A history lesson from cashew nuts

Image linked from http://www.srede.com.br/

For those wondering about the paucity of posts recently, I’ve been in Japan for the past few weeks because of work. Things have been a bit hectic here, but I promise to resume regular programming just as soon as I’m back. In the mean time, I wanted to share an interesting discovery that I made a few days ago in, of all places, a shop selling Peruvian and Brazilian foods here in Tokyo. If nothing else, it demonstrates, yet again, that there is no a better way to appreciate the interconnectedness of the world than through food.

Browsing through the store, I came across packets in the refrigerated section labelled ‘polpa de caju‘. Now, ‘caju‘ is what cashew nuts are called in India, where they are extremely popular. People snack on them all the time and India is easily one of its largest producers. So, and not that I ever gave it any thought, I always considered ‘caju‘, the word if not the nuts, as being as Indian as, say, garam masala. Imagine my surprise, then, to see something called ‘caju‘ in a store selling foods from South America. Surely it couldn’t be cashew! But it was, and a quick internet search revealed that ‘caju‘ is in fact a Portuguese word and the cashew plant is native to Brazil. Like so many other foods, including, most famously, chile peppers, it seems caju was brought to India by the Portuguese through their colony in Goa.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have been surprised. In Goa, they make an alcoholic drink called feni out of the cashew fruit, surely another example of Portuguese influence. And not so long ago I learned that my favorite fruit, called sitaphal in Hindi and which I grew up eating, is in fact a fruit native to the Andes where it is called chirimoya. (Apart from being an amazingly tasty fruit, sitaphal/chirimoya makes the absolute best ice cream!). Moral of the story? The world was smaller and more interconnected centuries before the word globalization was invented.

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2 Responses to “A history lesson from cashew nuts”

  1. #
    spiced curiosity — August 4, 2013 at 11:35 pm

    Very interesting. Beautiful to see the interconnectedness of the world, and even nicer through food. 🙂

    I’m going to keep an eye out for caju!

    • #
      Samar — August 10, 2013 at 3:35 pm

      Hi Miachel, while you’re at it do look out for cherimoya (sitaphal) as well (and if you find any in New York please do let me know!).

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