One of the children, Teata Rima, brought in some of the tuitui seeds that he had collected from his family section in Matavera, to show his classmates.
Aleurites moluccanus is the scientific name for what we call in Rarotonga the tuitui or candlenut tree.
According to well-known Cook Islands environmentalist Ana Tiraa, whose grand-daughter attends the preschool, the tuitui contains flammable oil, up to 70 per cent by content.
This was used as a traditional form of lighting before the introduction of kerosene lamps and electricity.
“The fallen candlenuts were collected from the ground,” Tiraa says. “The shell was cracked open to reveal the nut. The nut pieces were threaded onto a kikau stick and lit over an open fire.”
Mary McDonald from Te Ipukarea Society says she used to play marbles with tuitui when she was young. “We didn’t have the glass marbles, so we just played with candlenuts that we found on the ground.”
Just like other oily nuts, tuitui also have benefits that are good for the hair, skin, and overall health.
The oil that is extracted from candlenuts can be used as a moisturiser for both adults and babies as it is said to contain vitamins A, C, and E.
While there are no actual clinical studies to prove its medicinal benefits, South-East Asian and Polynesian people have been using candlenuts as a natural medicine for centuries to cure wounds, ulcers and even fever.
Another use for the tuitui is in cooking. A popular way is to toast the chopped candlenuts in a pan until browned before using. Otherwise, you can roast them in an oven for an hour at 160 degrees. In most Southeast Asian cuisine, candlenuts are blended or pounded to be added to chilli paste of curries to make the dish thicker, creamier with a hint of nutty flavour.
Candlenut is also an important ingredient in the Hawaiian cuisine. Poke, a typical Hawaiian dish, uses roasted crushed candlenuts as one of its seasonings.
But beware! Tuitui must be cooked before consumption, do not eat them raw!
Fresh candlenuts are toxic and cause laxative effects and vomiting if eaten in quantity.
The natural laxative effect in candlenuts supports the belief that they encourage weight loss.
Be very careful when using candlenuts for such purposes as several medical studies from countries like Argentina report that women were hospitalised after consuming candlenuts.
If you do want to try cooking with candlenuts, choose those which are light beige or cream coloured, not dark brown, as these are starting to rot.
Candlenuts stored in an airtight container can be kept in the refrigerator for up to one month. Otherwise, store candlenuts in the freezer for up to a year.
If you want to add a bit more local content toyour meal, why not give tuitui a try at home?