Wednesday, March 25

The Polynesian Chestnut

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I’i is the local name for the Polynesian chestnut tree.
On Rarotonga you can see them in the bush on hillsides and they also grow on other southern group islands and, as the name suggests, on other islands of Polynesia. I’ve seen them in Hawaii, too.
They’re tall and impressive, growing to 30 metres (CI Biodiversity database) but the most striking thing about them is the fluted trunk. When the trees are eight or nine years old projections start to grow out of the main trunk old to form wings like flying buttresses.
The fruit are kidney-shaped and have a very tough skin. The chestnut season runs for about three months from late February or March.
On Rarotonga they are usually boiled – for a very long time according to the ladies outside the Empire theatre who sell them! But in other parts of the Pacific they may be roasted; apparently this is a favourite way of cooking them in Tahiti.
The Air Tahiti website says that mape (the Tahitian name for the fruit) can be used to cure stonefish stings.
“To make the concoction, the juice of green mape is mixed with the juice from atea (erythrina indica) bark by chewing it. The resulting paste is slathered onto the sting and the inflammation subsides soon after.”
I’ve never heard of this Maori medicine cure for stonefish stings but the atea (also called the coral tree or tiger’s claw) is rare in the Cook Islands.
The chestnuts have a nutty flavour and if you eat a large number at one time they are reputed to have the same effect on the digestive system as too many baked beans. Flatulence!

Polynesian Chestnut  on FoodistaPolynesian Chestnut
Check recipes for the chestnut on Foodista