The Tagua nut (pronounced Ta- qwa or Tah-gwa) or otherwise known as vegetable ivory comes from a genus of palm trees known as Phytelephas Macrocarpa that are indigenous to the tropical regions of South America. These palms can live up to 180 years and grow to a height of about 20-40 feet and bear fruit after about 10 years in the form of tagua nuts ranging in size of a cherry to a grapefruit. The average shape is similar to an avocado and size of a chicken egg with about a 1 ½"-2" diameter. Each year, a typical tree bears approximately 15-20 kilograms of nuts.
Chemically, the tagua is pure cellulose and before it matures it has a milky sweet creamy liquid in the center and is edible. In one episode of Man vs. Wild shown on the Discovery Channel in 2008, Bear Grylls demonstrates how to eat tagua when surviving in rainforests.
When the tagua nuts ripen, they fall to the ground and are gathered and dried. After 4-8 weeks, the nuts become extremely hard. The cellular structure and grain is similar to that of elephant ivory, but is much more dense and resilient. It resembles the finest ivory texture and the color is slightly softer than normal ivory and contains a void in the center of the nut. Tagua has been known and used by craftsman for years and is frequently passed as elephant ivory.
Tagua is viewed as a sustainable alternative to ivory derived from animals, and responsible cultivation and harvesting of tagua may also help with rain forest conservation in South America. Our Tagua nuts are gathered after the nuts naturally mature and fall from the tree – this way no harm is done to the tree. By using these environmentally friendly vegetable ivory products, you are helping in the conservation of the planet’s biodiversity and saving elephants, walruses, and other ivory bearing animals.
For over two hundred years vegetable ivory has been used by ivory carvers to make fashion accessories like buttons, necklaces, sculptures, figurines, and even chess pieces. Other uses found were cane and umbrella handles, pipes, mah-jongg tiles, sewing needle cases, and the fine art of scrimshaw. For close to eighty years, the ivory nut was a commodity of global importance and factories on three continents used to manufacture articles of utility and luxury. These factories switched to plastic to increase profits, but in doing so they affected the health of our planet.
Adapted from: Robert Spragg’s “Wood Turning with Grandpa Spragg” at http://home.att.net/~rspragg/Tagua.html.
- The Amazonian Indians believes that Vegetable Ivory, or Tagua Nut, nut brings prosperity, happiness, love and abundance.
- Mayans, Incas, Aztecs, and natives of South and Central America used Tagua for emotional and spiritual health and well-being. To them, Tagua is sacred.
- Last century, until the breakthrough of the plastics, Tagua was widely used for making buttons (even for U.S. Army uniforms).
- Over the last twenty years Tagua use has once again has become popular for those who want something more exclusive and eco-friendly than plastic.
- Tagua comes under different names like palm ivory, vegetable ivory, corozo/corozzo, coquilla (Brazil), palmivoor, steennoot (Dutch), steinnuss (German) and binroji (Japanese).