The Department of Science and Technology (DoST), through its functional food program, is funding research projects looking into the medicinal properties of mushrooms, berries, and mangoes. 

The crops of interest are Luzon-sourced edible mushrooms that have antihypertensive, antidiabetic, and anti-inflammatory properties; two berries  bignay and lipote  that might have antioxidants and be used as ingredients to fight obesity and other metabolic disorders; and carabao mangoes that might be a possible source of antihypertensive compounds. 

Meanwhile, 17 mushroom-based food products are already in the pipeline, including furikake (a range of dried, mixed seasonings made for sprinkling on top of rice) flakes, instant tea, mushroom tempura, and shing-a-ling (a deep-fried flour snack with the shape of string beans). 

“We have so many wild mushrooms that are interesting,” said Dr. Renato G. Reyes, lead for the mushroom-based project, in the vernacular in a recent webinar organized by DoST. His team discovered 500 mushroom types in Luzon alone. “My wish is for these Filipino products to be recognized internationally,” he added. 

Products from Philippine berries also have the potential to go international, according to Dr. Katherine Anne T. Castillo-Israel and Dr. Liezl M. Atienza. 

“Our berries have more phenolic antioxidants than raspberries and blackberries,” Dr. Israel said, referring to protective chemical compounds that offer resistance to illnesses ranging from cancer to arthritis. Lipote’s ascorbic acid content, she added, offers a seven-fold advantage over kiwi. 

“For development into nutraceuticals, maybe we can use lipote at its unripe stage because [that’s when it] exhibits the highest antioxidant properties,” said Dr. Israel. “I can say our berries have superior antioxidant properties.” 

Dr. Mary Ann O. Torio and her team, meanwhile, found that proteins from carabao mangoes can inhibit hormones that cause hypertension. Carabao mangoes were used, she added, because this was the mango type that was found to have the highest anti-hypertensive activity. 

Functional food, as defined by the International Life Sciences Institute-North America, are those containing physiologically active food components, thus providing health benefits other than basic nutrition. Functional foods also refer to products isolated or purified from foods and generally sold in medicinal form like pills, or products that serve as supplement diets like herbs. 

The DoST’s functional food program has nine priority research commodities: root crops; seaweeds; edible mushrooms; local berries; turmeric; pili; malunggay (moringa); unpolished and pigmented rice; and VCO (virgin coconut oil) and other coconut products. 

DoST also wants to develop medicines aside from food products, similar to what the department did with lagundi and sambong. To this end, a survey gathering traditional knowledge about local produce from communities is being conducted by the DoST-Philippine Council for Health Research and Development (PCHRD). 

“The first step for considering possible functional food is from experience,” said Dr. Jaime C. Montoya, executive director of DoST-PCHRD. “Most of our local communities have knowledge of the use of these foods that we take for granted. — Patricia B. Mirasol