Tagua is a seed that comes from the palm of the tagua (Phytelephas Aequatorialis) in Ecuador. The female palm pools long, curvy fruits that each contain many seeds about the size of a chicken egg. The immature seeds are gelatinous and edible. These are the ivory nut, very hard and in the colors white or cream.
The tagua takes about 4 days to dry. Ecuadorian artisans find it easier to work the nut if it is only dried around 70%. That is still very hard. After completing the figurine, the bracelet or the article that frabriquen with tagua, they make sure to dry it even more. This extra drying helps to ensure that the product has no cracks later.
Known in commerce as vegetable ivory, the substance is used as a substitute for animal ivory and has long been carved into various curious shapes for tourists. Its commercial value originated in the mid-nineteenth century when African ivory began to become scarce. The tagua became a commodity of considerable importance, large quantities were exported to the United States and Europe for the manufacture of buttons and other small items. This was supplanted in the long term by less expensive synthetic materials, although demand has been increasing in recent years.
To achieve this additional step of drying, put the pieces under paper or a towel and light bright heat lamps on the cover. This is similar to the incubation of a chicken egg – not too hot, just nice and warm.
The tagua is very versatile and can be processed in several ways, depending on the design of the final product. The dark skin of the tagua is peeled and polished to obtain the chocolate or coffee appearance of a bean.
Another technique is to polish the tagua until a beautiful design of “nerves” is exposed, revealing the creamy white color of the seed that rests under the dark skin of the tagua. With different coloring techniques, the craftsmen create amazing combinations of colors and design: jewelry, key rings and figurines.
Depending on the desired appearance, the white tagua can also be fried, resulting in a caramel-like appearance. For this purpose, the tagua nuts are literally fried in a frying pan with oil. This technique is mainly used to make jewelry and carved figures of animals and plants.