The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that bears the cashew seed and the pseudofruit known as the cashew apple. Its English name comes from the Portuguese name for the cashew tree’s fruit, caju, also known as acaju, which comes from the Tupian word acajú, literally meaning “nut that produces itself”.
The Greek prefix ana- (upward), the Greek cardia (heart), and the New Latin suffix -ium make up the common name Anacardium. It could refer to the fruit’s heart shape, “the top of the fruit stem,” or the seed. Before Carl Linnaeus transferred it to the cashew, the term anacardium was used to refer to Semecarpus anacardium (the labeling nut tree); both plants are of the same genus. The term occidentale refers to people who live in the Western (or Occidental) world.
The cashew tree is a huge, evergreen tree that can reach a height of 14 meters (46 feet) and has a small, irregularly shaped trunk. Spirally arranged, leathery textured, elliptic to obovate, 4–22 cm (1.6–8.7 in) long and 2–15 cm (0.79–5.91 in) wide with smooth margins, the leaves are spirally arranged, leathery textured, elliptic to obovate, 4–22 cm (1.6–8.7 in) long and 2–15 cm (0.79–5.91 in) broad. Each flower is small, light green at first, then becoming reddish, with five slender, acute petals 7–15 mm (0.28–0.59 in) long, developed in a panicle or corymb up to 26 cm (10 in) long. The world’s largest cashew tree is in Natal, Brazil, and it occupies an area of about 7,500 m2 (81,000 sq ft).
The fruit of the cashew tree is an accessory fruit (sometimes called a pseudocarp or false fruit). The hypocarpium, an oval or pear-shaped structure that grows from the pedicel and receptacle of the cashew flower, tends to be the fruit. The cashew apple, also known as maraón in Central America, ripens into a yellow or red structure measuring 5–11 cm (2.0–4.3 in) in length. It’s edible, with a good “sweet” fragrance and flavor.
A kidney- or boxing-glove-shaped drupe grows at the end of the cashew apple and is the true fruit of the cashew tree. On the tree, the drupe grows first, followed by the pedicel, which extends to become the cashew apple. In the culinary context, the true fruit contains a single seed, and is sometimes referred to as a nut. The seed is encased in a double shell that contains an allergenic phenolic resin called anacardic acid, which is chemically related to the more well-known and often toxic allergenic oil urushiol, which can be contained in poison ivy and lacquer plants.
Types (Grades) of Cashew Nuts
All cashew nuts come from the same tree (Anacardium occidentale L). The kernels are typically roasted, shelled, and peeled. After grading the peeled kernels based on color (whiteness), different varieties of kernels appear, including white, pale ivory, and scorched brown. Furthermore, the form of the kernels determines whether the grade is wholes, splits, butts, small white pieces, or baby bits.
For instance, cashew nut can be graded as w210. In this, the first letter ‘W’ stands for ‘Whole.’ Other alphabets include B –broken or butts, S-splits, or P-pieces. The number 210 indicates the number of kernels in one pound (lb.). In this case, one pound has 210 whole kernels. The w-210, also known as the Jumbo, will be relatively expensive due to its high quality. Kernels of w-180 are super quality.
SW-32o is a rating that you may come across on occasion. In this case, the first letter means that the nuts have been scorched. Overheating during roasting or drying causes scorched wholes to darken slightly.
Some Grades of Kernels
Grade: A: White Wholes (W-180, 210, 320, 450, 500)
The kernels are white or pale ivory and have a slight broken mass, which is less than 5%.
Grade B: Scorched Wholes (SW-180, 210, 320, 450, 500)
Kernels are slightly browned due to overheating and still maintain the characteristic shape.
Grade C: Cashew Kernels and Desert Wholes (SWS and DW)
They are whole kernels, which look shriveled and scorched.
Grade D: Pieces or Natural Halves (SSP, SP, SS)
Kernels split evenly to give pieces used in economy parks, or as topping for ice creams. Besides, they are crispier than soft wholes. After roasting, kernels become scorched, or darkened, with over-heating.
Historical Background (Origin) of Cashew
Cashew is derived from the Tupi-Indian word Acaju, which literally means “nut.” About 1558, Europeans first encountered the cashew in Brazil. They were initially believed to be inedible due to the irritating shells. It was eventually discovered that it was the fruit shell, not the seeds, that was irritating. The Tupi-Indians, a nearby aboriginal tribe, demonstrated to the Europeans that this was not the case. The Portuguese were told how to roast the cashews in order to eliminate the irritant.
The cashew seed was discovered to be very tasty by Europeans. They did, however, produce wine from the pulp of the cashew apple. The natives had learnt to eat cashews from the nearby capuchin monkeys, which was very interesting. The primates cut the shells off the nuts and throw them away with primitive tools.
The Portuguese took cashews to Goa around 1560 after learning how to eat the seed of the cashew. The nut eventually adapted to the new environment and moved to India shortly after. Cashews became famous after the Indians discovered the nut’s healing properties. Cashews were first introduced to Southeast Asia and Africa in the second half of the 16th century. Many countries and societies now rely on cashew seeds as a food supply and a source of trade.
The cashew’s modern history started in the United States around 1905. The cashew did not gain popularity until the mid-1920s, when the General Food Corporation began shipping them to the United States and Europe on a regular basis. The cashew eventually gained popularity, and by 1941, about 20,000 tons of cashews were being imported from India each year.
In the 16th century, Portuguese merchants brought cashew to Nigeria. It was first planted in Agege, Lagos State, and then spread to a few other parts of the country through man-made nut transfer. Cashew trees were mostly used for apple for over 400 years after their introduction; the nuts had little market appeal.
Many of the trees grew wild while being used for afforestation and erosion control, particularly in the escarpment areas of Udi in Anambra state. The defunct Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC) planted the first commercial cashew trees in Nigeria in the mid 1950s at Ogbe, Oji, Udi, and Mbala, and the defunct Western Nigeria Development Corporation planted them at Iwo, Eruwa, and Upper Ogun (WNDC). Introduced Indian cashew varieties were used to create these plantations. Due to general neglect and ineffective plantation management, growth in the cashew industry was slow.
More nuts were collected from India, Tanzania, Mozambique, and Brazil in 1978, 1980, and 1982 with the help of private entrepreneurs, federal and state governments, and wealthy farmers to expand the country’s cashew genetic base. With expanded manufacturing, distribution, and exporting operations, cashew production has spread to almost all of Nigeria’s nations. The main Cashew-growing areas in Nigeria are described below in order of productivity level with respect to the various regions of the country: Enugu, Abia, Imo, Anambra, Ebonyi and Cross River States in the east and southern part, Oyo, Osun, Ondo, Ekiti and Ogun States in the western part, Kwara, Kogi, Nassarawa, Benue, Taraba, Niger, Federal Capital Territory (Abuja), Kaduna and Plateau in the Middle Belt and Sokoto and Kebbi States in the North-western of the country. It’s worth noting that the bulk of high-quality nuts for export come from the country’s western and eastern regions.
Nutritional Value (Composition) of Cashew
Cashews contain 5% water, 30% carbohydrates, 44% fat, and 18% protein in their raw form. Raw cashews have 553 calories per 100 gram serving, with 67 percent of the Daily Value (DV) in total fats, 36 percent DV in protein, 13 percent DV in dietary fiber, and 11 percent DV in carbohydrates. Cashews are high in dietary minerals, especially copper, manganese, phosphorus, and magnesium (79-110 percent DV), as well as thiamin, vitamin B6, and vitamin K (20 percent or more of the DV) (32-37 percent DV). Significant concentrations of iron, potassium, zinc, and selenium are present (14-61 percent DV). The beta-sitosterol content of 100 grams of raw cashews is 113 milligrams (1.74 grams).
Cashews are a highly nutritious and concentrated food that provides a significant amount of energy. The cashew nut kernel has a good taste and can be consumed raw, fried, salted, or sweetened with sugar. It’s still a decent source of unsaturated fat in the diet, and it’s used in a lot of different ways. The nut contains an acrid compound that is a potent vessicant and skin abrasive. The cashew shell contains 25% of this reddish brown oil, industrially known as Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL) which is a by-product of the roasting process.
The kernel is known to be of high nutritional content, and the composition of the kernel can be influenced by growing conditions or cashew variety. Protein accounts for 21% of the kernel’s total structure, with fat accounting for 46% and carbohydrates accounting for 25%. The nutritional value of 100 grams of cashew nut is as below.
Nutritive Value in 100 g of Cashew Nut
|Retinol Equivalent||33 IU; 10 mcg|
Culinary Uses of Cashew
Cashew seeds are used in snacking and preparation in the same way as other tree seeds such as nuts. In the culinary context, the cashew seed is sometimes referred to as a nut; this cashew nut is consumed raw, used in recipes, or refined into cashew cheese or cashew butter. The nut is generally referred to as cashew, much like the tree. Cashews are extensively used in South Asian cuisine, either whole for garnishing sweets or curries, or ground into a paste that serves as a base for curries (such as korma) and some sweets (e.g., kaju barfi). It’s also used in the powdered form to make a variety of Indian sweets and desserts. Both roasted and raw kernels are used whole in curries and sweets in Goan cuisine. Cashews are also widely found whole in Thai and Chinese cuisines. Cashew in a well-known Antipolo food that is eaten with suman in the Philippines. Turrones de casuy, a cashew marzipan wrapped in white wafers, is a delicious dessert from the province of Pampanga. Roasted and salted cashews are known as kacang mete or kacang mede in Indonesia, and the cashew apple is known as jambu monyet (lit. “monkey rose apple”).
Cashew production expanded in many African countries in the twenty-first century to satisfy the need for cashew milk, a plant milk supplement for dairy milk. Bolo polana is a Mozambican cake made of powdered cashews and mashed potatoes as the main ingredients. In South Africa, this dessert is very popular.
Cashew fruit juice and pulp are used in the manufacture of candy, juice, alcoholic drinks like cachaça, as well as flour, milk, and cheese in Brazil. The cashew fruit is cooked with water and sugar for a long time in Panama to make dulce de maraón (maraón is the Spanish word for cashew), a sweet, brown, paste-like dessert.
The cashew apple may be consumed raw, cooked in curries, fermented into vinegar, or fermented into an alcoholic beverage. Some nations, such as India and Brazil, use it to make preserves, chutneys, and jams. The cashew apple is used to flavor alcoholic and nonalcoholic beverages in many countries, especially in South America. Cashew apple juice, on the other hand, can be used to make blended juices.
The cashew apple is mashed, the juice drained, and fermented for a few days in the Indian state of Goa. After that, the fermented juice goes through two distillation cycles. The subsequent drink is known as feni or fenny. Feni has a 40–42 percent alcohol content. Urrac is the single-distilled version, which contains around 15% alcohol.
The cashew apple (bibo in Swahili) is dried and saved in Mtwara, Tanzania’s southern region. It is then reconstituted with water, fermented, and distilled to produce gongo, a potent liquor.
Cashew farmers in Mozambique produce a potent liquor from the cashew apple. In Mozambique’s local languages, it goes by a variety of names (muchekele in Emakua, spoken in the North; xicadju in Changana, spoken in the South). In comparison to the feni of Goa, the cashew liquor produced in Mozambique does not entail the extraction of juice from cashew apples. The apples are scattered on the field under trees and courtyards after picking and extracting the nuts, causing them to lose water and ferment. After that, the shriveled fermented fruits are distilled.
Health Benefits of Cashew
The cashew is consumed worldwide as a result of its numerous health benefits. The following are some of the remarkable health benefits of cashews:
Maintains a Healthy Heart
Cashews are high in monounsaturated fats, which are important for lowering LDL cholesterol (the harmful kind) and increasing HDL cholesterol (the healthy kind). They also aid in the reduction of blood pressure, the prevention of plaque accumulation in artery walls, and the reduction of triglyceride levels, both of which contribute to the prevention of heart disease, heart attack, and stroke.
Improves Blood Health
Copper deficiency can lead to anemia, a condition where a person’s red blood cell count is too low. Cashews contain a lot of copper and a some iron, both of which are important for the formation and utilization of red blood cells.
Helps in Weight Management
Cashew nut consumption is associated with a reduced risk of weight gain. This may seem surprising since cashews are a pretty calorie heavy food. However, in moderation they can actually help manage weight because of the type of fat they contain, which is mostly monounsaturated fat. Cashews have healthy omega-3s, which help boost metabolism and burn fat. One serving also contains almost the entire daily requirement of copper, which helps to regulate metabolism and assists in energy production. Eating nuts also leaves you feeling full longer, which can curb cravings, overeating or the urge to reach for an unhealthy snack. However, since they are calorie heavy, eating cashews to manage weight only works in moderation.
Ensures Healthy Skin and Hair
Cashew nuts contain copper, which aids in the manufacture of melanin, the pigment responsible for the color of skin, hair, and eyes. Effective melanin production not only enhances hair color, but it also acts as a natural sunscreen. It helps to protect the skin from UV radiation, which can cause skin cancer. Cashews also contain antioxidants, which resist free radicals, which build up in our bodies and cause cellular damage, leading to the noticeable symptoms of aging.
Since nuts work to reduce bad cholesterol and triglycerides, all of which are factors in gallstone growth, eating nuts on a regular basis will help stop painful gallstones from developing.
Boosts Brain Function
To function properly, the brain needs a constant supply of healthy fatty acids. Cashews’ healthy fat, as well as zinc, iron, copper, and manganese, improve cognitive functioning and mood stabilization, and can help with psychological disorders like ADHD, depression, and anxiety.
Promotes Bone Health
Cashews contain vitamin K, magnesium, copper, and phosphorus, all of which help to build bones, preserve bone density, and improve overall bone health. Copper keeps bones healthy and protects them from cracking or causing osteoporosis. Magnesium, like phosphorus, is important for bone protection, with some of it being used by the body to create bone structure. Vitamin K also assists in the balance of calcium, a crucial mineral in bone metabolism.
Cashews contain lutein and zeaxanthin, which help protect the eyes from harmful UV rays and free radical effects. These antioxidant pigments are present naturally in the eyes which function as a defensive shield against harmful rays, possibly reducing the likelihood of age-related macular degeneration (AMD) and cataracts.
Reduces Type 2 Diabetes
Cashews battle diabetes in two ways: the monounsaturated fats we get from them help lower bad cholesterol while raising good cholesterol, and the antioxidants in cashews help minimize inflammation, which induces insulin resistance which is the key trigger of Type 2 diabetes.
Prevents Migraine Headaches
Since magnesium helps to calm blood vessels, it can help to minimize the incidence and duration of migraine attacks. However, recent evidence indicates that cashew nuts may have the reverse effect for certain individuals, causing headaches in those who are allergic to the amino acid tyramine.
Regulates Thyroid Function
Cashews are high in selenium, a mineral that helps to maintain proper thyroid function by regulating thyroid levels and protecting thyroid tissue from oxidative stress. This is particularly significant for women, who are more vulnerable to thyroid problems.