Thursday, May 9, 2013

On lemons and melons.

Fruit names have always fascinated me. Who’s that Kamala in Kamala Orange? What does the ‘coco’ in coconut mean? Why is, the pomegranate, not called the apple? How come the Tamil Sapota sounds like the Spanish Zapote? When did the Chinese Gooseberry become the Kiwifruit? Which came first ‘maang kaai’ or ‘mango’? Where on earth did Tangerine come from? These are some of the questions that have tormented me ever since I bit my first apple. When I tried seeking the answers, I realised we don’t know jack about the jackfruit.

Yup, the Jackfruit is not named after Captain Jack Sparrow from the ‘Pirates of the Caribbean’. It’s derived from the Portugese ‘jaca’ which in turn is a lift from the Malayalam term ‘chakka pazham’.

If that surprised you, listen to this Malay fable. Once upon a time, an elephant strolled into an orchard. Seeing the succulent fruits it went delirious. It ate and ate, till its belly burst. Years later, when a passerby examined its fossil, he discovered that the culprit was the fruit. He called it Naaga Ranga which translates to ‘fatal indigestion of elephants’ in Sanskrit. Over time it seems Naaga Ranga became Naranga, Oranja and finally Orange! Take the anecdote with a pint of salt. The fact remains that Orange owes its origins to Naranga.

And what about Kamala Orange? Kamala in Sanskrit just means ‘pale red’ or ‘yellowish red’. So Kamala is only a colour allusion.

The Coconut has a more interesting story. When some Spanish explorers stumbled upon the nut, the three eyes of the coconut reminded them of a ‘monkey face’ or coco. Hence the name.

Avocado (testicle tree), Pomegranate (apple from Granada), Chikku (chicozapote) and Guava (guaya) have similar Hispanic roots. While Mango comes from the Portugese Manga which in turn is an offspring of ‘Maang Kai’ from Tamil.

Now to the Kiwifruit conundrum. Although ‘Chinese Gooseberry’ was the original name, some farmers in New Zealand were craving for a moniker reflecting their land. Exporter Jack Turner suggested ‘Kiwifruit’ as the fruit’s hairy exterior reminded him of the hairy bird!
Talking of geography, Tangerine is from Tangiers, Morocco, and Peach from Persia. Hope that was fruity loops to your ears.