Noche Buena is one of the most anticipated Christmas traditions in the Philippines. It is during this time that people gather together and bond with their loved ones while waiting to welcome Christmas. Of course, the celebration would not be complete without any food. Lots of food. And being the food lovers that they are, Filipinos make a conscious effort to prepare a range of delicious dishes.
Aside from lechon, pancit, ham, and fruit salad, a standard Noche Buena meal usually includes some type of kakanin or Filipino rice cake. Rice cakes are delicacies that are primarily made out of glutinous rice and coconut milk. As appetizing as they are, rice cakes contain a substantial amount of calories that contribute to weight gain. But that does not automatically make them completely unhealthy foods. On the contrary, there are certain ingredients found in rice cakes that can actually be beneficial for your health.
Below are the common Filipino rice cakes and their healthy ingredients:
Biko is a coffee-colored sticky rice cake usually sprinkled with either cooked coconut milk residue or caramelized coconut milk.
· Brown sticky rice
Brown rice is a whole grain so it retains the grain kernel’s three parts: the bran, endosperm, and germ. The bran contains fiber, which regulates bowel movement and acts as an appetite suppressant by filling the stomach for a long time. The endosperm contains carbohydrates, which prevent fatigue. The germ contains Vitamin B and iron, which boost immunity and lower the risk of anemia respectively.
· Coconut milk
Coconut milk possesses a medium-chain saturated fatty acid known as lauric acid, which is capable of eliminating harmful pathogens like viruses and bacteria, thereby improving the immune system. Other than lauric acid, coconut milk also contains potassium and magnesium, which aid in blood pressure control as well as calcium, which maintains bone strength.
· Brown sugar
Unlike white sugar, brown sugar contains a thick, dark syrup called molasses. This makes brown sugar a healthier alternative as molasses can contribute to weight loss and maintenance by increasing the metabolism and controlling hunger.
Sapin-sapin is a sticky rice cake with multi-colored layers representing different flavors: white for coconut, purple for purple yam, and yellow for jackfruit. Like biko, it is sprinkled with cooked coconut milk residue.
· Purple yam
Purple yam is comprised of Vitamin C, which provides protection against chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and neurodegenerative disorders.
Jackfruit is rich in Vitamin A and antioxidants like carotenoids and flavonoids. Vitamin A supports eye health, while carotenoids and flavonoids reduce susceptibility to heart disease and type 2 diabetes.
3. Puto bumbong
Puto bumbong is a steamed rice cake made from purple sticky rice topped with butter or margarine, muscovado sugar, and grated coconut and wrapped in banana leaves.
· Purple sticky rice
The color of purple rice comes from a pigment called anthocyanin. But anthocyanin can do more than give purple rice its aesthetically pleasing color. It acts as a powerful antioxidant with the ability to keep diabetes, heart disease, and colon, lung, and prostate cancer at bay.
· Muscovado sugar
Muscovado sugar is an unrefined sugar, which means it retains vitamins and minerals, namely Vitamin A, potassium, calcium, and iron.
Margarine is a healthier substitute to butter because it is made from vegetable oils, which enables it to decrease low-density lipoprotein (LDL) or bad cholesterol.
Bibingka is a baked rice cake made from glutinous rice, coconut milk, and margarine; topped with duck eggs, cheese, and grated coconut; and wrapped in banana leaves.
· Duck eggs
Duck eggs are abundant in protein, which helps build and repair muscles, and Vitamin E, which enables the body to ward off infections.
Besides being high in calcium and protein, cheese can keep cavities off the teeth.
Despite the health benefits that some ingredients in rice cakes present, eating too much of these treats can be counterproductive. In the spirit of a happy and healthy holiday season, do take a bite out of your favorite rice cakes, but do so in moderation.