What are cashew nuts?

Cashew nuts are part of the fruit produced by the tropical evergreen cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale). Quick growing dwarf varieties of the cashew tree have been now been developed. They produce a crop within one year and can be economically harvested within three years.

The tree’s fruit consists of the pear-shaped cashew apple with a kidney-shaped seed attached. This is what contains the cashew nut. Raw, the nut is soft, white and meaty. However, it changes in taste and texture when roasted.

Cashew trees flower in late November or December and ripe fruits start to drop from the tree from late January until April. The cashew fruits are collected by hand from under the trees. The seeds are then removed from the cashew apples before being dried in the sun for three or four days. Leaves, damaged seeds and foreign materials are removed from the seeds before they are packed in jute sacks.

Cashew nuts are extremely difficult to extract from their seeds. This is because the nut it has two layers of a hard shell which also contains caustic substances. The seeds must be soaked in water and then roasted to remove these harmful substances before the shell can be removed by hand.

The nuts are then sorted into one of six grades and packed.

Vietnam is the largest producer of cashew nuts each year, with Nigeria, India, the Ivory Coast and Brazil also being major players.

Health benefits

As with many nuts, cashew nuts are high in calories, but they are also rich sources of soluble dietary fibre, vitamins, minerals and phytochemicals. These can all help protect us from diseases and cancers.

With high levels of ‘heart-friendly’ fatty acids including oleic and palmitoleic acids, cashew nuts can help lower ‘bad’ cholesterol in the blood while increasing ‘good’ cholesterol, reducing the risk of heart disease and strokes.

Cashew nuts contain essential minerals manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium. Selenium is important in the production of one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body; copper is essential for the functioning of several enzymes and zinc an important factor in regulating growth and development, digestion and DNA synthesis. Studies have shown that magnesium can help reduce the frequency of migraines, improve brain function and lower blood pressure. It’s also important for strong bones and teeth.

Recipes

Cashew nuts are often eaten dried, roasted or salted as a snack or used unsalted, whole or ground in sweet or savoury dishes.

Whole or chopped cashew nuts can be added just before serving to Chinese or Indian dishes or they can provide crunch to Asian stir-fries, noodle dishes or curries. They combine well with prawns or chicken and can be used to add texture to rice dishes.

Energy ball recipes including cashew nuts: