Maria Y. Orosa: Filipino food scientist and inventor

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Food chemist. Pharmacist. Inventor.

The genius that is Maria Orosa is responsible for a lot of things in our pantry, things that we sometimes take for granted for being too mundane or ordinary.

A cartoonized picture of Maria Orosa at Google's homepage.
A cartoonized picture of Maria Orosa at Google’s homepage.

But we have the Batangas native to thank for these.

In fact, her contribution to the food technology and science is so impressive that the National Historical Commission of the Philippines recognized her by giving her a spot in its Who’s Who gallery.

Google also honored her in its default page (today, 29 November 1893 is her birth date) so go ahead and click her caricature 😊 if you want to know more about the remarkable woman.

ACADEMIC YEARS AND EARLY CAREER

According to her NHCP page, Orosa finished her elementary years in Batangas, her home province.

She studied pharmacy in the University of the Philippine in 1915, but left for the US as a government scholar the year after.

Maria Orosa at the Historical Park and Laurel Park, Batangas Provincial Capitol Complex. | "Maria Orosa" by Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0
Maria Orosa at the Historical Park and Laurel Park, Batangas Provincial Capitol Complex. | “Maria Orosa” by Wikipedia is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0

She was accepted in the University of Seattle where she earned numerous undergraduate degree in pharmaceutical chemistry, and pharmacy, as well as a masters in pharmacy in 1921.

Orosa did part-time work to support her studies, including working at a cannery in Alaska.

Upon graduation, she was immediately hired as assistant chemist in the State of Washington.

NOTABLE CONTRIBUTIONS

Orosa’s career started taking off in 1922 when she returned to the Philippines, enabling her to demonstrate her expertise as food scientist by promoting various food preservation techniques via mobile demos.

But her most important contributions are her inventions — and no, it’s not just the sweet banana ketchup.

She is credited for creating a process to make calamansi juice in powdered form. Then, there’s the Soyalac, like Cerelac but made from soya beans, termed “magic food” during World War II as these were served to Allied prisoners — including Filipinos — in different Japanese concentration camps.

Then there’s the banana ketchup, which drew consternation from purists whose heads cannot wrap around the idea of non-tomato ketchup. It was however a more viable — and more palatable — alternative for poorer Filipinos because it was cheaper and yes, sweeter.

Orosa also gave us preservation techniques for food like adobo, dinuguan, kilawen and escabeche, and along with her associates in the Bureau of Plant Industry, she invented “Oroval” and “Clarosa”, the NHCP page added.

To honor her memory, government named a street under her name, while the National Historical Institute installed a marker in her honor at the Bureau of Plant Industry in San Andres, Manila on this day 1983.

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