Fruity Names

I have a guava tree which has just started fruiting this year. And with the enthusiasm of a newbie, it is overdoing the act. But I must marvel at its boldness—a thin, weak tree, it has literally 10s of fruits on each branch and is completely bowed down with the weight. Even after the birds and squirrels have done feasting on them, we are left with about 5-6 fruits every day. Which is a lot more than we can eat.

So I decided to check out some guava-based recipes. A visit to cooking sites threw up a few promising ones. But I got side-tracked. Browsing through the pages, I was reminded that guavas, apart from being called amrood, are also called peru. I was intrigued. Where did that name come from? A fairly straight forward explanation: Guava is believed to be a native of Peru in South America. Guavas came to India only around the 16th century, and probably because consignments were received from Peru, people in and around the port of Bombay started calling it that.  The fruit took well to Indian growing conditions and became popular here. Today peru or guava is the fifth-most widely grown fruit crop of India!

Guava
Guava, also called Peru

That got me thinking of the names of other fruits and vegetables which take their names from the names of places. Obviously, they are not called that in their place of origin, but when they travel, they take along the name. I doubt if anyone in the country of origin knows that the fruits are carrying the names of their countries far and wide, albeit in a strange context (how confusing it would be if people in Peru called a fruit ‘peru’!). And for sure, most people in the destination country after a passage of time, don’t link the name of the fruit to anything–a name is a name is a name and just is.

Here is a look at some more such fruit names

Peaches were called persicum—‘Persian apples’–by the Romans because they were traded by Persians. And a variation of the name stuck in English.

The name ‘currant’ is derived from the ancient Greek city of Corinth, which was known for its production of small dried grapes now known as currants.

Musk melons are sometimes called Cantaloupe. Though the fruit is not native to Italy, it was brought to the Cantus region of that country from Armenia and gained popularity there. As it slowly spread from there to other parts of the world, it carried the name of the Cantus region with it.

Oranges are indigenous to India and the origin of the name is from the Sanskrit naranaga. Most languages call oranges by some variation of this name. But in Greek, it is called portokali  because Portugese merchants traded in them.

Oranges spread far and wide, and variations developed. A type of blood orange which originated in the Mediterranean islands of Malta circled back to India and we call it the ‘Malta’. It is widely grown in Uttarakhand today. Tangerines are a variant which come from Tangier, Morocco.

Though the tamarind probably has its origins in tropical Africa, it has been cultivated in the Indian subcontinent for so long that it is universally known as Tamarind—the date of India!

Even apart from being named for the place of their origin, fruit and vegetable names are often prefixed with place names. The Devenahalli Pomelo for instance, is a special variety of the fruit which grows only in the Devenahalli area around Bangalore airport, and is tagged with Geographical Indicator (GI) status.  Another example is the Shimla Mirch. When the British brought capsicum to India, they first cultivated it in Shimla, so the name of the district is still used to refer to the now-ubiquitous vegetable.

The Nagpur orange, Lima beans, Brussels sprouts, are all named for places where they originated or where they grew abundantly. Ponni rice, so popular in the South, derives its name from the Cauvery, also called Ponni (meaning gold), since it grows in the deltas of this river.

Interestingly, the origin of the word ‘fruit’ itself can be traced back to the Latin word fructus, which comes from frui meaning ‘to enjoy’.

What could be more appropriate!

–Meena

PS: I found a few recipies for peru subzi and chutney, which shall be tried out in due course.

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