Burong Kamias

Burong Kamias (Fermented Bilimbi or Tree Cucumber)

A common sight in Filipino backyard gardens, the kamias tree bears fruit with an intense sour flavor. As such we like to use the fruit as a substitute for sampalok or calamansi in sinigang (sour soup).

Kamias is also called iba in other parts of the country, where it is a main ingredient in many recipes. These include ginataang kamias and sinanglay in Bicol, pinangat in Southern Luzon, and refreshing cold drinks in the Visayas.

While kamias is not a commercially cultivated fruit in the Philippines, the trees are practically everywhere and the fruits grow abundantly, thanks to the tropical sun. However many of the fruits just fall to the ground, where they rot. This is unfortunate because this humble fruit is very nutritious. Rich in ascorbic acid, kamias is a cheap and easy way to strengthen our immune system.

From Makisawsaw Recipes x Ideas: The Community Gardens Edition

This Burong Kamias recipe by Gretchen Consunji-Lim is one of the 70+ recipes in the Makisasaw Recipes x Ideas: The Community Gardens Edition published by Gantala Press. A follow-up to the first Makisawsaw book, this edition, according to its editors, “continues the conversation surrounding the food we eat, in the context of solidarity with the urban poor and small farmers.”

Proceeds of sales of the book go into supporting the Food Today, Food Tomorrow initiative, which funds community kitchens and community gardens in urban poor communities, in partnership with Pinagkaisang Lakas ng Mamamayan (PLM/People’s United Strength). You can get your copy here or contact Gantala Press for distributorship

Choosing and using kamias fruits

When making burong kamias, it’s better to use ripe kamias fruits. You can tell that they are ripe when they are plump, light green in color, and still firm. Soft overripe fruits will not work here–just use them in sinigang or ginataan. Of course, you are free use underripe dark green kamias if that’s what you have. Just remember that these also taste astringent.  

Choose kamias that are free from bruises. The fruits tend to bruise easily, so be careful when harvesting them. Use the blemished fruits in other recipes that need souring ingredients such as those mentioned above.

Other ways to enjoy kamias include eating them raw and dipped in rock salt, candied, or sun-dried, which is a process shared by Consunji-Lim in the same book.

Or you can make a big batch of this binurong kamias, which is is a great way to preserve the bounty that the tree usually rewards us with. Burong kamias keeps very well stored at room temperature for months, although we like to store ours in the fridge where the chances of mold taking over is minimized.

Fruit and salt ratio

According to Consunji-Lim, the recommended ratio is about 5 percent by weight of non-iodized sea salt to kamias. If you don’t have a kitchen scale, do not worry. She says that burong kamias is completely unfussy. As a guide, use about half a teaspoon of salt for every five pieces of kamias. 

Remember though that it is better to err on the side of less salt because you can add more to the brine a few days later if you prefer.

Ingredients
  • Ripe kamias, bruise free
  • Non-iodized sea salt (5% of the total weight of the kamias)
Directions

1. Sort the kamias. Choose only the unblemished ones, and remove any petals and stems from the tops of the kamias. Wash and wipe dry.

2. Alternately layer kamias and salt in a sterilized bottle. Use half a teaspoon of salt for every layer of kamias. 

3. Cover the bottle with its lid then store in a cool, dry place until buro is ready, which usually takes about 2 weeks. The salt draws out juice from the fruit, and this becomes the brine in which the kamias will continue fermenting.  

4. You can weigh down the kamias with a fermentation weight to keep the kamias submerged. Or swirl the brine through all the kamias every now and again, paying particular attention to those at the top of the bottle that may not be submerged.

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