The Curious Origin of “Baru”

Hi folks! There’s a story we have to tell you about Baru. A lot of people got curious about the name. What is the origin of “baru” as a name? How did it come about? It was a very interesting research.


Tupi-Guarany tribe from Brazil. Tupi was once the most widely spoken language in Brazil between the 16th and 17th centuries, and thus a number of its words integrate modern Brazilian Portuguese. It was banned by the Portuguese Crown in the 18th century, and is currently spoken only by a few native tribes in the Amazon area.

There are several names for the Dipteryx alata tree, such as “Barujo”, “Coco-feijão”, “Cumarurana”, “Emburena-brava”, “Feijão-coco”, and “Pau-cumaru”. “Baru“, however, is the most common one in Brazil, and comes from the Native Brazilian Tupi word “kumba’ru”.

But “kumba’ru” originally referred to the Dipteryx odorata tree, which bears the famous Tonka, or Tonquin, Beans and is nowadays referred to in Brazilian Portuguese as Cumaru. However, somewhere down the road,  both Cumaru and Baru trees were being called “Cumbaru” and “Cumaru” by common folk, due to the resemblance of both trees.


On the left, Cumaru (Dipteryx odorata) seeds; on the right, Baru (Dipteryx alata) seeds.

In some places in Brazil, that confusion with the species still happens because both have similar wood, leaves and similar shaped fruits and seeds. However, they are reasonably different Legumes sharing a similar ancestry.

The Cumaru grows in the rainforests of South and Central America, has a green, fleshy fruit, and its seeds have a very particular “wet grass” smell, prized by chefs (kumba’ru also meant “spice”). In contrast, baru trees grow in the South American savanna, have dry, brown fruits, and their seeds have no perceivable smell.


On the left, Cumaru (Dipteryx odorata) fruits; on the right, Baru (Dipteryx alata) fruit.

Above all, both plants play an important role in their respective biomes. Both provide food for the fauna by the end of the dry season; both rely on that same fauna to have their seeds spread throughout their environment. And unfortunately, industrial agriculture is deforesting both their biomes.

In future posts, we’ll explain a bit of the history and genetics of Dipteryx alata. Hope you liked it!



Fonseca H. Pernambucânia: O que há nos nomes das nossas cidades. 2015. Brazil: Companhia Editora de Pernambuco. Recife, PE, Brazil.

Hanson T. The Triumph of Seeds: How Grains, Nuts, Kernels, Pulses, and Pips Conquered the Plant Kingdom and Shaped Human History. 2015. Basic Books.

Leite VG, Mansano VF, Teixeira SP. 2014. Floral ontogeny in Dipterygeae (Fabaceae) reveals new insights into one of the earliest branching tribes in papilionoid legumes. Botanical Journal of the Linnean Society, 2014, 174, 529–550.

Navarro EA. Método moderno de tupi antigo: a língua do Brasil dos primeiros séculos. 3rd edition. São Paulo, SP, Brazil. Brazil: Global. 2005. p. 9.