Cashews are very healthy, have a lot of protein, and they taste awesome! But are they growing on a tree or on a bush? are they growing under the earth like potatoes or are they growing like apples hanging from a tree?
It is natural, that we ask ourself that because in the US not cashews grow in the wild. And so, not a lot of people ever saw a cashew growing or if they have, they may don´t even realise, that it was a cashew plant.
So how do cashews grow? Cashews are an external seedpod, which hangs from the bottom of the Cashew Apple ‘fruit., that grows on a tree. The Cashew Apple is a ‘false fruit’, that is edible, and in Goa, the juice is fermented and distilled to create a highly alcoholic liquor (or native wine) known as Feni (or Fenny).
What is Cashew Resin?
Raw cashews themselves contain a poisonous oil added to the urushi tree oil to create the darkest, richest, lush chocolate red lacquer used in traditional Japanese lacquering techniques.
Cashew resin has also traditionally been used in the crafting of guitars and has now been recognised as a bio-resin.
This allows manufacturers to use a higher content of renewable material in their products without compromising performance. One example of this can be seen in the Novocard XFN resins which are made from the phenol-rich oil extracted from the otherwise discarded toxic cashew nutshells.
They create high-grade resins now used as industrial additives to paints, varnishes, lubricants, binders, commercial resins and many waterproofing products.
What are Cashew Trees?
Cashew trees are large evergreen, tropical trees once native to the coastal region of north-eastern Brazil, although today they are grown commercially in over thirty-two different humid climates from India to Vietnam, and the Ivory Coast to Australia.
They are hardy trees and will thrive anywhere there is no frost or high wind. Global production in 2019 exceeded four million tonnes per year and there are many developing third world economies in which they are quite literally worth their weight in gold, providing employment and income for thousands of plant workers and families across the planet.
What Does the Name Cashew Mean?
The name Cashew comes from Portuguese: Caju or the traditional Tupian word: acajú, meaning, ‘nut that produces itself.’ They are indeed surprisingly easy to grow by quite simply placing a raw seed directly into the right soil, adding water and sunlight. Growing Your Own Cashew Tree
Mature Trees Bearing Fruit
If you have a traditional Cashew tree, it will grow into an enormous giant of about 14 metres (46ft) tall, with a characteristic short irregularly shaped, stumpy trunk.
The trees burst into bloom with delicate pink and white blossoms that go on to produce the kidney-shaped Cashew seed pod known as a drupe.
Technically this means that Cashews are seeds and not nuts and as soon as the drupe is fully formed, an unusual large swelling appears above it turning from green to red (or dark yellow).
These Cashew Apples are known as ‘accessory fruit’ or ‘false fruit,’ because although they can be eaten as fruit, they do not develop from a flower or flowers.
This fruit ripens into a bell-shaped apple anywhere from 5-11cms (2-4in) and can be harvested once they are deep red (or yellow) depending on the species. They are highly nutritious and delicious in smoothies. The have a sweet and tangy flavour somewhere between an apple and a pineapple (without the acidity) and in South America, they are pulped and used to flavour and sweeten drinks. Harvesting and Processing
The drupe is a dark-grey kidney shape, which has been likened to a ‘boxing glove’ in appearance. The Cashew kernel inside it is coated by a double shell at this stage, still containing the caustic phenolic resin, so the drupes must be removed from the Cashew apple and set aside for further processing to eliminate their toxicity, before being eaten.
They are usually left in the sun for a day or two to dry and can be stored in a dry, clean jar or sack for up to two years before you process them making them rather a useful food source in times of drought and famine. In this sense, they are practical despite being quite a labour-intensive to prepare.
Many people do not realise that cashews (Anacardium occidentale) are in the same family as Poison Ivy and ‘shelling’ them properly is vital.
How are Cashews Prepared for Eating
Handling them is considered the same as handling poison ivy. Be warned the acidic oil the nut releases during processing is caustic and will burn your skin on contact, so be sure and wear gloves.
