How Cashews Grow
The Cashew Apple
Can you recognize this fruit in the picture to the right? Would it surprise you to know that you have probably eaten this before but not recognized it? It is a cashew nut. The part at the top is called the cashew apple. This is a juicy fibrous fruit that is eaten locally either like an apple, juiced, or cooked into a dessert. The nut is hanging off the bottom of this fruit in a protective outer shell.
Here on our farm, in northern Brazil, we have several types of cashew trees. We have dwarf trees and full-size trees with fruit that is either yellow or red. The cashew nuts they produce also vary in size, the most valuable being the larger ones. The smaller ones are either sold locally or ground into cashew flour or sold as broken nuts by local street vendors. The cashew tree is native to this area of Brazil and it is common to see them growing wild in scrubland near the roads. The local people will toss a twig up to a ripe cashew fruit to knock it down to eat. This technique is also employed during the mango season as well.
Raw Cashew Nuts
There are many places that sell what they are calling raw cashews. The problem is, all have been steamed or boiled. So if you are buying packages of raw cashews you are being conned. If you doubt this, plant one and see if it grows.
The reason for this is there is a strong acid inside the cashew shell. This prevents anyone from opening the nut without them first cooking it. Even if you have heard of raw cashew nuts, this is not true. All the nuts have to be cooked in order to open the shell and release the acid. So raw cashews are in fact heated if not roasted. I have seen the resulting burn of the acid in the cashew nut on the arm of my young neighbor. She was about 10 when it happened and It was very painful for her.
Traditionally Prepared Cashew Nuts
When we had our first harvest of cashew nuts, shortly after arriving in Brazil, I was petrified at the way they were prepared. Being a native Californian, I have had the possibility of forest fires ingrained into me from a young age. Seeing how traditional roasting of cashews was done here on a parched lawn with dry looking palm trees nearby had me worried. Coupled with a gusty day I envisioned the whole farm catching alight.
Our gardener began by washing out a 25-liter paint can and piercing holes in it. Then he began to build a fire quite close to the house and just explained they had always done it this way. The next thing I knew there was a roaring (albeit small) fire burning uncomfortably close-by. The cashews were spitting hot acid and the gardener just kept stirring explaining that everything was under control.
Below is a video of how this process is done. It also shows how to make caldo do caju. This is stewed cashew fruits cooked with water and sugar. This is also commercially available to buy here in Brazil. I hope you enjoy the video.
The price of cashews varies from year to year depending on the harvest. It is roughly about R$3.00 per kilo (Brazilian Real) which is the equivalent of a $1.00 per kilo or about 50¢ a pound. This is the price I was paid by a local buyer. I collect them and remove the nut from the fruit. Some twist off easily, others need either fishing line or wire to quickly separate the nut and fruit. I wear gloves otherwise my hands will get discolored. The juice will stain clothing, countertops and even the sink. After removing the nut, I place them in the sun until they dry a bit, and then I bag them ready to go to the buyer. I normally wait until I have 15 to 20 kilos. My local buyer, who happens to be a shopkeeper close by, has a roomful of cashews waiting to go to the factory in Fortaleza, about 65 kilometers away.
Here we also eat the fruit. I will eat this straight from the tree or place this in my juicer. It is a very juicy fruit. It does take some getting used to. It leaves a dry almost astringent taste in your mouth. The juice is akin to cloudy apple juice. This can also be bought in those small drink boxes with the straws attached. Although I have seen the cashew fruit for sale locally, I don't believe it travels well because it can be easily bruised. I was shown how to eat this by my young neighbor. The trick is to lean forward so the juice doesn't hit your clothes because it will stain.
Below I have selected another video for you from Ghana. This is processing of the nuts and the fruit, this type of activity goes on here as well. It is labor intensive.
Nutritional value of cashews
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
© 2012 Mary Wickison