Agriculture - - Laing & More -

GABI ( Colo­ca­sia es­cu­lenta (L.) Schott), known in English as taro, co­coyam, ele­phant’s ear, dasheen, and ed­doe , is also known in Philip­pine lo­cal names as na­tong, kat­nga, gaway (Bi­col), aba, aba­long, ba­long, dag­may, gaway, kim­poy, lag­bay, butig (Visayan), badyan (Ha­nunoo), aba, awa (Ilo­cano), atang (Itawis), and sudi (Ivatan).

In ad­di­tion to the names listed here, there are still more names: karot, pikaw pis­ing and palak in Ilo­cos; gutaw and utan in Capiz, and many more. Gabi’s many names ex­tend to its other edi­ble parts. The peti­ole may be called tangkay, pak­lang or vunes. The young leaf­less run­ners are called tak­way, alik­way or even ba­long or aba­long, which is used in­ter­change­ably with the lo­cal name of the cul­ti­var that pro­duces a lot of run­ners, pop­u­larly used in Panay is­land’s dag­may and laing dishes. The starchy corms may be called laman, ugat, tayud, aba or awa.

Did you know that the use of many dis­tinct lo­cal names for a veg­etable is an in­di­ca­tion of how long it has been grown? With these many dis­tinct names for the plant and its edi­ble parts across the dif­fer­ent lin­guis­tic groups, Filipinos must have been grow­ing and eat­ing gabi since an­tiq­uity.

WHAT MAKES GABI, A GABI? Gabi leaves are large, like down­wand-point­ing hearts, green and waxy on the up­per sur­face, while pale bluish-white with a frosted ap­pear­ance un­der­neath. The leaf is sup­ported by a long peti­ole or stalk orig­i­nat­ing from an up­right tuber­ous root­stock, called a corm ( laman).

The peti­ole are ar­ranged in a way sim­i­lar to the way rose petals are ar­ranged. Also re­ferred to as stalks, they are erect and are at­tached to the leaf near the cen­tral part of the leaf blade. The two up­per leaf lobes are joined to­gether at a point away from where the peti­ole is at­tached to the leaf, so that gabi leaves look less ar­row-like than other sim­i­lar-look­ing plants in the Aroid fam­ily.

The leaf and peti­ole are suc­cu­lent and come in var­i­ous col­ors, rang­ing from light green to dark green pur­ple, and sizes de­pend­ing on the va­ri­ety and grow­ing en­vi­ron­ment.

ITCHY GABI? ITCH IS NOT A PROB­LEM Gabi’s rep­u­ta­tion for acrid­ity and itch­i­ness is a downer for some. How­ever, gabi is one of the old­est food crops that grows al­most ev­ery­where in the Philip­pines. Even if it may not be na­tive to the ar­chi­pel­ago, some sci­en­tists be­lieve that the fa­mous Rice Ter­races of the Philip­pines in the Cordilleras were orig­i­nally con­structed for gabi cul­ti­va­tion. Sto­ries of wild gabi sav­ing many Filipinos from famine dur­ing World War II also abound. To­day, Panay Is­land in the Visayas and the Bi­col Re­gion in South­ern Lu­zon are best known for their gas­tro­nomic fetish on gabi, de­spite its rep­u­ta­tion for be­ing acrid and itchy if not pre­pared prop­erly.

What’s with the itch, any­way? The acrid­ity and itch­i­ness of gabi are due to crys­tals of cal­cium ox­alate. These look like bun­dles of nee­dles con­tained in tubu­lar or cap­sule-shaped cells in the leaves called “id­ioblasts”. When the plant is dam­aged or cut, the id­ioblasts are also cut open and shoot the nee­dles of cal­cium ox­alate, caus­ing the itch­i­ness in the skin or the ir­ri­tat­ing sen­sa­tion in the tongue and throat. The con­cen­tra­tion of cal­cium ox­alate in the leaves de­creases as the leaves age.

The gabi itch is well-known, but this has not de­terred Filipinos from em­brac­ing the ex­otic taste of laing and pinan­gat, pos­si­bly gabi’s most pop­u­lar prepa­ra­tions.

How is this itch­i­ness man­aged, then? There are both le­git­i­mate prepa­ra­tion prac­tices as well as folk rit­u­als bor­der­ing on the su­per­sti­tious, to lessen – if not elim­i­nate – gabi’s acrid­ity. Who knows, there might even be a sci­en­tific ba­sis for each of them. 1. Dry­ing gabi leaves be­fore cook­ing is be­lieved to sig­nif­i­cantly re­duce the risk of an itchy gabi dish. Hang newly-har­vested gabi leaves by the peti­oles above the cook stove or fire­place, or dry them un­der the sun for two to three days. Strip parts of the lam­ina of the furled leaves leav­ing the midrib and care­fully peel the stalk us­ing a knife. When prop­erly cleaned and dried, gabi leaves may last for 2-3 weeks or even a month. How­ever, in Leyte, hang­ing to air-dry is enough if there is no in­ten­tion to store the leaves.

2. In us­ing furled and un­furl­ing leaves ( piripit/pilipit), it is rec­om­mended that the leaves are tapped three times on the ta­ble or any sur­face. Then, leaves are opened and the cen­tral part wiped with a clean cloth to re­move the wax. Next, the tip is re­moved and the stalk peeled be­fore ty­ing the leaf into a knot. Wa­ter run­ning off the gabi leaf drips out of its tip, tak­ing with it some of the cal­cium ox­alate crys­tals – and thus, in­creas­ing the con­cen­tra­tion at the tips. Thus, re­mov­ing the tips re­moves much of what causes the itch.

3. For the corm, it is rec­om­mended that the skin is peeled off com­pletely, and the peeled corm diced and soaked in wa­ter with a few drops of vine­gar and a pinch of salt.

4. The run­ners ( tak­way) are sim­i­larly soaked in wa­ter with a few drops of vine­gar and a pinch of salt. Prefer­ably, har­vest only the young and the soft run­ners, wash in run­ning wa­ter, and peel the skin off, leav­ing only the soft and ten­der in­ner part, which is cut into equal lengths.

5. It is also good to avoid two things when cook­ing: con­stant stir­ring and cov­er­ing the cook­ing pan. As soon as the color changes, a few drops of vine­gar and a pinch of salt is added. 6. Fi­nally, it is be­lieved that plant­ing gabi dur­ing full moon ( dayaw, paghipono, tak­dul or ugsan) and low tide ( hubas) will re­duce itch­i­ness.

WHERE GABI GROWS It is per­haps safe to say that gabi can grow any­where – or at least, cul­ti­vars are avail­able for a wide range of trop­i­cal grow­ing con­di­tions. In prac­ti­cally all sites, at least one gabi cul­ti­var was men­tioned as an indige­nous veg­etable, whether for its leaves, peti­oles, run­ners, corms, or all of these. They may be cul­ti­vated in home gar­dens or in larger pro­duc­tion ar­eas, or sim­ply gath­ered from field mar­gins, forested ar­eas, idle lands, or bed­side bod­ies of wa­ter.

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