The cashew nuts originated in Brazil but has now made its way to many countries, especially India. It grows on very tall evergreen trees where the nut hangs at the bottom of large juicy apples. The cashew apple is a light red or yellowish fruit. Cashews are now extensively cultivated in India, Africa and Vietnam.
Our food enthusiast Priya, who is also a mother, superb cook and blogger at Simple Delectables dishes out all the dope on one of our favourite nuts, or are they? let’s find out.
Cashews are an intriguing food, for do they come in the category of legumes or nuts is questionable. Like legumes, they split in half but they are not actually legumes. They look like a nut and grow on trees but they are not tree nuts, additionally the cashew apple is not a real fruit. Cashews cannot be classified as nuts, as nuts are defined as fruits composed of a hard shell and a seed which is generally edible and the hard shell must not open by itself to release the seed. Some true nuts are hazelnuts, chestnuts and acorns.
So where do they really fit in?
Cashews basically belong to a food group called drupes. Now you may be wondering what drupes are, right? Well, simply put, drupes are stone fruits. They have a soft fleshy exterior and a pit with a seed inside. Other fruits in this category are peaches, cherries and plums. But cashews are again an oddity here as well, as
the seed is outside the fruit.
The botany of Cashew Nuts
The cashew, Anacardium occidentale , belongs to the Anacardiacae family. The mango tree and the pistachio tree also belong to the same family. The cashew tree is an evergreen tree which attains a height of about 40-50 feet. It produces both a fruit and a nut and a valuable oil can be extracted from the nut shell. After the cashew flower blooms, a nut forms and then the cashew apple swells between the nut shell and the stem. The actual nut is the thick shelled seed. The outer shell of the seed contains the poison oak allergen urushiol and may cause dermatitis in hypersensitive people.
Inside the shell layer of the cashew, there is a toxic resin. If the shell is not opened properly, the resin will get on to the nut and make it inedible. Hence, cashews are mostly steamed with the shell open at high temperatures, thereby cooking the cashew nut inside, therefore, commercially available cashews are not strictly raw. The truly raw cashews are more sweet, nutritious and tastier than their cooked counterparts.
Health benefits of Cashew Nuts
- Cashew nuts are a healthy snack. However as they are dense in calories, they should be consumed in a moderate amount. A fistful daily as a part of a low fat diet reaps maximum benefits without causing any adverse effects. Cashews reduce the LDL cholesterol and increase the HDL i.e. good cholesterol levels. Thus having a beneficial effect on the heart. A study published in the New England Journal of Medicine states that cashew nuts may have anti carcinogenic, cardioprotective and anti-inflammatory properties.
- Cashew nuts are a good source of copper which helps in removing free radicals from the body. Copper deficiency can also cause iron deficiency leading to anemia. Hence cashew nuts help in preventing anemia as well.
- Cashew nuts are the source of a powerful antioxidant pigment known as Zea xanthin. This pigment is absorbed by the retina and protects it from harmful UV rays, thus helping in preventing age related macular degeneration in the elderly.
- Cashew nuts are rich in selenium and also contain other minerals like zinc, phosphorous and magnesium, thus having an anti-ageing effect on the skin.
- Cashew nuts are rich in omega fatty acids which help in the burning the excess fat by stimulating the metabolism of the body, however this benefit is seen especially in raw and unsalted nuts.
- Cashew nuts are rich in dietary fibers, especially oleic acid and palmitic acid. This helps in digesting food better and hence maintaining a robust digestive system.
- Consumption of cashews as well as application of cashew oil can help in developing shiny lustrous hair as it contains linoleic and linolenic acids.
Different ways of using cashew nuts in food
- In India cashews are soaked and ground to a fine paste and used in curries and gravies to lend a richness and thickness to the same. It is also used as a garnish in various desserts.
- In Pampanga (Phillipines), cashew marzipan wrapped in white wafers is a popular dessert.
- In Mozambique, Bolo Palana is a cake made by using powdered cashews and mashed potatoes.
