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Asian Cuisine

The Top 5 Most Common Ingredients in Filipino Cuisine

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Filipino cuisine is known for its rich and diverse flavours, and many of these flavours can be attributed to the use of certain common ingredients. In this article, we will take a look at the top 5 most common ingredients in Filipino cuisine, and discuss why they are so prevalent in the country’s culinary heritage.


Photography of Garlic on Wooden Table by Skitterphoto

As a species in the onion genus Allium, garlic is widely used as a spice in many cuisines. Its bulb has a long history of being used for medicinal purposes, believed to have antimicrobial and anti-inflammatory properties. Garlic is also a rich source of vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese.


Photo of onions in a bowl by Karolina Grabowska

As a vegetable and member of the Allium family which includes garlic, leeks, and chives, onions are primarily used for their bulb. They have pungent, sweet, or tangy flavour, can be consumed raw or cooked in a variety of dishes and are rich in vitamin C, vitamin B6, and manganese. They also provide dietary fibre. Throughout history, onions have been utilized for medicinal purposes and believed to possess anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Soy Sauce

Photo of soy sauce in a jar by Labskiii

Soy sauce is a liquid condiment made by fermenting soybeans, wheat, salt, and water. It is a staple ingredient in many East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, known for its salty, savoury, and umami taste. It can be used as a marinade, seasoning, or dipping sauce in cooking, and is also used as a table condiment. Some varieties are aged for several months to develop a more complex flavour. Traditional soy sauce is gluten-free, but some commercial brands may add wheat to it.


Photo of clear glass bottles on stainless steel rack by Nahdro

Vinegar is an acidic liquid that is made by fermenting alcohol. The most common types of vinegar are made from wine, cider, or grains such as rice, barley, or wheat. The fermentation process converts the alcohol into acetic acid, which gives vinegar its sour taste. Vinegar is used in many culinary applications as a seasoning or condiment, and it also has a wide range of household and industrial uses. It is also used in pickling, preserving, and marinades, and as a dressing for salads. Some types of vinegar have medicinal properties, such as apple cider vinegar, which is believed to have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory effects.

Bay Leaf

Photo of dried bay leaves on cutting board by Karolina Grabowska

Bay leaf (also known as laurel leaf) is an evergreen leaf from the Mediterranean bay laurel tree, widely used as a spice and herb in dishes, particularly in Mediterranean, Indian and European cuisine. The leaves have a strong and distinctive aroma, and when dried they are added whole or ground to dishes to add flavour. They are usually removed from the dish before serving. Bay leaves are used in soups, stews, and sauces to add a subtle, woodsy, and slightly sweet flavour. They can also be added to pickling liquids, marinades, and rubs. They are rich in antioxidants and believed to have anti-inflammatory and antimicrobial properties.

Why are they common

These ingredients, often used in dishes such as adobo, sinigang, and pancit, are prevalent in Filipino cuisine due to their wide availability and affordability in the Philippines, and their use in traditional dishes. They also play a role in adding flavour and depth to dishes. Garlic and onion are known for their strong, pungent flavours and are used as a base for many sauces and marinades. Soy sauce and vinegar are known for their salty and sour flavours and are used to add depth of flavour to dishes. Bay leaves, also known as “laurel leaves,” are used for their aromatic properties and add a subtle herbaceous flavour to dishes.

Who brought these ingredients to the Philippines

It is believed that garlic and onion were brought over by traders from Central Asia, soy sauce and vinegar were brought over by Chinese traders during the pre-colonial era, and bay leaves were likely brought over by Spanish colonizers. It is important to note that the Philippines has a diverse history of various cultures and people influencing its cuisine, and over time these ingredients have been integrated into Filipino cuisine and have become an important part of the country’s culinary heritage.

The Philippines’ rich culinary culture

The prevalence of garlic, onion, soy sauce, vinegar, and bay leaves in Filipino cuisine is due to both their availability and affordability, as well as their traditional use in dishes that contribute to the unique flavours and depth of the cuisine. These ingredients have been incorporated into Filipino cuisine through the historical influence of various groups of people, and have become an integral part of the country’s culinary heritage. Understanding these ingredients can enhance appreciation of the Philippines’ rich culinary culture for both food enthusiasts and travellers.

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