod…. it’s got to be my favourite with its perfumed and yet slightly sharp taste…

    last time I was there my friends uncle cut one of his trees down to make the atchara (it was too close to another tree, so needed cutting down anyway)… here’s the photos…

    I was surprised how high up the tree the removed ‘heart’ was…



    … and here’s the ubod ready for chopping up….

    Atcharang ubod…. ubod ng sarap….!

  11. That’s one of the things I cannot get here in the US, unless you count the canned ubod. I love Lumpiang Ubod and miss it terribly.

  12. dhanggit, I have done a lumpiang ubod recipe before, it is in the archives… I didn’t have a kitchen on this trip to Legazpi, so I didn’t cook while there.

  13. my first memory of ubod was when i was a little kid. my lola forced a piece of ubod into my mouth. thankfully, i liked it. it was sweet and really fresh because it was from a tree in our backyard. :D
    i haven’t had a chance to eat fresh ubod again. i always see them already in the lumpia. haaay… i want fresh ubod.



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