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How Cashews Grow

Living on a farm in Brazil, I've gained local in-depth knowledge of food, plants, and traditions, which I share through my articles.

cashew nut

cashew nut

The Cashew Apple

Can you recognize this fruit in the picture above? Would it surprise you to know that you have probably eaten this before but not recognized it? It's 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 both dwarf 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 scrub land near the roads. The locals will toss a twig up to a ripe cashew fruit to knock it down to eat. They will also do this to gather the nuts to sell.

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 and wasting your money. 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 in 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 rather 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.

Cashew Prices

The price of cashews varies from year to year, depending on the harvest. It is about R$3.00 per kilo (Brazilian Real), equivalent to $1.00 per kilo or about 50¢ a pound. I collect them and remove the nut from the fruit. Some twist off easily, others I need either fishing line or wire to separate the nut from the fruit. I wear gloves to prevent my hands from becoming discolored. The juice will stain clothing, countertops, and even the sink. After removing the nut, I place them in the sun until they dry, then I bag them, ready to go to the buyer. I 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 70 kilometers away.
Here we also eat the cashew apple. I will eat this straight from the tree or use my juicer. It does take some getting used to, as it leaves a dry, almost astringent taste in your mouth. Although the cashew fruit is for sale locally, it's thin skin means it doesn't travel well. My neighbor showed me how to eat the fruit to avoid the juice staining my clothing. Occasionally I have seen the fruit frozen for sale, but most people prefer it fresh.
Below, I have selected a video from Ghana that shows how the nuts and the fruit are processed locally. It's labor-intensive and is one of the reasons why cashews are expensive.


Nutritional value of cashews

Energy2314kj

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)

Carbohydrates

30.19 g

Starch

23.49 g

Sugars

5.91 g

Dietary fiber

3.3 g

Fat

43.85 g

saturated

7.78 g

monounsaturated

23.8 g

polyunsaturated

7.85 g

Protein

18.22 g

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

Questions & Answers

Question: Did you grow the dwarf cashew from a seed, is that possible?

Answer: All of our cashew trees were here when we moved in. Now, let me tell you about growing cashews. Yes, you can grow them from the seed (the nut). Often if I haven't picked them up, they begin sprouting and I get small cashew plants scattered over the lawn. These get pulled out.

Now for the rest of the story! If you are in a country that doesn't have cashew trees growing you may be thinking that you can plant a nut and it will grow. It won't, they have been heat treated. Even bags of nuts claiming to be raw cashews won't. From my research there are only a handful of people who can extract the nut without heat treating in some way, either boiling or roasting it. The acid that surrounds the nut inside the shell is dangerous.

If you go to a health food shop and a bag says 'raw cashews' buy it and plant one. If it sprouts, I will be surprised.

© 2012 Mary Wickison

Comments

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on November 08, 2019:

Hi Pamela,

I'm glad you enjoyed it. Unfortunately I can't eat the ones we produce. I have had an allergic reaction three times and the doctor said it would become worse.

The last time I had to go to A & E so I won't be eating or preparing any more. For picking them up and removing the fruit, I will wear gloves.

Whether it is the acid, or something in the soil, I don't know. I can eat ones purchased in a store with no problems.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on November 08, 2019:

I had no idea cashews were so much work due to the acid. I love cashews, but they are expensive here. Thanks for such a good article explaining how you get to the good cashew to eat. The video was informative also.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on May 14, 2019:

I have just looked on eBay and there are sellers who ship worldwide. However, before you purchase anything of an agricultural nature, you should check with USDA and US customs. I suspect it will not be allowed into the country. The reason for this is that the USA can't take the risk of allowing plants that may carry bacteria, insects, or become an invasive plant.

Do your research first, as there is the potential that if you attempted to import it, it would be seized and destroyed. You might also be fined.

Bjbhappywife on May 13, 2019:

Can this tree be boughtand grown in the U.S.?

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on August 09, 2018:

It's not that easy to answer because they come in different sizes. We have some that are small and others that are almost 3 times the size. We get paid the same price for both.

They will get sorted at the factory and the small ones will be made into cashew flour or chopped and bagged up for sale.

The larger ones are the more expensive ones and those are kept whole. Some are for the domestic market and others for export. There is a processing plant about 70km from where we live.

SHIBLY on August 08, 2018:

how many nuts are there in a kilo of cashew?

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on June 27, 2018:

Hi Steven,

Here on our farm, we have red and yellow. Sometimes they can be as big as 4 inches and quite chunky. Some are sweet and can be eaten like an apple or juiced. There are also some which are acidic and those people slice and put inside fish before baking.

Steven on June 26, 2018:

Thats a very red cashew.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 09, 2017:

Hi Ev,

Yes, now you know why they cost so much. Although the ones produced in a factory are sometimes boiled, that acid has to come out and is so dangerous.

