Listed by the UN as one of the most important trees, the Malabar Chestnut has earned many names as it travelled the world; it was so welcome everywhere it went it often picked up the name of the place it landed in. Also known by the common names Brazil chestnut, Guiana chestnut and saba nut in Guiana, monguba (Brazil), provision tree (UN), pumpo (Guatemala), sook pah chok (Thailand) and is commercially sold under the name money tree and money plant. It is classified in the subfamily bombacoideae of the family malvaceae. Named aquatica as it originally grew on swampy land but is capable of growing on dryer land as well. It does better with regular water and good drainage but is quite a tough tree. As it is so edible it can have problems with snails when young. If possible plant the seeds where they are to grow. If started in pots, plant out when young. The tree can only tolerate short periods of cold and will not withstand frosts.
Much loved because it is tasty, nutritious, productive, easy to grow and quick to bear, it can produce two years after planting the seed.
The flowers and young leaves are also edible; the flowers have a strong nutty flavour, it is one of the best edible flowers. Use flowers freshly fallen from the tree and young leaves in stir fries and curries. I have recently found some variation in the quality of the flowers. The flowers I tried in Northern Thailand were very tasty but the ones I tried on the Gold Coast (Australia) were not very nice.
Nuts are easily harvested, just pick them up when the pods fall to the ground and break open.
Store the nuts in a cool dry place.
The nuts are delicious, raw or cooked, and have a high protein content. They are deep fried in Thailand. Fresh they are delicate and cook quickly. They have a mild cashew, peanut flavour and go well in any dish. There should be more of them.
Substitute Malabar Chestnuts for Cashews
Malabar chestnuts should be encouraged in favour of cashews, cashews sadly are a toxic industry and are in fact one of the worst. The shell around the cashew is filled with very powerful anacardic acid. The nuts have to be roasted to remove the acid but heat turns the acid to a dangerous gas and can make the cashew spit acid. Then the shell is opened by hand and the worker can be sprayed with residual acid. In some way the cashew workers will always get acid burns. The acid even gets through rubber gloves. When the wastes are dumped, the acid poisons the Earth and then gets into the water ways and kills the fish and other water life.
I love cashews but sadly the cashew industry is a very polluting industry, perhaps the most polluting and dangerous of all the agricultural industries. So I encourage everyone thinking of growing a cashew tree to consider growing a malabar chestnut tree instead. It may not be the appropriate choice for some though as the cashew tree is a very tough tree and can grow in some of the harshest conditions. On top of that there is not yet a developed market around the world to demand the malabar chestnut that is relatively unknown in the west. Change will have to be consumer driven, so make sure you demand your malabar chestnuts from your market next time you go shopping.
Above, a malabar chestnut tree in flower. The flowers and young leaves are edible and can be added to a stir fry or curry.
Above, the fresh kernel with some of the silk from the pod visible. Delicious eaten fresh, raw, roasted, fried or dried.
Sold in a number of places around the world as the money plant or lucky plant several plants are often planted together in a single pot and plaited together.
The strange thing though was that the people who were selling these trees did not know that they bore an edible nut and even refused to believe me when I told them.
I have never seen plaited trees any older than this so I don't know if they fuse together as the grow. I believe that it is possible to do with other trees including fruit trees and represents an interesting method of grafting trees together and may help make them stronger trees.