The Pili Nut of Bicol, Philippines: “In a nutshell, it’s perfect!”

I. About the Product (Pili)

The Pili Nut has the flavor of pumpkin seed when raw, and takes on an entirely different identity when roasted. It is soft yet crisp, with an easy crunch that surprisingly melts in your mouth, making it a favorite snack food among Filipinos. The same delighted acceptance is true even in other countries that have already obtained the nut as an imported staple.

Raw Pili Fruit

Harvested Mature Pili Fruits

With global tastes now putting a premium on much healthier edibles, and with the insistent clamor for new snacking alternatives, the world market is more than ready to welcome the Pili Nut among its gamut of highly-valued food products.

II. About the Philippines and the Bicol Region

The Philippines is a 100-million-strong agri-marine nation enjoying the manifold gifts of its archipelagic ecosystems. Given this richness and diversity of natural resources, the Filipino foodscape is characterized by very unique yet abundantly available products and delicacies, a number of which are not found elsewhere in the planet.

The Pili Nut can be spotted in bushes across tropical Asia and other Pacific islands, but the ones grown in the Bicol Region, southeastern end of the Philippine island of Luzon, are acknowledged as the best-tasting yet. And why ever not; the region is where the best variables for growing Pili converge. This part of the country’s climate, soil and strategic location combine to lend the best conducive environment for the pili to grow well.

Home to at least five active volcanoes – one of which is the perfect-coned and world-admired Mayon Volcano – Bicol’s land is a fecund mix of volcanic soil and generous rainfall. That typhoons regularly pass through the region does not even pose a problem to Bicolano Pili growers, as the Pili Tree is known as a “stress tree”, that is, the more it is shaken and beaten by storms, the more it blooms and bears better fruit.

The Philippines is the only country capable of the commercial production and processing of Pili-based food and by-products, with Bicol supplying 80% of the total output volume.

III. About the Pili industry

Most Pili farmers attest to the fact that the Pili is a low-maintenance crop. It only needs pruning from time to time, requiring minimal fertilizers, or even none at all. Native species that grow as tall as coconut trees would yield its first fruits after five years; grafted trees, shorter therefore safer for barefooted harvesters who climb them, start bearing fruit in three years.

The Pili Kernel inside Shell/ Pulp

The Pili Nut

Workers in the industry are predominantly female (58%); they handle the cleaning, cooking, and packing stages in processing Pili Nuts. The male workers (42%) are mainly in charge of harvest, delivery, and de-shelling, the last being an anecdote in itself.

De-shelling a Pili Nut is an epic case of Man versus Machine, where Man refreshingly wins. Pili deshelling machines are not quite successful as they do crush the extremely hard, bony shell, but unfortunately tend to crush the precious kernel as well, in statistics too high for commercial viability.

Retrieving a perfect Pili kernel requires precision only human hands can deliver; this is easily due to the centuries-old tradition of Pili-cracking, enough practice to beat any machine. The Bicolanos call the process pagtilad – cracking the tough nut using a bolo, with unbelievably rhythmic, graceful and accurate whacking. A paratilad expert could easily slice through the thick, hardwood-esque Pili shells, and finish 100 kilograms in a day’s work.

Manual deshelling: Faster than Machine nut-cracker

Cooking Pili Nut Kernels

The Pili Nut and its by-products have a steadily growing market in the United States, Middle East, Hongkong and China. The Philippines also exports Pili products to countries such as Japan, Germany, France, Great Britain, and in Hawaii.

IV. Applications of Pili Nut

The pulp of the Pili fruit is eaten as a vegetable. Blanched in hot water for about three minutes, it is perfect for salads, or simply dipped in fish sauce for that tangy kick.

But the most important part of the Pili Nut is its kernel. With its testa stripped off, it is a slender, yellowish-white core. The kernel is the raw material used in various recipes.

Cooked Pili Kernels

Enjoying a significant share of the foreign food market are Pili sweets, pastries, and exotically-flavoured variants. Some examples are

· Crispy Pili, with a very thin sugar coat
· Honey-glazed Pili
· Pili with Sea salt
· Plain roasted Pili
· Mazapan de Pili, tarts, cakes, etc.

The kernel and the pulp are excellent sources of oil, used for baking, cooking or cuisine.The Pili tree sap, known around the world as the Manila Elemi, has a cool, zesty scent that is favoured for perfumes and aromatherapy oils.

The tree’s wood, meanwhile, is carved as furniture or home décor.

And the legendary hard shell, formerly only used as fuel, is now being transformed into nature-inspired fashion accessories, such as necklaces, earrings and bracelets.


29 thoughts on “The Pili Nut of Bicol, Philippines: “In a nutshell, it’s perfect!”

      • As of now, it has not reached Canada by commercial imports. I know the products are brought there by visiting Filipinos as arrival gifts for their immigrant relatives.

        We brought it to USA last August for the Philippine Fiesta Fair in New Jersey and introduced the product to importers/ distributors in NY/ NJ and San Francisco. Then we shipped some product samples to Memphis the other week. Pili Nut will also be launched next month at the Washington DC Fancy Food Show.

  1. Hi Chito,
    Thank you for sharing! I have been doing a lot of research and found your blog.
    Please email me your phone number and best time to reach you to discuss about pili nuts.
    I still remember you kang yaon kami nakaistar sa Tula Tula.
    Co-teacher ni Mom si Mama mo sa Albay Central School.
    Salamat Chito.
    Aimee Maslog-Boyle

    • Hi Aimee,

      Dios mabalos saimo! I am glad you remember that time when we were neighbors (Tula-tula/Maoyod). I am trying to refresh my memory; your maiden name rings a bell, I wonder how you look now. Are you abroad? Where?

      OK, I will email you. 🙂

  2. Pili is far beter than other nuts, managom na maray an namit. I do miss it from time to time. I used to cooked them coated with sugar. 😉

    • Mabalos tabi Malou!

      Yes, pili is far better than other nuts I have tasted.
      We should promote our very own product, knowing pili is such a premium nut.
      I must say I want to taste your homegrown pili recipe.

  3. Hi there! I am a third year high school student and it is a requirement for all third years in my school to do an Investigative Project for the Science and Research subjects. My group has decided to tackle the possibility of making Pili nuts into flour as a way to prolong its shelf-life and preserve its nutritional value.

    We were doing some researching and found your site–it’s extremely informative! We were wondering if you had any info as to where we could possibly purchase raw and shelled Pili nuts here in Metro Manila and also how much it will cost. Thank you so much, here is my email: 🙂

  4. Pili Nuts is a crispy, rich, delicious food from Philippines.

    Pili Nuts are highly beneficial for health. These delectable nuts not only prevent cardiovascular diseases but also help in maintaining brain balance, developing healthy bones, hormone production and muscle tissues. These nuts are frequently utilized in several desserts including cakes. In addition, pili nuts contain magnesium, amino acids and protein that play a vital role in detoxification of liver, healthy blood-sugar levels and regulation of body’s energy. It also prevents cholesterol from turning into plague. Amino acids boost immune system.

    Being a rich source of nutrients, pili nuts have a wonderful creamy, butter flavor that melts in mouth. Pili Nuts comprise of various nutrients such as Thiamin, Iron, Copper, Folate, Calcium, Phosphorus, Riboflavin, Zinc, Niacin and Vitamin B6. The B complex vitamins in Pili Nuts have ability to ease stress and boost energy levels. Amino acids regulate neurotransmitters like serotonin and prevent mood swings.

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