Quick post – biznaga

I’m working on two things: a) some code to begin creating corpus, and, b) a lengthy list of food terms in Spanish that requires the usual tedious extraction. This work, about 10% done, is generating ideas for several posts. But that’s going to take a while so I wanted to just cover this one interesting tidbit.

The source I’m using goes by the strange name of NittyGrits and is actually tied to southern USA cooking. But somehow it inherited a large number of food term lists in multiple languages and thus has very extensive list for Spanish.

So here is the one item to cover in this post:

acitrón /ah-see-TROHN/ Candied biznaga cactus, prickly pear or nopales leaves used as a stuffing for meats and for sweet tamales. Biznaga is the organ cactus. This sweet paste may be formed into bars for use in other dishes.

This source gives the phonetic pronunciation aid which is only vaguely useful (to me) given the very different sounds in spoken Spanish compared to English. But putting that aside is the term biznaga in the definition (which was in English, either directly or as some type of translation from the Spanish). Now nopales is a word that non-Spanish speakers that are at least doing Mexican cooking would recognize and find in numerous grocery stores, at least in bigger cities, so it needed no research.

So as usual I set out to find a translation for biznaga (actually I was partly asleep when doing this as I thought this was a word missed by Google Translate, which doesn’t apply in this case at all since biznaga appeared in English text).

So I did my usual search for “what is biznaga” and got this delightful webpage about this Andalucian tradition:

The biznaga is a tradition unique to Malaga city; these floral adornments are commonly referred to as biznagas malagueñas. They are basically handcrafted “flowers” of jasmine with a very strong, summery aroma. The unique blend of this distinctive fragrance, together with the sea breeze, has inspired many a love song and poem.

This webpage is quite fun so go check it out for yourself.

But then I realized I’d misread the definition and it had ample clues about biznaga, as in it being a term modifying ‘cactus’ as well as later defined as organ cactus.

Now one other project, years ago, like I’m doing with food terms from Spain, was attempting to get the world’s largest and, ideally, most accurate collection, of cacti and succulents names. (Remember, my eccentricity is I like to collect information not physical collectibles like most people) Plants have lots of different common names (even just in English) and many cacti have names influenced by Spanish. Even the scientific naming is sometimes in dispute. So in doing that project I learned some of the complexity of trying to figure out what “organ cactus” might be. And frankly, given the complete definition I doubt acitrón comes from organ cactus and more likely is from opuntia (aka prickly pear).

But here is the main page you get searching for “what is biznaga cactus” with the relevant page of that page to this post being:

The biznaga is a source of different culinary products, but it is most widely used in confectionery, using its pulp known as citron. This product is a fibrous and firm jam that is juicy and sweet, much appreciated and used in traditional Mexican cuisine. Small pieces of the cactus stem flesh are boiled in water with large amounts of sugar.

Now it’s likely that citron and acitrón are cognates so this webpage supports the idea that biznaga is as it describes:

Biznaga is a name generally given to all cacti plants that are spherical or cylindrical in shape.

So, another point of this post is that finding a source of food terms in Spanish does NOT necessarily mean they have any connection with Spain. This reference is clearly western hemisphere and it’s unclear if acitrón ever appears in Spain as well as the clear evidence that biznaga is something entirely different.

As an added bonus to this bit of research revealed this interesting source (which I may discuss in some future post). The source that described biznaga as a decorative element, with a bit more exploring, also is emphasizing “slow food” (which is probably a variant of the “local” concept and/or artisanal) and so it has a list of Ark of Taste products in Spain that contains 180 items, with a clickable detailed explanation, such as this small sample:

Albera Cattle Breed
Albesa Pink Tomato
Alfafarenca Extra Virgin Olive Oil
Alta Anoia Cigronet
Alto Penedés Carob
Añana Salt

and looking at some snippets of the description of alta anoia cigronet:

Cigronet (tiny in Catalan) is a very small legume that grows in the zone around Alta Anoia (a natural area of Catalonia that is demarcated by the plateau of the same name) which brings together 12 towns north of Anoia that have a landscape and climate that is unique and different from anything else in the region. The soil is arid and underused, ….

The cigronet pod is smooth, while the flavor is delicate and has a pleasant greasy feel. This legume grows in dimension three fold when cooked with water, without losing any of its consistency. The high protein content makes this product a perfect substitute both for meat or fish, or it can be used as a side dish with either of these ingredients. …

The product is sown from January through March, and in August the pods are mature enough to be picked by hand. The seeds are then separated by hitting the pods with a stick; they are then washed and set to dry.
This legume has always been passed down from father to son, and over time it has adapted to the region’s arid soil and difficult climate: rigid in the winter and blazing in the summer. The farmers still conserve a part of the harvest for the following year’s sowing, and they use the seeds for personal consumption.

So this accidental find will be useful in adding to my corpus certain highly unique (and probably without English equivalent) terms. These unique, or slow foods, probably would be fun finds in any restaurant and thus deserving of notice on the menu. Exactly how my app could point these out – well, that’s still unclear, but this is yet another feature it should contain.

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