- You can grind cashews and mix with water to form a cream cheese like substance which can be spread on pizzas. It can also be used as a cake icing. Cashews can be stuffed into dates and had as a healthy snack too.
The fruit of the cashew tree is known as a cashew apple. It has a strong astringent taste when raw, once ripened, it has a strong sweet smell and a sweet taste. It tastes like a mixture of mango and orange with a hint of persimmon. It is full of nutrients and has five times the vitamin C found in an orange. It is a very fragile fruit and spoils very quickly when ripe hence has to be consumed immediately. It is deep orange or red in colour when ripe.
Cashew apple can be eaten fresh, used in curries or fermented into vinegar or an alcoholic drink. In India and Brazil, it is also used to make preserves, jams and chutneys.
Cashew Feni is a type of alcoholic beverage made exclusively in Goa, India. It is classified as country liquor and hence cannot be made elsewhere. It is made by stomping and crushing the cashew apples. The juice thus procured is allowed to ferment for 3-4 days. Artificial nutrients or yeast are not added to hasten the fermenting process.
Cashew Feni can be drunk either over ice or mixed with cocktails or juices.
Cashew milk is being developed now as an alternative to dairy milk. To make cashew milk, soak a few cashews in water for a few hours, rinse them and blend them in a blender with water. Then strain the liquid pulp to obtain fresh cashew milk. It is healthy and can be used as an effective alternative for people who are vegan or allergic to dairy products. It is wholesome and nutritious and can be added to ice-creams, smoothies, cereal, soups and salad dressings.
Cashew oil, is a dark yellow oil obtained from cashew nuts. The nuts are first shelled and dried, the skins are then removed and the nuts are pressed to obtain the oil. It is a long process as most of it has to be done by hand. Cashew oil is rich in vitamins A, D and E and also contains proteins and fatty acids.
This oil can be used for cooking as well and is also used in the manufacture of cosmetic creams, this is because it contains an abundance of vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids which have anti-ageing properties.
Thus, cashews have a myriad of uses and benefits. So why don’t you grab your fistful today?
1. Roasted Cashews Recipe: These Homestyle Paprika and Black Pepper Roasted Cashews are a quick snack idea when you just want grab something on the run.
2. Cashew Delight Recipe: An easy to make festive recipe that tastes delicious. Creamy rice pudding replete with the richness of milk, almonds and cashew. Make any special occasion memorable with this dessert.
3. Mushrooms in a Cashew Nut Gravy Recipe: A delicious creamy Mughlai gravy made with button mushroom, spices, saffron and cream. The addition of almonds into the curry along with roasted mushrooms and spices, brings out a very festive feel to this dish.
4. Cashew Chicken Recipe: Chicken simmered in a mild yogurt and cashew gravy.
- Nutritional value: In a 100 gram serving, cashews provide: 553 calories, 44 g fat, sodium 12 mg, potassium 660 mg, carbohydrate 30 g, protein 18 g. They also contain traces of various vitamins and minerals.
- 7 Incredible cashew nut benefits- From heart health to gorgeous hair. Simran Kapur. NDTV Food
- Paleo flourish. Are Cashews Nuts, Legumes or Drupes? By Louise Hendon
- Cashew milk benefits and used by Laurel Moll. Vitamix
- Living and Raw foods. Raw cashew nuts – Are they really raw? By John Kohler
- Health benefits of cashew nut oil. HealthBenefitstimes.com
So friends, we hope that you have received some new and useful information on your favourite and versatile nut – the cashew.
If you liked what you read please leave a comment below telling us that you did, and also if you would like to read more such informative and interesting food related articles, here at Plattershare.
About the author: Priya is a food enthusiast who loves to try out as well as cook a myriad variety of dishes. Cooking an own improvised version of regular dishes is one of her passions. Learning about different cuisines and finding their common points is what excites her. Nowadays her infant son is the latest sampler of her cooking experiments. Her mother is a great cook and she draws her love for food from her.