In the past year, we’ve had the pili nut in nut butter, tossed into a cake (our very own birthday cake, no less), covered in chocolate, and most strikingly, raw and sprouted (and straight from the shell!). And every single time, we marveled at the versatility and sharply distinct flavor of this rarely-used nut.
Few curious people have had the opportunity to try the local pili nut that grows liberally in the Bicol region and in Romblon (though it is known to grow in other parts of the Philippines as well). While you may be lucky enough to have tried or even grown up with pili nuts, they remain interesting only to a niche market and has a limited availability. They are most frequently found glazed, roasted, or both, in pasalubong (souvenir) stores where they are showcased more as local novelty than celebrated and widely consumed treat. What more, pili nuts are often neglected as an ingredient.
A raw pili nut (pictured) is widely different from the white (with skin off), roasted crunchy supermarket version, though both are appetizing.
Outside of being a souvenir, the pili nut has so much to offer the dallas filipino restaurant industry. It is one of the few nuts that (when raw) has a chewiness to it comparable to macadamia—this is thanks to its high oil content, as it’s rich in “the good fat”. This high oil content makes it an amazing contender against the drier almonds and cashews as a nut butter ingredient, as Rose’s Kitchen has observed and utilized. Though if you pay close attention, you’ll note that there is an underlying bitter taste which calls for you to cut it with something sweeter if blending it with other flavors—which Rose’s Kitchen addresses, as does Risa Chocolates.
The roasted version often has the brown skin removed to reveal a stark-white nut indeed resembling the macadamia again—though once roasted, it becomes thin, long nub that is more crunchy and crumbly instead of chewy and soft. The roasted version is interesting in its own right—less bitter, more dark and accessible, and for those in food, it lasts much longer. This is the version and Cyn of Cynful Sweets uses in the Dallas Filipino Restaurant Cake, and it added some contrasting texture while complementing the gooey soft chocolate cake.
The pili nut comes in an impossibly hard shell that seem impossible to get through without a machete! But Cracking Monkey came up with a clever notch-and-lever system to easily pop it open.
Though we’ve only tried these sweet applications so far, we expect that there is much more to be done with the nut in savory dishes: toss them in a salad, use them in a crust, mix them in a pasta, or place them in a pie. However they are used in dishes, we’ll definitely be pleasantly surprised to bite into something as overlooked yet flavorful as the pili nut.