Though tiny, this insignificant knob, a kidney-shaped nut, is attached to the cashew apple and ranks third after the almond and walnut for importance in world trade. Its annual crop amounts to $650-million. Production has climbed steadily each year, and 96 percent of them come from Brazil. Purchase cashews roasted, honey-roasted, dry roasted, salted, chocolate-coated, also plain.
Here’s five reasons cashew nuts are not your run-of-the-mill nut:
The cashew apple is not a fruit. It is an enlarged end of the cashew’s stem before the nut appears.
The fruit is rarely consumed far away from its origins, for it spoils within 24 hours.
A part of the cashew nut is toxic for many.
It takes a lot of labor to ready the nuts for worldwide shipment.
In short, this nut is processed by the poor, consumed by the rich.
Cashew nuts date back to the year 1558, when a French naturalist noticed an unfamiliar plant on the northeast coast of Brazil. He also saw people enjoying the fruit’s juice and roasting nuts in a fire. A few years later the Portuguese brought the cashew to Goa in India and to the east coast and the west coast of Africa.
A tropical American tree, (anacardium occidentale), is a member of the Sumac family. It is also closely related to the mango and pistachio plants thriving within a belt running from the 7 degree north and south of the equator. A peak production area for the cashew is Forteleza, Brazil. An average tree can reach 40 feet in height and bear 70 to 200 pounds of nuts for a 15 to 20 year period. Clusters of fragrant, red and yellow flowers form on the tree’s branches, yielding the bright cashew apples.
The actual nut, as it comes from the tree, is a thick-shelled, single-seed, kidney-shaped nut. Inside the nut is the edible kernel covered with another thinner shell. Between the outer and inner shells is a thick, caustic oil called “cardol” which can cause blisters and must be removed. Kernels are roasted to remove toxins.
Because there is a lot of labor associated with cashew processing, they are expensive. The trade-off for the processors is they get to use the tasty, short-lived fruit in many ways. Processing begins when the nuts are steam-roasted. Kernels are removed from the shells by hand then heat processed for almost ten hours. The next step is to remove the outer red skin by hand with a knife. Cashews are then sized, sorted as to color and grade. There are 22 grades of cashews.
Cashews are a good source of iron, magnesium, zinc and vitamin E. Due to their high fat content, cashews should be stored tightly in the refrigerator to prevent them from becoming rancid. Roasted cashews are nuttier in flavor.
Uses for cashew nuts:
Nut meats, once pulverized in coffee grinder, become “nut dust” and make almost any dish tastier.
Make spicy cashews by sautéing unsalted, roasted cashews in olive oil, a bit of chili powder and sea salt.
Garnish soups and salads with moderately chopped cashews.
Cashew butter occurs when the nuts are pulverized in blender until smooth.