Nuez del Tocte, Nuez del Nogal
The Tocte nut (Juglans neotropica) or Andean walnut, locally known by the names of nuez del Nogal or nuez del Tocte, is an exquisite Andean nut with deep flavors and large oil content. It is consumed raw or in sweets and pastries. This tree grows at altitudes of 1800 to 3000 meters, and reach heights of up to 30 meters tall with trunks about 50 cm in diameter. It is a tree commonly found with difficulty in rural areas near the rural homes, old farms and town parks. Fruits first appear when the tree is about twelve years old. The trees produce male and female flowers simultaneously, and the fruit that forms is a fleshy, round drupe, black or brown in color, with a single seed: the woody, oily and deeply fissured nut. The tree produces fruit seasonally around the month of October, and from December onwards the fruits that fall to the ground are collected. It is estimated that a mature tree can produce about a hundred kilos of whole and dried nuts. The extracted nut represents 10% of that weight, so their production is very limited.
The tree is relatively rare, and has not been propagated or used in reforestation projects. Besides providing the Tocte nut, it is also a source of a natural fruit dye used in coloring leather. The Tocte nut was highly valued for its taste and versatility in baking and cooking in general, but it is infrequently used today due to its rarity. This nut was an important part of the diet during Colonial times. Traditionally, the Tocte nut is consumed directly or has been used in the preparation of the nogada, which is a sweet, solid dough. Tocte is cooked in candies with egg whites and spices that are sold in wooden packages. Currently, Tocte nuts can be purchased mainly in the city of Ibarra, in northern Ecuador, where traditional sweets are sold. There, we can find tubs of shelled nuts as well as traditional nogadas. There are also reports of its use in the central provinces of the Andes, mainly in the province of Tungurahua. Desserts made with Tocte are also found in the southern province of Azuay. There is not much demand nationally, and the product is unknown internationally.
The harvesting, cleaning, drying and nut extraction requires much effort and dedication because it is possibly one of the toughest nuts in existence. It is so strong that it is often used for different crafts that are also very sporadic and at risk of disappearing. Its cultivation could provide higher labor demand during the various stages like germination, reforestation, plant care, harvesting the product, cleaning, drying and removing the nut, which require a lot of dedication, patience, and hard work. There is no exact figure for the number of trees in Ecuador, and in 2009, only one commercial plantation of about 300 was identified in the canton of Pimampiro in the province of Imbabura. However it is a tree that is present spontaneously in many valleys, and a diagnosis should be made to provide more accurate number of current population.
Today, the Tocte nuts are still harvested for personal consumption in some indigenous and rural communities, but it is increasingly less consumed. The long time to fruiting age makes this tree not valued as a commercial species, and its disappearance could also lead to the loss of traditional Tocte nut nogadas. Increasingly there are fewer people who know the tradition of such sweets as well as the preparation methods. It is not propogated, and there are management plans of the existing population, which means the current demand for timber for furniture and crafts could accelerate the extinction of the plant without more attention to the traditional culinary importance of these nuts.