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Leonor Goguingco
Maria Y. Orosa: In peace and war


IT has been said that Maria Y. Orosa lived a hundred years before her time. That she did. Imagine Filipino cuisine without banana catsup or native suka (vinegar)? Long before commercial sauce bottling companies ever thought of making vinegar from pineapple, or making wine from native fruits, Miss Orosa was already doing it before the war.

Maria established such an impressive academic record as recipient of B.S. and M.S. degrees from Washington University in 1919 that she was appointed assistant state chemist for the state of Washington the following year. Yet she gave up the prestigious post to serve her country. A true nationalist.

As a pioneer food technologist, her invaluable innovations and experiments in plant utilization, food preservation and canning, and her research, all of which started in 1935, 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. The over 700 recipes Miss Orosa prepared and kitchen-tested herself have likewise been a rich source or basis for countless cook and recipe books published throughout the country and abroad.

Miss Orosa pioneered in the extraction of nicotine insecticide from tobacco dust and tobacco waste material; rotenone from derris roots; rice bran became food rich in Vitamin B1 or thiamin for nursing mothers suffering from beri-beri. From the by-products of nata de pi񡠳he manufactured vinegar; the by-product of soybean curd became starch for bread and cookies; powdered coconut flour was used for biscuits and cookies.

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 and salad oil, she pioneered in utilizing green banana flour for baking, in the pickling of cucumber and green tomatoes, in the making of catsup from banana, mango and the tomato, in the utilization of native fruits in manufacturing wine, and in the use of ash and lime for making soap.

In peacetime, she established and organized rural improvement clubs which by 1924, numbered 22,000 members throughout the country. She founded the Home Extension Service, sending 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 who could not afford electricity.

During the war, she devised a process of canning food for the guerrillas. As war dragged on, she made nutritious food substitutes from traditional ingredients. Her "magic food," made from nutritious soy beans, fed starving people and guerrillas.

Maria did not survive the war. Despite pleas from her family and friends and an order from her guerrilla superiors to evacuate the city, she refused to leave her post as chief Agricultural Utilization Division of the Bureau of Plant Industry. A captain with Marking?s Guerrillas, she sent 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 would have perished from malnutrition. A nationalist, freedom fighter and humanist to the end, she felt it was her civic duty to continue working. Her heart was struck by shrapnel from American artillery fire in Manila.

At the Maria Y. Orosa Memorial Hall in Diliman, Bureau of Agriculture Extension Building, the plaque reads:

"Dedicated to the memory of Maria Ylagan Orosa (1892-1945) pharmaceutical chemist, home economist, humanitarian, guerrilla worker and organizer of home extension in government, died in line of duty, 13 February 1945.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the death of Maria Y. Orosa.

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