How to Make Coconut Lambanog – Vodka

Before we jump. Again. I like to reiterate that lambanog is a natural poison that needs to be tamed before selling and consumption. Methanol is natural part of every alcohol derived from wood source, coconut, sugar palm, buri palm and others. It can be as dangerous as cassava and the not so popular nami plant. If enough is consumed, it can be instrument of one’s inevitable death.

This matter first came to my attention when some fishermen perished after drinking session. The alcoholic beverage of concern was found to have high levels of methanol. I could not recall when and where the incident happen.  It was an isolated case. Perhaps the fault of micro scale producer, failing to removed most of the methanol.  Could also be the drinkers fault. Alcohol is supposed to be sacred. It should be drink moderately. Not drink like there is no tomorrow. Heavy drinkers are most likely to get lethal dose.

There were another incidents recently.  These were disturbing because it occurred in separate provinces. Laguna, Quezon and Batangas.  One producer maybe large enough to distribute to three provinces and may have caused the fatalities. Seems that is not the case.  I am wondering how several manufacturers made the same mistakes at almost the same time.

It might be a push to discredit the local brands and boost sales of foreign. Business is business. No matter how anyone do it, it is the result that matters. If the locals are discredited, its export market might decline too.  Anyone can buy, repack and re-sell. Adding toxin mid-way can be done with ease. With PET bottles as usual packaging, injecting poison  is not difficult. I have no proofs, just speculations.

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Lambanog is very popular Filipino alcoholic drink. Also known as coconut vodka or distilled coconut spirit. However when improperly processed, it can contain significant amount of methanol – a deadly wood alcohol. Philippine BFAD mandates that all alcohol manufactures should get license to operate, LTO. Due to this fact, selling of unregistered alcoholic drink is strictly prohibited.

Methanol, also known as wood alcohol, is a flammable and poisonous liquid. Ingestion of 30 ml is considered fatal. Absorption through the skin or inhalation of vapor may also lead to toxic effects. Poisoning is due to methanol being converted into formaldehyde and formic acid in the liver and kidneys.

Characteristic symptoms of methanol poisoning include rapid  shallow breathing and visual disturbances which often leads to irreversible blindness and severe abdominal pain. Other symptoms include head ache, gastro-intestinal disturbances, pain in the back and extremities and coma which may terminate in death due to respiratory failure.

How to Make Lambanog

1. Lambanog can be produced using the process of distillation. The freshly gathered coconut tree sap is oyster white in color, has a nearly neutral pH, and is already inherently sweet tasting by nature. Allowed to ferment further if too sweet and less alcoholic.

2. Put desired amount of tuba or coconut sap in distillation chamber. Apply heat until it evaporates.

3. Condensed the evaporated alcohol using flowing water at the top of the distillation chamber to liquefy the alcohol in gaseous phase.

4. Set aside the first ten to 20 ounces of distillate because it contains high concentration of methanol. This is locally called head or “bating”. Or do the collection when temperature reaches 93°C to 94°C.

5. Continue distillation until 80 proof alcohol is gathered, determined using alcohol hydrometer. Don’t let alcohol concentration go below 80 proof. Below 80 proof is of low quality.

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Marvin is the lead chocolate maker of Ben and Lyn Chocolate Inc. Has strong background in food research and development. Occasionally conducts training and lectures. Lecturer of Cocoa Foundation of the Philippines. Do coaching and consultancy services on his free time.

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