Cashews
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The Cashew Tree (Anacardium occidentale) is originally from Northeastern Brazil is a member of the Anacardiaceae family and is closely related to the Mango, Pistachio, and strangely enough, poison ivy.

The Cashew Tree yields both Cashew Apples and Cashew Nuts as crops. In a natural rarity, the Cashew Nut hangs from the Cashew Apple, which we don’t see much of because it is so perishable it won’t survive the storage and travel of distribution.

The Cashew Nut is the Seed of the evergreen tree which takes its name “Anacardium” from the inverted heart shape of the Cashew Nut. “Cardium” means “heart” in Latin and “ana” means upward or inverted. 

As a seed, the delicately flavored, kidney-shaped Cashew is not technically a Nut, but something we call a Culinary Nut because they are thought of and used in the kitchen in a manner similar to Nuts.

Portuguese explorers first learned of the Cashew tree from the Tupi Indians, who called it the “acajú,” which means “nut that produces itself in their language. Understandably, the acajú became “caju” in Portuguese. It is not much of a stretch to imagine how the Portuguese word became “Cashew” in English.

In the 16th Century, the Portuguese dispersed the Cashew tree to their empire, including their African Colonies of Angola, Guinea-Bissau, and Mozambique and their Indian colony of Goa. The tree was prized for its wood, Cashew Balm, and Cashew Apple. The Cashew Nut itself did not become very popular until the early 1900’s.

Cultivation

The Cashew Tree is a quick growing, evergreen, genuinely tropical tree (very sensitive to frost) that blossoms in the spring through early summer (depending on your hemisphere). Various cultivars have been adapted to different tropical locations between 25° N latitude and 25° S latitude. Newly planted Cashew Trees will flower in their third year. The largest Cashew Tree in the world expands over an area of about 81,000 sq. ft. (7,500 square metres).  Cashew Trees flower in the winter and produce fruit a few months later (late spring / early summer). The actual months of the season depend on your hemisphere.

The Cashew is the world’s largest Nut crop with more than 4 billion pounds produced. The title of world’s major producer of Cashew Nuts has changed hands a few times in the last decades. Currently, Nigeria is the leading producer but Vietnam and India have also been champs in recent memory. India exports close to $200 million a year of Cashews. Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania and Peru (highest production yields) also raise decent sized crops.  The United States is the largest importer of Cashews.

The average yield for Cashew orchards is around 800 Lbs pounds per acre (900 kg/hectare) with planting density being roughly 25 trees per acre (60 trees per hectare).

The most difficult part of picking and processing Cashew Nuts is shelling the Cashews. The nuts are sold out of the shell because of the toxic Cashew Balm. Most shelling is either done manually or mechanically.

Manual shelling is done with special wooden mallets and pieces of curved wire where labor is not expensive. The yield is only about 200 Cashews per worker per hour.

Mechanical shelling is imperfect because of the hardness of the shell, the irregular shape of the shell and the fragility of the actual Cashew Nut. Out of the shell, the market wants perfect, whole, c-shaped Cashew Nuts and mechanical processing with compressed air or even the Windmer process which only yields about 85% perfect nuts at best.  

Once the shells are removed the testa, a thin papery seed coat, must also be removed to result in a perfect Cashew Nut. Drying the nuts in drying bins at 158° F (70° C) makes the testa dry and brittle so that it is more easily removed by hand (with the aid or bamboo knives) or removed by machine.

Shelled and cleaned Cashew Nuts (both whole and broken) are sorted according to 6 classifications. Whole Cashew Nuts of the highest grade are used for retail sales. They are dried to 3% moisture (to prevent fungus and extent the shelf life) and then packed. The dried Cashew Nuts are much less likely to go Rancid in storage.

Purchasing

Since you won’t find Cashews in the shell at retail (because of the Cashew Balm covered above), the main variations of Cashews available at retail are either Raw Cashews or Roasted Cashews. 

Pale white, Raw Cashews are more difficult to find at retail and they are never actually totally raw because they are heated (& inadvertently slightly cooked) during shelling and processing.

Yellower, Roasted Cashews will be crisper than raw cashews and will typically come as Dry Roasted, Wet Roasted, Salted, or Plain. If you are minding your calories, choose Dry Roasted Cashews because there will be no added Oil. Dry Roasted Cashews are reported to have the fewest calories of any nuts but are actually #7.  

Both types of Cashews are available as Whole Cashews or as Chopped Cashews (also called Cashew Pieces). If you will ultimately be chopping the Cashews, you will save some money and labor by buying the chopped or pieces instead of the more perfect (and more expensive) whole Cashews.

