| The crushed tuitui for some reason |
reminds me of pecan pie
This was my rather abrupt introduction to one of the best Tongan beauty products out there: tuitui, or in English, candlenut.
I rediscovered the wonders of tuitui for myself this week, when one of my coworkers came around with little bags for sale filled with a mixture of the pounded nuts combined with a mix of other sweet-smelling roots and plants. The technology of plants is amazing in Tonga; to my untrained eye, there seems to be a million different useful plants many people seem to know about: some for dyes, paintbrushes, or jewellery, others for moisturizing the skin, curing diarrhea, or relieving stomach cramps. Tuitui alone is useful as soap, shampoo, exfoliating skin scrub, moisturizing oil, and perfume. An all-in-one natural beauty product that is completely natural, chemical free, and I get to chew? Sold.
The next morning after my workout, I surveyed the little bag I'd bought dubiously, not too sure about shoving a handful of unfamiliar plant material in my mouth, not swallowing, and then spreading this delightful mass all over my body. Taking a deep breath, I shook some out of the bag, and tipped a small palmful in my mouth. It tasted pleasantly like the rich, ever so slightly bitter flavour of walnuts, and I fought the urge not to swallow. It's been a long time since I've had fresh walnuts.
The creamy, gritty resulting mixture reminded me of a high-class exfoliating scrub, and as I dutifully scrubbed it on my arms, I felt the patina of oily dusty city sweat dissolve, the scum that soap never really seems to fully take care of. The tuitui released a pleasant, nutty, floral smell that had a hint of spice, somewhat like fennel, combined with a nut-oil smell that reminded me of the aroma of the linseed oil I used when I worked with oil paints in the US. I rinsed the grit off, more enamoured with this mixture as the minutes of using it went by. When I toweled dry, my skin was super-smooth, ultra-clean, smelled perfumed, and actually glowed.
The day before, the sale of tuitui around the office had sparked a 30 minute conversation with my department manager and friend, Sina, who aside from creating a mean business plan, is a wealth of knowledge about all things plant. She told me that alternatively to using it in the shower, I could wrap the mashed mixture in a little square of unpainted tapa cloth (the soft, light brown textile made from pounded mulberry bark), squeezing out the tuitui oil to dab as perfume.
|A creative business person sells tuitui soap. |
"Kukui" is another way to refer to the nut.
Sina's aunt, a pillar of grassroots development in Tonga who is now in her eighties and has been involved in projects all over the country, is often complemented for her clear complexion and soft skin. An incredibly well-spoken woman, she credits it to tuitui, which she regularly chews and uses. If you're wondering about the efficacy of chewing it, the process helps break down the compounds in the nut, making it more effective as soap, and releasing the useful oil. And you only chew your own; the crushed tuitui sold at the office was pounded with a mortar and pestle, not with teeth!
Everyone I have talked to about tuitui throughout our time in Tonga has mentioned how much they like using it, and how much they enjoy the smell over commercial cologne. In fact, yesterday I was chatting with the manager of Langafonua about my experiments with tuitui, during which she told me her strategy: buy a bag of uncracked nuts, crack them, dig out the nutmeats, and freeze them. While the bucket is filling, start chewing five or six of the nuts, and by the time you step in the bath, your soap/exfoliant/perfume is ready. After we had talked for some time about the subject she said "You know, I think I'll go to the market this afternoon to buy more. All this talk of tuitui has made me want to use some!"