The cashew, Anacardium occidentale, is a small tree fifteen or twenty feet high. It is native to the West Indies, Guiana, Brazil, Panama, and Peru. The fruit and nut were both used by the prehistoric Amerinds. The superior quality of the nut attracted the attention of Europeans, so that the Portuguese took it to Africa, India, and the East Indies, and the Spanish to the Philippines. The tree became naturalized in India, and now grows wild there. It is also grown in extensive plantations, so that the main crop of cashew nuts now comes from India. When the Spanish came to Mexico they found the natives drinking chocolatl, a name they corrupted to chocolate.The chocolate of commerce is made from the seeds of Theobroma cacao, a small tree cultivated in Mexico and Central America centuries before the time of Columbus. At least three other species of Theobroma occurred both wild and cultivated in Brazil, Guiana, the West Indies, and Central America. Chocolate was one of the first products of the New World to be taken to Europe, and was soon a household necessity for the Portuguese and Spanish. They carried it throughout the old world tropics and established it in all countries with a hot, humid climate. It is now cultivated commercially in Brazil, Portuguese West Africa, Ecuador, Central America, the Philippines, East Indies, and Venezuela.
As it is rich in oil, starch, and protein, chocolate is food as well as drink. The vanilla plant is a climbing vine, and the only representative of the huge orchid family that is cultivated for any purpose except as an ornamental. Vanilla was cultivated in Mexico and Central America in prehistoric times, and was used to flavor chocolate. The flowers must be hand-fertilized, a process that the people of Mexico and Central America understood a long time ago. The principal vanilla crop is now produced in Madagascar, and it is also grown in other islands of the Indian Ocean, such as the Seychelles. Other centers of production are Mexico, Tahiti, and Guatemala.The Jerusalem artichoke is neither an artichoke nor does it come from Jerusalem. It is a sunflower with tuberous roots, and the name Jerusalem is the Englishman’s corruption of the Italian name for sunflower, gira sol, “turning to the sun.” The artichoke part of the name is pure, malicious invention. The plant is a native of what is now the eastern half of the United States, and was cultivated by the Amerinds centuries before the white man came. It was taken to Europe in early colonial times and soon spread over great areas there. It has long been extensively grown in China, and is important in the Ryukyu Islands. Its principal use is in feeding livestock, especially pigs, although in some places it is an important food crop for human beings.