Finding gold in the sugar market

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Muscovado Gold is available in various packaging, including vacuum and sachets. Photos of Nelson Matawaran

In the past, muscovado (raw brown sugar) was important as a filling for piaya or sweet flatbread, or as a sweetener for sticky rice cakes and the indigenous chocolate drink. Rising consumer demand for healthy foods has called for the revival of muscovado as an alternative to white sugar.

Born in Bacolod, Negros Occidental, the heart of the sugar industry, entrepreneur Concepcion Poblador moved away from the family sugar business by creating her niche in premium sugar, called Muscovado Gold. It’s not just the typical Class A muscovado or golden variety that dominates the export market. The brand is classified as artisanal and organic. At P150 for a 500 gram bag, it costs almost three times as much as the competition.

In 1907, Poblador’s maternal great-grandfather, Baldomero dela Rama, acquired a hacienda in Bacolod that had 47 carabaos, a steam engine to deliver sugar cane, and a muscovado mill. Coincidentally, the hacienda was next to the plantation of British Vice-Consul Nicholas Loney, who provided loans to modernize sugar production in the Philippines.

Over the years, dela Rama’s hacienda was eventually passed down and divided among younger generations. Poblador leased his family’s share of the 24-hectare property from his sister, Ma. Dolores, to cultivate an organic sugar plantation and build a muscovado mill.

A separate company, Zacchrum Development Corporation, headed by Poblador’s son, Alexis Lorenzo Mitjavile, manages organic sugarcane production.

Poblador named his company, Baldomero-Maria Muscovado Milling Corporation, after his great-grandparents.

On the advice of the Sugar Regulatory Commission, she imported a heavy-duty sugar crusher built in 1902 from Glasgow, Scotland. Poblador also acquired modern machinery to complete the crusher. A consultant from another muscovado plantation helped set up the factory.

The grinder extracts the extracts from the sugarcane juice, which is filtered and boiled in vats. The fuel is organic, a residual fiber called bagasse, which is then fed into the kiln for constant boiling by a fogonero or stoker. After a few hours, the thick consistency will be poured and stirred manually with steel spades until it turns into a powder, hence the muscovado. The process requires a “maestro” or expert artisan who understands the nuances of sugar making to oversee production.

The hacienda is conservative when it comes to production. The 24-hectare farm produces approximately 1,560 tons of sugarcane per cycle. Twelve tons of sugar cane can produce 20 bags of 50 kilos per day or 2,600 bags in four months. Muscovado sugar is packaged at the hacienda.

Concepcion Poblador handles manufacturing while his son, Alexis Lorenzo Mitjavile, oversees the farm's production.

Concepcion Poblador handles manufacturing while his son, Alexis Lorenzo Mitjavile, oversees the farm’s production.

Unlike other class A muscovado sugars which are dark, coarse, and sticky, Muscovado Gold is distinguished by its golden color, dry, grainy texture, and cinnamon flavor.

The mill can produce huge quantities, but the demand for organic muscovado is still low due to lack of public awareness. Surplus cane from the farm is sold to other plantations which produce refined sugar.

Although Filipino muscovado provides good quality, some of the local brands still need to meet international standards.

Poblador is proud that in addition to Food and Drug Administration certification, Muscovado Gold is listed in the Global Directory of Health-Approved Food Establishments for Armed Forces Supply. Representatives from the US Army Public Health Center visited the factory and inspected the product for hygiene. This means that Muscovado Gold is safe and clean to be sold in US Army stores. Additionally, the sugar’s sucrose content, moisture, ash and sulfate content are all within healthy ranges.

However, one of the major problems in the muscovado sugar industry is marketing and distribution. Poblador needs to publicize that health-conscious consumers can benefit from organic raw sugar.

Muscovado Gold can be found in specialty stores such as Santi’s Delicatessen, SM Kultura, Echostore, Sugarleaf Makati and online orders in Japan. Poblador is also working on an export permit.

Poblador hopes to show the world that the Philippines produces the finest and healthiest raw sugar in the world. Due to the quality of Muscovado Gold and its price, she sees no direct competition.

“Our real competition is coconut sugar, but it can have an aftertaste,” she says.

(For details contact 0917-8120046 or 0922-8236797)

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