The Curious Meaning 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 does it mean? How did it come about? It was a very interesting research.


Tupi Guarany tribe from Brazil

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.

The name “Baru” comes from the Native Brazilian Tupi word “kumba’ru”. Tupi was the most widely spoken language in Brazil between the16th and 17th centuries, and thus a number of its words integrate modern Brazilian Portuguese. Unfortunately, Tupi as a language was banned by the Portuguese Crown in the 18th century, and is currently spoken only by a few native tribes in the Amazon area.

“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. Both have similar wood, leaves and similar shaped fruits and seeds, but are in fact entirely different, ancient 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”). Baru trees, on the opposite, grow in the South American savannah, 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.

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, both have their biomes being currently deforested for industrial agriculture.

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



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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.