Cashews are generally available in packages and in bulk bins. When selecting Cashews make sure that there is no moisture evident, no insect damage, no mold and that that the Nuts themselves are not shriveled. If purchasing from the bulk bin, make sure that the store has good turnover (so that the product is fresh) and that the bins are clean and covered. If you can smell the Cashews, do so to ensure that they are not Rancid. If you are most concerned about extended shelf life choose nuts in vacuum-packed jars or cans over Cashews in cellophane packaging which will “breath.”

Storage

Even though Cashew Nuts contain Oleic Acid, which acts as a stabilizer, they can still go Rancid and should be stored in a tightly sealed, airtight container in a cool dry place such as the refrigerator where they will keep for about 6 months. In the freezer, Cashews will last about 1 year in an airtight container.  The airtight container will also help prevent them from picking up the odors of other foods.

Culinary Uses

You will almost never see a raw Cashew Nut in the shell at a U.S. grocery store because the shells contain the toxic and caustic Cashew Balm, so we won’t spend any time on working with Cashew Nuts in the shell. 

Out of the shell, the edible part of the Raw c-shaped Cashew Nut is firm, but slightly spongy, in texture, white and meaty. Roasting Cashews changes their flavor and their kernel color from white to a pale yellow -golden yellow.

Smart Kitchen’s Chili Lime Cashew Recipe Roasts Cashews with Chili and Lime Zest to make an Hors D’Oeuvre with Flair, the 4th of Smart Kitchen’s 4 Levers of Cooking.™

Cashew Nuts are used as a snack, for Garnishing, as an Ingredient, as a Thickener, as Cashew Nut Butter or Cashew Nut Oil. Cashews are also widely used by a number of global cuisines. Cashew Sprouts and green Cashew Nuts (which need to be processed to remove the toxic Cashew Balm) are also eaten in some parts of the world.

If using Cashew Nuts as a Garnish for a hot item, do not add them to the dish until just before service. Because Cashew Nuts are delicate and 10% starch by weight, they will quickly become soft and disintegrate when exposed to heat. A soft, disintegrated Cashew will not offer much Flair, the 4th of Smart Kitchen’s 4 Levers of Cooking.™

Add Cashews as a Garnish to hot dishes just as they come off the heat. For example, if using Cashews to top a Porridge, place them on top just after you plate the Porridge. Adding a bit of Maple Syrup is nice as well. There are no such worries about using Cashew Nuts as a Garnish for cold items such as cold Cereals or Cheese plates. Use them how it is convenient.

As an ingredient in Bound Salads, Green Salads, Vegetable Dishes, Sandwiches, Stir Frys, Side Dishes, Sweets and Desserts, etc., the fragility of Cashew Nuts is again an issue.  Add the Cashew Nut ingredient at the very end of the cooking process (if any) so that they don’t soften and lose their crunch and shape. This warning also goes for using Cashew Nuts in baked goods where they also cannot handle too much heat and will become soft instead of crunchy.

The fact that Cashew Nuts, unlike other nuts are 10% Starch by weight, helps them break down with heat and can make them an interesting Thickener for water-based Sauces, Soups and Stews.

Using Cashews as a thickener is a concept that may be novel to Westerners but is common practice in many southern Asian cuisines. If you want to use Cashew Nuts for thickening, add them to the dish much earlier in the cooking process so that they can soften and disintegrate. Thickening with Cashew Nuts adds a nutty taste and is one of the thickening options that works for a Gluten Free diet.

Cashew Nut Butter can be eaten plain, on a sandwich or added to other items as an ingredient.

Cashew Nuts are also pressed to yield a Cashew Oil.

Cashews are commonly used in Indian Cuisine, Thai Cuisine, Chinese Cuisine, Filipino Cuisine, Indonesian Cuisine, Brazilian Cuisine, Panamian Cuisine and the African Cuisine of Mozambique.

In Indian Cuisine, the Cashew Nut is most often used whole for garnishing sweets or Curries, though it can also be ground into a paste that will then be used as a base of Curry Sauces such as Korma or as a base for sweets such as Kaju Bari. Cashew Nuts can also be ground into a Cashew Nut Flour that is useful for making Indian Desserts and sweets. Goan Cuisine, which shares some traits with Indian Cuisine, also uses whole Cashews (both roasted and raw) for making Curries and sweets.

Filipino Cuisine uses Cashews in products such as Antipolo, and they are also eaten with Suman. There is even a type of Cashew Marzipan called Turrones de Casuy that is traditionally wrapped in a white wafer.

Roasted and Salted Cashews are called Kacang Mete (or also Kacang Mede) in Indonesian Cuisine,

In the African Cuisine of Mozambique, Bolo Polana is a sort of cake made predominantly from powdered Cashews and Mashed Potatoes. Bolo Polana is popular in South Africa too.

Pairings

Cinnamon, Mint, Nutmeg, Ginger, Salads, Apricots, Bananas, Coconut, Dates, Grapefruit, Guava, Kiwi, Lemons, Mango, Passion Fruit, Persimmon, Pineapple, Almonds, Macadamia Nuts, Rice, Chicken, Cheese, Honey, Oil, Vegetable Oil

Nutritional Value USDA
NUTS,CASHEW NUTS,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 553
%Daily Value*
 
66%
Total Fat 43g
0%
Saturated Fat 0g
Polyunsaturated Fat 0g
Monounsaturated Fat 0g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 12mg
14%
Potassium 660mg
10%
Total Carbohydrate 30g
12%
Dietary Fiber 3g
Sugars 5g
Protein 18g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Cashew Nuts, eaten in moderation, are a good source of vegetable Protein, heart-healthy Fats, certain Minerals and Antioxidants.

Twenty One Percent (21%) of the cholesterol-free Cashew Nut is healthy vegetable Protein with the rub being that roughly 44% of a Cashew Nut is Fat, albeit mostly healthier Monounsaturated Fats and Polyunsaturated Fats. The Fat in Cashew Nuts is 54% Monounsaturated  Fat, 18% Polyunsaturated Fat and only 16% Saturated Fat.

Because of the makeup of the Fat Profile of Cashew Nuts, they are considered a “Low Fat Nut” or alternatively a “Good Fat,” which means that eaten in moderation (a handful of roughly 3.5 oz.) can be part of a good diet. Cashew nuts also have a beneficial fatty acid profile loaded with phytosterols, tocopherols, and sqaulene, all of which lower the risk of heart disease. In fact, because of their high level of Monounsaturated Fats, Cashews are thought to support heart health by supporting healthy levels of good cholesterol (HDL).

On an ounce for ounce basis, Cashew Nuts contain less fat per serving than other popular Culinary Nuts such as Almonds, Walnuts, Peanuts and Pecans.

In a single 3.5 oz. (100 g) serving, Cashews have fairly high levels of some essential Minerals including: Iron (51% of RDA), Magnesium (82% RDA), Phosphorus (85% of RDA), Zinc (61% of RDA), Copper and Manganese (79% of RDA).

Cashews, like other Culinary Nuts, are a good source of Antioxidants. Alkyl phenols, in particular, are abundant in cashews. There is also about 3% of Dietary Fiber in a serving of Cashews.

There is some evidence to suggest that eating Cashews, like most Nuts, will reduce the risk of gallstone disease.  A Nurses’ Health Study looked at the diets of more than 80,000 women who ate at least 1 oz. (28 g) of Nuts (such as Cashews) a week and found that these women had a 25% lower incidence of gallstones.

Research has also shown that the Anacardic Acid in Cashew Nuts is an antibiotic that will kill gram positive bacteria, which are in turn responsible for a pervasive mouth affliction that causes tooth decay, acne, tuberculosis and leprosy.

Allergy and Oxalates

Cashews also contain Oxalates which can, with overconsumption of Cashews, become concentrated in the fluids of the body and crystallize causing health problems for people with existing kidney or gallbladder disease. Oxalates have been found in some kidney stones and some gall stones for example.

Although Cashews are a less frequent allergen than nuts or peanuts, there are a number of people who are allergic to Cashews and who can experience symptoms ranging from a rash to deadly anaphylaxis. Always be careful to alert your diners to the presence of Cashews in your cooking.

It is also important to be aware that people with Cashew allergies may also be allergic to Nuts, such as Hazelnuts, Chestnuts, and Acorns, or to other Culinary Nuts such as Almonds, Peanuts, Walnuts and Pecans. People with Mango allergies may also be allergic to Cashews because of the urushiols contained in products of the Anacardiaceae family.

Because of the likelihood of dual allergies, it is typical to advise people with Cashew Nut allergies to avoid eating all nuts.

These allergies are triggered by the proteins found in tree nuts, and cooking often does not remove or change these proteins.

Reactions to cashew and other tree nuts can also occur as a consequence of hidden nut ingredients or traces of nuts that may inadvertently be introduced during food processing, handling or manufacturing.

Cashew Oils are high in monounsaturated fats and very rich in plant sterols and carbohydrates. The oil has been used effectively to enhance the flavor of light salad dressings. Cashew oil is a rich source of anacardic acid, sought for its antibiotic activity against gram positive bacteria in medicinal preparations.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No