Shaking the tree of youth and memory

Family Meliaceae
Sandoricum koetjape
(Burm. f. Merr.)
(Sambali), Kantol (Mountain Province), Santol (most dialects)
Season: June to October


Santol. Photo © Neal Oshima.

Santol is a native of India and Malaysia—where it is called Sentul or Kecapi—and is now found in all tropical countries in Asia. It was probably introduced into the Philippines in prehistoric times, and is now found in practically all parts of the country—both cultivated and semi-wild in backyards and second-growth forests at low and medium altitudes.

To most Filipinos, however, it is one of the most familiar of backyard or orchard trees: medium-sized to large, reaching perhaps 15-25 meters in height, with leaves that change from light green to dark green to red when about to fall.  The flowers are pale green to greenish white and slightly scented.

The two principal varieties of santol in the Philippines are the “Native,” which has small fruits and constitutes the majority of trees in the country, and the “Bangkok,” which has large, sweet fruits. It was introduced in 1949 from Thailand.

In the old days, santol was gathered by climbing the tree, or by shaking it. Now, knowing that the fruits should be allowed to fully ripen on the tree, they are harvested with a net attached to a long bamboo pole, then transferred to a bamboo basket which when full is lowered to the ground. The fruits are sorted and placed in kaing lined with banana leaf, that contain 150-200 fruits. A full grown native tree can produce twelve kaing of fruit every season.

The fruit is part of almost anyone’s childhood: rounded or somewhat flattened, green when immature, turning dull or golden yellow, the skin thick. One opens the santol with a knife, or more often by pressing it between the heels of one’s palms. Inside are three to five seeds, whitish, juicy, furry and fibrous, sour to sour-sweet, lovely to suck.

Most also know that the pulp surrounding is good to eat—peeled, sliced and soaked in sugar and water. Bicolanos chop the rind and saute it with coconut milk and bagoong—gulay na santol. Bulakeños peel off the rind, and carve flower shapes into the pinkish pulp (“bordado” or embroidered), which is then preserved in syrup. Ripe fruits are also made into santol jelly, chutney, marmalade and candy.

When one no longer relishes the picking, opening and sucking of santol, then youth is really over.


Gulay na Santol
The Coconut Cookery of Bicol by Honesto C. General (Bookmark, Inc., 1994)

  • 1 kilo santol
  • milk from the gratings of 2 medium-size coconuts using 1 cup water, preferably hot but below the boiling point
  • 1 small onion, diced
  • 3 cloves garlic, crushed
  • thumb of ginger, crushed or sliced
  • 1 bulb tanglad (lemon grass), crushed (optional)
  • 1 heaping tablespoon balao (unfermented Bicolano bagoong)
  • 100 grams dried fish (daing in Pilipino, badi in Bicol)
  • siling labuyo to taste, if desired
  • salt, to taste

Cut the whole ripe santol in halves. Discard the seeds. Grate the rind with a stationary grater. If you do not have a grater, peel the rind and chop finely. Soak the rind in water. Then squeeze the rind of as much liquid as possible. Discard the liquid.

Add the onion, garlic, ginger, tanglad, balao, dried fish, siling labuyo, and salt into the coconut milk, first and second pressings combined. (The siling labuyo may also be reserved and later served whole on the side.) Over high heat, bring the gata and other ingredients to a boil in a kawali. Stir the mixture constantly. Stirring is absolutely essential to prevent curdling. Scrape in any cream that sticks to the sides of the kawali. When the gata is a-boil, you should have a smooth, thick sauce.

Into this boiling sauce, add the santol. Do not reduce the heat. Stir often to ensure even cooking. When the vegetable is done, the dish is done. The water content should be lamost gone, leaving just the oil. The final product should not be watery.

When the milk is reduced to its oil, the dish keeps for several days. Don’t fret if you have cooked too much. The leftovers are even more delicious the following day.


~ from Fruits of the Philippines by Doreen G. Fernandez (Bookmark, Inc., 1997)


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