The first step is usually to place them on an old baking tray over an open fire and roast them for 15-20 minutes just until they are ready to catch alight.
Do not worry if they do, just quickly remove the tray, and stir them about until the flames go out. It is unlikely to taint the flavour of the kernel, as they are still protected by another inner skin.
When they have cooled you can tap the burnt outer shell with a hammer, log, or stone to crack them open to reveal the cashew kernel encased in the second skin inside.
Now bake the shelled kernels for 20 minutes on high heat.
Make sure you cover the pan as the fumes of the oil can be quite toxic. Some people bake them inside sand for this stage of processing to ensure that it soaks up all the oil.
Some commercial production plants wash them with soap to ensure the same result. If baking in the oven heat to about 190oC (374oF) for a good 30 minutes.
Allow to cool and shake the nuts loose from the sand.
When cooled the second, inner dark layer of protective skin can be peeled off the cashew kernel in between your fingers.
Much of this skin falls away by being shaken in sieves within the sand.
Each country has its own form of processing each stage.
You are now ready to pop them back to the pan for a further roasting to enhance their flavour. You can use oil and salt, or honey depending on your taste.
There is no such thing as a raw cashew, as all have been scorched, baked, roasted, boiled, or browned in one way or another to have become edible.
They can now be pressed as ‘butter,’ or cold pressed into cashew oil so popular for cooking.
In the third world commercial processing plants, the men tend to oversee the harder work of stoking the massive ovens keeping them at a constant temperature of 80 degrees, whilst the women workers use crude workbench splitters to release the kernels from their shells, one at a time after they have cooled.
The best workers can split 40kgs per day in this way, followed by the graders, who separate the split nuts from the whole nuts, the spotted kernels from the broken pieces, making the entire process very hands-on and labour intensive.
Value Packed Nutrition
It is worth it. Each Cashew kernel contains about 21% protein, 46% fat and 25% carbohydrates and are highly recommended by the Vegan Society as a whole food (or Superfood). Cashews are packed with essential minerals including calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, and zinc.
A handful of around 40g contains about 70% of our daily recommended intake of copper, which is vital for producing red and white blood cells, as well as helping haemoglobin form and carry oxygen around the body.
Cashews are also low in sodium and high in vitamin C, vitamin B1 (thiamine), vitamin B2 (riboflavin), vitamin B3 (niacin), vitamin B6, folate, vitamin E (alpha-tocopherol), and vitamin K (phylloquinone).
Cashews also provide Oleic acid (one of the omega-9 fatty acids also found in olive oil). One ounce of cashews is about 150 calories, which can stave off hunger pangs twice as long as processed-carb snacks of equal calories.
Cashews offer great health benefits to our heart, nerves, and muscles. Eating them regularly improves bone health and eyesight, especially for those suffering from macular degeneration.
Those with type 2 diabetes can also benefit greatly from a small handful of cashew nuts daily, as they help regulate blood sugar levels. Cashews increase the good cholesterol (HDL) and boost the immune system against the formation of cancer cells.
They are a welcome relief for those with gluten allergies always left looking for ways to fill the void before or after a meal.
Cooking with Cashews
Part of the magical qualities of cashews is that they can be made into sauces, milk, cream or even cheese. They are no longer only the favourite in traditional Indian and Asian dishes, but a tour de force in most western ‘fusion cooking.’
To make Cashew Cream, milk, dip, or cheese, simply blend two cups of soaked cashews with the juice of two lemons, 1 tbsp of tahini, S&P and ½ cup of water for cream or dip that will have everyone coming back for more. Add more water and strain it through a muslin cloth to make your own milk and Cashew Mozzarella.
If you are a sweet tooth, you can add this Cashew cream, milk or cheese to your favourite cheesecake, slice, or biscuit recipes for some tantalising healthy alternatives to butter and thickened cream. Bon Appetite.