Maria Ylagan Orosa

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces () - November 29, 2007 - 12:00am

On her birth anniversary today we honor Maria Ylagan Orosa, a pioneer in food technology and war heroine. As a national tribute to her, and in remembrance of her tremendous service to country and people, Florida Street in Ermita was renamed after her. Her birthday, November 29, was also declared Home Extension Day by former President Carlos P. Garcia. Both official acts were in gratitude for her invaluable pioneering innovations and experiments in plant utilization, food preservation and canning which began in 1935, the results of which have incalculably enriched the Filipino diet for over six decades, while continuing to serve as a mine of scientific data to both government and private food laboratories to this day. Over 700 recipes were prepared and kitchen-tested by Miss Orosa. These became a rich source and reference for countless cookbooks and recipe books that have been published through the years.

A passionate nationalist, Miss Orosa utilized native vegetables and fruits in food preparation to eliminate or minimize importation of food products. She made jellies, jams and marmalades from tamarind, santol, mango, guava; toyo from soy, other beans and even copra; the nutritious “magic food” from powdered soy beans; native cassava substituted for wheat flour; candied fruits went into fruitcakes; calamansi, mango and santolada juice concentrates replaced bottled softdrinks and juices.

Before Del Monte ever thought of making vinegar from pineapple, Miss Orosa was already doing it before World War II. Rice bran became food rich in Vitamin B1 or thiamine for nursing mothers suffering from beri-beri. From the by-products of nata de piña, she manufactured vinegar. The by-product of soybean curd became starch for breads, cookies, while powdered coconut flour was used for biscuits and cookies. She likewise pioneered in the extraction of nicotine insecticide from tobacco dust and tobacco waste material; rotenone from derris roots.

Her many studies included the preparation of dehydrated fruits and vegetables, dehydration of meats, preparation of fish balls, preparation of agar from seaweed, preparation and utilization of peanuts for culinary oil and salad oil. She pioneered in utilizing green banana flour for baking; the pickling of cucumber and green tomatoes; the making of catsup from banana, mango and ripe tomato; the utilization of native fruits in manufacturing wines; and the use of ash and lime for making soap.

She devised a process of canning food for the guerillas, preserved macapuno, banana, camote, other yams and potato as chips. Nuts were preserved with the aid of a vacuum. A food technologist in Berkeley, California, Dr. Kruze, describes Maria Orosa “as a Filipina who came to the laboratory to do experiments who surprised everyone with the first frozen mangoes from the Philippines”.

In the absence of imported items during the Japanese occupation, her various food products, especially her “magic food”, fed the hungry. As head of the Plant Utilization Division of the Bureau of Plant Industry, she took care of the 400 students stranded in Manila, creating candy, cake, cookie, canning and other units to keep them employed and fed. We were both captains in Marking’s Guerillas, and her job included sending food to the soldiers, as well as American, British and other foreign internees in concentration camps, hospitals, including the Americans in UST, religious communities, the Jesuits among them, many of whom have perished from malnutrition.

In peacetime, she established and organized rural improvement clubs whose membership numbered 22,000 by 1924. She founded the Home Extension Service, which sent hundreds of her H.E. demonstrators to teach barrio housewives better homemaking, childcare, meal planning, food preparation and preservation, poultry raising, home and gardening techniques and handicraft to augment their income. Her famous Palayok Oven was conceived for housewives without electricity. All these came from a woman of tremendous diligence, industry, enterprise, imagination, resourcefulness, patriotism and zeal.

Daughter of Simplicio Orosa y Agoncillo and Juliana Ylagan of Taal, Batangas, Maria established such an impressive academic record as recipient of BS and MS degrees from Washington University in 1919, that she was appointed assistant state chemist for the state of Washington the following year. She later gave up this prestigious post to serve her country. Miss Orosa steadfastly refused to evacuate to Batangas with her family, saying, “I cannot abandon my work”. She died in the line of duty, when she was hit twice by shrapnel from friendly fire on February 13, 1945.

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