Sunday, March 11, 2012

Environment: The Making of Nata de Coco Shoes

These nata de coco shoes were pioneered by the late Amparo Arambulo (above) of St Paul University QC in the late nineties as her thesis in BS Biology. The idea was the brainchild of Dr Anselmo S Cabigan who served as the adviser. Miss Arambulo is shown in this photo with the author, also a former professor of the university. At the foreground are nata leather sheets ready for tanning. Nata shoes passed the DOST test for strength and durability surpassing animal and artificial leather.

Nata is produced by
Leuconostoc mesenteroides, a bacterium ubiquitous in distribution. It colonizes fermenting materials, often accompanying vinegar formation or acetification.

Nata is a popular food, made into sweets or mixed with halo-halo. It comes as cubes, strips, colored red or yellow, but it is preferred in its semitransparent state. One good thing with nata food is that it is filling to the stomach, and because it is low in nutrients, it is excellent in keeping down weight. Its rich fiber, actually bacterial capsule, aids in detoxification and regular movement.

At one time Japan imported from the Philippines tons and tons of nata for the electronic industry, particularly for the membrane of speakers. It was from the rejected orders that Dr Cabigan developed alternative uses of the waste. He also pioneered in nata surgical thread which is as good as conventional surgical threads because of its natural and self dissolving characteristic. Nata laminates proved to be a good material for belts, wallets and other leather goods.

Nata's potential contribution to the environment is enormous. It saves countless animals, especially the endangered species, from which leather is derived. It offers as substitute to plastics that comprise the bulk of non-biodegradable wastes all over the world. On the production side, nata offers great opportunities as a collage industry and in converting farm by-products into useful products.

Next time you pick your favorite
nata de coco from the supermarket, imagine its many uses and how this simple product of a bacterium can make miracles.

AUTHOR'S NOTE: The technology of nata growing in culture medium is ancient and universal in process. It is a microbial process, a kind of farming with a bacterium Leuconostoc mesenteroides, and a complex of other microorganisms, including Saccharomyces cerevisiae and Acetobacter aceti. It is Nature's microbiological chemistry which man has learned to produce useful materials, like vinegar, herbal tea, and of course, nata as food. The innocula grow on a wide range of substrates. If it is pineapple, the product is nata de piƱa. It is possible that other countries have nata products from their indigenous fruits and nuts.
What is revolutionary is the discovery of nata as non-food material that is economically viable and ecologically friendly.

Biologically, the process is nature's way of disposing organic residues by converting them into more stable forms preparatory to their final degradation, ultimately returning to their elemental forms ready for the next cycle.

The encapsulated bacterium is the main agent in the process, leaving its gelatin or cellulose shell to form layers and thick mass which is the nata. This is made into mats and when finally cured becomes laminate, firm and soft (even after a few years), cool to the feet, and other tests for leather.

The nata "leather" is produced by gradual pressure and drying until a leatherlike consistency is attained. This undergoes curing, tanning, and dyeing like leather. Which is then made into uppers of shoes and slippers, cut into belt, surgical thread, percussion instruments, and fabric substitute.

This work is ahead by more than ten years of one of Time magazine's featured inventions in 50 Best Inventions of 2010 (November 22, 2010, page 53, Invention No. 15 BioCouture).

The untimely death of the inventor is indeed a great loss. Had she lived longer she could have proceded in pursuing this pioneering discovery, such as
nata surgical thread which was invented by another student at SPU the following year. ~

Newly harvested nata is laid on muslim cloth and allowed to dry.Nata is collectively air dried at room temperature.

Newly harvested nata laminate is ready for tanning

Tanned nata is subjected to same process as ordinary leather.

It is cut according to pattern and size of shoe

Sewed and glued

Fit to mould
The finished product is as durable and beautiful as leather-made shoe. ~

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