The cashew nut grows far differently from most other nuts. Rather than a nut encased in an inedible fruit, cashews grow outside of an edible fruit called a cashew apple. This fruit is actually not a fruit at all, making it quite confusing. |
The cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale L, can grow to 40 feet tall in tropical climates. It will not tolerate temperatures approaching freezing. The trees are native to tropical America from Mexico and the West Indies to Brazil and Peru. They are quite attractive, with broad leaves and little pink flowers. The fruits begin to appear when the trees are around 3 years but come into full production at around 8 to 10 years. The trees are now grown in Africa, Vietnam and India for nut crops.
In English, the fruits are called Cashew Apples, though there is no resemblance to an apple. The part that looks like a fruit is actually an accessory fruit, and not a true fruit at all. The real fruit is the kidney shaped protuberance containing the cashew nut that grows from the bottom end of the cashew apple. The fleshy cashew apple resembles a pear in shape with yellow, orange or reddish skin. The skin and inner flesh are very soft, making the fruits unsuitable for shipping.
The cashew nut is surrounded by a very hard double shell casing. Inside this shell is contained a highly toxic oil that can cause severe burns to the skin. If one is very allergic to this oil, ingestion could be fatal. It will at least cause a skin reaction in most people. Because of the toxicity of this oil, it makes removal of the cashew nut difficult. Mechanizing this process has been unsuccessful, and must be done by hand. The seed casing must be heated by proper roasting which will destroy the oil toxins. This process must be done outdoors, as the toxic oils in the shell can squirt out onto the skin or be released into the air and cause severe lung damage, as when burning poison ivy. In fact the oils are chemically related to the urushiols in poison ivy. Anyone allergic to poison ivy has the possibility of allergy to parts of the cashew. If done properly, the extraction of the cashew nut leaves them perfectly edible. If one wonders at the cost of cashews, this is the reason why.
Cashew apples are quite mouth puckering and leave behind an odd feeling on the tongue. They are used to make refreshing beverages. They contain up to five times more vitamin C than oranges, plus a high amount of mineral salts. In countries where cashew apples are common, another use is making wine or other liquor from the fleshy accessory fruits. In Guatemala, maranon wine is made and used. One of the applications is its addition to the popular marinade called Chinichurri. In Goa, India, there is a liquor made from these fruits. These fleshy fruits can also be made into jam or other sweets, or dried.
Cashews are delicious. They are great as a snack on their own, either raw or roasted and salted. In many countries, ground cashews are used as a thickening agent, such as in some Indian curries. Soaked and ground raw cashews are used to make cheese or sour cream substitutes in raw food or vegan diets. Cashew butter is made like peanut butter, and is delicious on toast. It can be used to make cashew butter cookies. Add a handful to any stir fry or curry. Top elegant saffron rice with a handful of toasted cashew nuts. Cashew Chicken gets its name from the addition of these nuts.
Cashew nuts are less high in calories than most nuts, and packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins and minerals. They are rich in heart friendly monounsaturated fats and pack 5 grams of protein per ounce. They are a rich source of essential minerals such as manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium and are also high in B vitamins.
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