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What is Tagua Nut?

Tagua nut, also know as vegetable ivory, is the seed of a tree similar to a palm but botanically not belonging to the palmaceus but to the ciclantaceus. Its scientific name is Phytelephas Aequatorialis Macrocarpa.

Tagua grows in the tropical rainforests of some South American countries, mainly Ecuador, Colombia and Venezuela, being Ecuador the country that fulfills most of the world’s demand.

The fruit of the tagua tree is almost completely round measuring 20 to 50 cm in diameter with a blackish exterior. This fruit, also known as “mococha”, has many locular cavities each containing two or more seeds.

The content of the immature fruit is a tasteless crystalline liquid. When it starts to ripen this turns into a sweet and pleasant milky substance, transforming later to a gelatinous viscous consistency and finally becoming an extraordinarily hard product similar in color, appearance and feel to natural ivory.

Tagua will take approximately 15 years to produce its first harvest and will not stop bearing fruit for all of the years and even a century to come. A 35 to 40 year old plant measures about 6 feet and produces, in the 3 yearly harvests, between 15 to 16 heads or “mocochas”.

Tagua seeds according to their size are generally classified into 4 categories: extra large, large, medium and small.

Not only the seeds of the tagua are used to elaborate buttons, figurines, beads, chess sets, napkin rings, cane and umbrella holders, door knobs, etc. but the roots are said to contain medicinal properties. The leafs are also used for hut roofing and the very fine dust from the “ojalillos” serve as a mix in cattle feed due to its high content of energy.

Due to tagua's properties in color, appearance, hardness and feel similar to those of natural ivory it is being substituted for the latter one. This helps in the depredation of elephants while at the same time keeps rainforests from being deforested which in turn favors the ecosystems and the environment.

Another important factor to consider is that it provides work to thousands of people in these poor South American countries giving them and their families a better life and the opportunity of offering their children a better education.

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