The Malabar Chestnut

Nuts, start to Finish. Image by Rebecca Lea McCarthy.  CC
Nuts, Start to Finish. Image by Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

Sustainability is a serious theme in my life. When it comes to living the life of a modern druid, it is important, I think, to rediscover sustainability as we have lost that skill.  Maybe not everyone, but most of us walking the modern streets of our cities and towns, and even the country. We purchase food from far out places, eat fruits that are not in season, we are rich with such gifts.  But as lovely as it is to have grapes in the Summer, Winter, Fall and Spring it is not sustainable. Consider the costs of transporting foods across country or nations, storage of the food before it can be sold in stores, and what we need to do to keep the food fresh can compromise the nutrients in the food. Further, by eating foods grown on farms from other states and countries, we are not helping to sustain our local economies. I am not suggesting that we should not support interstate and international trade, but I am suggesting it is helpful for our local economies and our health that we start to find more sustainable ways to feed ourselves.

With this in mind, I have been learning how to look to my own backyard to feed myself, both metaphorically and literally.  Since moving to Hawai’i, I have been exposed to many different foods and I have found that many grow in my literal backyard.  We are renting an apartment on an old hog farm in Waimanalo, Hi.  The owner of the property maintains several fruit trees, an aquapodic system, many flowers, and she keeps bees.  She has been kind enough to let us share in her bounty, if we help keep the land.  So, we are learning a thing or two about living off the land in Hawai’i.

One of my most recent discoveries is the Malabar Chestnut!

By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

The Malabar Chestnut (botanical name is Pachira aquatic, the family of Bombaceae) is native to Northern Brazil, and southern Mexico.  But this tree is very comfortable in other tropical areas such as Hawai’i and Southern Florida, two of my favorite places! With a dark green bark and leaves, the tree produces lovely nuts inside a wooden green pod (some pods are brown, as there are several different varieties of this tree) that splits into four parts when ripe.  I thought it was because of the pods that this tree is also called a money tree. But apparently it was for more pragmatic reasons. According to Green Deane in the article “Tropical Chestnuts: Pachira aquatic,” the tree earned this name relatively late in life, around 1986, when

“a Taiwanese truck driver put five small seedlings into one pot and weaved them together as they grew. He inadvertently invented the next hot ornamental plant and business took off in Taiwan, Japan and most of eastern Asia. The braided tree is viewed as associated with profit and is a common plant found in businesses, often with red ribbons or other ornaments attached. By 2005, export of the braided tree was a $7 million business in Taiwan” (Deane, Green).

Talk about a money tree!

But I was interested in the nut 🙂 The chestnuts are edible raw or roasted and they taste a bit like a mild peanut raw, and toasted a bit like a peanut crossed with a filbert (hazelnut), in my humble opinion.  According to “Nutrition and You,” the only place I could find nutritional information for this nut, the article was mostly targeted to chestnuts in general, they are low in calories, but are also rich in minerals, and vitamins. You can also make flour out of the nut, but this I did not try.

By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA
By Rebecca Lea McCarthy. Attribution-ShareAlike CC BY-SA

I enjoyed the nut raw, but toasted they are divine. First, you must shell the nut which is not an easy task.  To aid in the process, I soaked the nuts in water over night and let the shell split, making them easer to shell.  I tossed the nuts in some olive oil and a bit of salt, and roasted them on low, 350, until brown and crunchy.

I tell you what, they were so good that I could not keep up with the demand!  They made a lovely snack throughout the day when you start to get hungry pangs, or when you simply walked by them.

R~

Resources consulted for the article:

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