Small yet terrible. This tiny fruit from Bicol can unleash a stinging sensation on your tastebuds.
Bicolanos, who are fond of spicy foods, are inclined to this fruit’s powerful pungence. We call this fruit in Bicol as “lada” (chili pepper), which completes every Bicolano meal as an indispensable ingredient. Yes, you read it right – “lada” is the plant’s fruit from the genus Capsicum.
But what makes “lada” so hot and spicy?
Capsicum frutescens, known as “lada,” is native to the Philippines. It is an erect, branched, and half-woody plant, growing to a height of 0.8 to 1.5 meters. Leaves are oblong-ovate to ovate-lanceolate, 3 to 10 centimeters long, and pointed at the tip. Flowers are solitary or several in each axil, stalked, pale green or yellowish-green, and 8 to 9 millimeters in diameter. The fruit is commonly red when ripe, oblong-lanceolate, 1.5 to 2.5 centimeters long. Seeds are numerous and discoid. A substance called capsaicin gives chilies their unique hot taste. Its chemical produces a burning sensation, typically a feeling of heat and pain, to areas with which it comes to contact.
The Galleon trade introduced “lada” and other plants from Central America in the Philippines for cultivation. But the Filipinos, especially the Bicolanos, embraced this quickly grown fruit and made it a commodity used for its native cuisines like Pinangat and Bicol express.
Aside from being a favorite ingredient or condiment, it is also grown for its medicinal and pharmaceutical properties. It reduces pain in arthritic patients and helps lower the risk of diabetes.
“Lada,” together with the economically-important plants in Bicol, will be part of the much-awaited outdoor exhibition at the National Museum Bicol.