A couple seasons ago, my husband and I roasted some as in the first video. After handling them, I came out in a rash and had to go to the emergency room. The doctor told me, not to eat any more cashews which are prepared at home. I had developed an allergy and she said each time it would get worse. As it was, my face and neck were swollen and I had a rash over most of my body.

I love cashews, and she told me, those produced in a factory should be okay.

I think the reaction I had was not to the nut but to the chemical surrounding the nut. It was absorbed through my skin when we were cracking them out of the shell.

This season the price of the raw cashew nut for me to sell is R$3.00 (Brazilian real) about $1.00 (US) per kilo. Once prepared for sale, they are $R65 ($22). A kilo is 2.2 lbs. That is the price here, I don't know what they are going for in the US.

Ev from Northeast Ohio on September 09, 2017:

I was one of those put off by the price of cashews, but never again! Thanks for the info!

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 07, 2012:

I am a native Californian and although I love almonds which are grown there cashews were always my favorites. I wonder if I was destined to live here?

This year we are having the worst drought since 1974 in the state of Ceará where I live. Cashews love it though, this should be a bumper crop this year.

Wonderful to hear from you.

Brian Leekley from Bainbridge Island, Washington, USA on October 06, 2012:

This is interesting information. I like learning about life in other countries and about what foods are grown and eaten locally. Up, Useful, Interesting, and shared with followers and on social networking sites.

Coincidentally, my wife and I just recently bought and enjoyed a can of shelled, roasted, salted cashew nuts, probably I guess from Brazil, here in Kalamazoo, Michigan, USA.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 02, 2012:

Hello Rajan,

I am pleased you enjoyed the hub.

I think cashews are expensive to buy everywhere, even here where they are grown. I only make a small amount when I sell them. Then they go to be processed, and finally into the shops. I buy them for about R$16 a kilo.

The fruit is so aromatic, and it is said locally that the cashew tree has 3 smells. Often I think it smells of honeysuckle.

Always a pleasure to hear from you. Thanks for the comment.

Rajan Singh Jolly from From Mumbai, presently in Jalandhar, INDIA. on October 02, 2012:

Hi Blond,

Very interesting information on cashews. Though I eat cashews, I have never tasted the cashew fruit as it does grow around the place I live. Interesting and educative videos.

Cashews are dirt cheap there. Here we get 1 kilo for the equivalent of about 30 R$ in retail.

Voted up and interesting.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on October 01, 2012:

Hello Melvoy,

It is a labor intensive process. After a season of just picking ours up, I walk around like Quasimoto.

Thanks for taking the time to comment.

Yvonne Spence from UK on October 01, 2012:

This is very interesting. My family loves cashews, but I had no idea we were not eating raw ones! It sounds like it takes a fair amount of work to pick and bag cashews. I'm surprised how cheap they are, having read this hub.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 06, 2012:

Hello Teaches12345,

I'm with your husband on that one. They are my favorites as well.

Great to hear from you.

Dianna Mendez on September 06, 2012:

My hubby prefers this nut over all others. Thanks for the background on the cashew and the nutritional value information. Good to know.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 06, 2012:

Hello Flashmakeit,

Here on our small farm, we have coconuts, mangoes, cashews, bananas, passion fruit and various fruits I had never seen before arriving in Brazil.

I am glad you enjoyed the hub. As always, a pleasure to hear from you.

flashmakeit from usa on September 06, 2012:

That is a treat to be able to go on your property and eat some tasty cashews. I enjoyed the hub and the videos that went with this article.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 06, 2012:

Hi Andromida,

Unless you had seen it, you wouldn't. When I first saw one, I was surprised. I always assumed they grew like walnuts or almonds.

Thanks for stopping by.

syras mamun on September 06, 2012:

Before reading y0ur hub I had no idea how a cashews tree look like and even not knowing that there are cashew fruits also. A great hub.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 06, 2012:

Hello Nettlemere,

I am pleased you found the hub informative.

I imagine the first people to try it were the native tribes of Brazil. I am still astounded to find that people here know so many native and wild plants and the various uses.

Nettlemere from Burnley, Lancashire, UK on September 06, 2012:

Very informative - I had absolutely no idea that the cashew was such an extraordinary type of nut. It makes me wonder how on earth people discovered it was edible at all what with the acid in there.

Mary Wickison (author) from Brazil on September 06, 2012:

Hi Mhatter99,

I have also and it is impossible. They were always my favorite and now I am surrounded by the trees.

Thanks for you comment.

Martin Kloess from San Francisco on September 05, 2012:

Thank you for this. I am a cashew nut nut, Ever tried to eat just one. I have... many times. :))