Did you know that the cashew tree was originally native to northern South America, but now many tropical countries are now growing cashews.
Most think that cashews were indigenous to northeastern Brazil. In 1558, A. Thevet, a French scientist on an expedition to Maranhao in northern Brazil sketched the first known illustration of the cashew. It wasn't long after, that 16th century Spanish explorers began the global spread of the cashew..
Not surprisingly the cashew tree grows in abundace in the heat and humidity of the tropics. An evergreen perennial the tree has an umbrella like shape and can grow to be as tall as 40 to 50 feet given the right conditions.
Because of the tree's shape and large leaves that can be up to 8 inches in long and 4inches wide, not much sunlight can penetrate the canopy.
The tree's contorted and twisted trunk and crooked branches are in stark contrast to it's delicate aromatic yellowish pink 5 petaled flowers.
The tree produces red and yellow fruit called a cashew apple that is pretty typical of tropical fruit and has been described as having notes of mango, raw green pepper, and just a little hint of grapefruit-like citrus. But the nut that you and I enjoy actually grows outside the fruit... cool huh?
Check out the photo....
All About Cashews
The kidney-shaped nut is typically 1 1/2 inches long fully grown and hangs from the lower end of the apple.
It's a bit counter intuitive but, the Cashew nuts are the true fruit... the cashew apple, which seems to be more characteristic of a fruit is actually the swollen stalk, or peduncle, which supports the flower.
While the outer shell of the nut is free of any ridges, oily and about 1/8th of an inch thick. The inside of the shell the cashew nut is contained within a honeycombed structure.
The good stuff, the nut we love to eat is inside --- the nut kernel in it's untouched state is surrounded by a thin brownish skin and measures about 7/8ths of an inch long.
Some fun trivia --The generic name Anacardium means 'shaped like a heart.'
A Cashew tree will not bear fruit until it is 3 or 4 years old and won't reach maturity and it's full production potential until it's 7 years old.
The Cashew tree flowering season lasts two to three months after which the apple matures about two months later.
The nut develops first from the cashew flower, while the apple swells later between the nut and the stem.
The seed is surrounded by a honeycomb structured shell that containsa potent skin irritant that's in the same family as poison ivy.
Properly burning off the outer layer of the cashews destroys the toxin. This heating process is generally done outdoors because the smoke if inhaled can cause a life threatening reaction.
Once the apple has been harvested, the ripe "fruit" will spoil after only twenty four hours.
The prized cashews that we eat - that is to say the nuts, can be kept for several years if properly dried an stored.
A typical annual yield from a mature cashew tree ranges from 100 to 150 pounds of apples and nuts. But from that a cashew farmer is only able to extract 20 pounds of nuts in the shell --- which is further reduced to only approx. 5 pounds of edible cashew nuts.
Because each cashew tree has such a low yield of crop - cashews have been considered the diamonds of the nut industry.
How Cashews get to Market
The Precess is as follows:
- Shelling - removal of the outer shell and toxin
- Peeling - removal of the testa
- Grading - into different sizes and colours in accordance with standard grading
- Drying or humidifying - to a final moisture content of 5 percent
- Packing - into airtight bags or cans, depending upon the scale of operation
Once harvested, the cashews still in the shell are soaked in water - to prevent the precious inner nut from burning when the shell is removed.
Typically the nuts in shell are placed over an open flame. This both weakens the shell so that it may be removed and most importantly removes the toxin -- as described above.
The nuts are then typically sun dried on drying mats either made of bamboo, palm or on specially slatted floors designed for drying cashews.
The farmer must supervise and continually turn the nuts for several days until the nut rattles in the shell.
Ok so the nut is now dry it is then shelled - usually by hand with using special wooden mallets and pieces of bent wire. On average a worker can shell about 200 nuts per hour.
Some larger operations use mechanical shelling mechanisms. But because of the fragile kernel, the rigidity of the shell and the irregular shape of the nut, mechanical processing is difficult.
When mechanical processing is used, either compressed air is used to crack the nuts or more recently some have moved to a process where a groove is made around the circumferance of the shell - the shell is then placed in a specialized centerfuge fitted wi metal plates. The nuts are spun and cracked by centrifugal force.
Removal of the Testa
Before the thin, papery seed coat (testa) can be removed, the nut kernels must be dried.
The Cashews are dried in large ovens at a temperature of 70 °c. During the process the testa becomes dry and brittle and falls off the nut.
Traditionally, any remaining bits of testa are then removed with bamboo knives.
Modernly, larger operations use machines with electronic eyes to detect any remaining testa - which is the cleaned by hand.
Cashews, after drying are then graded by quality, size and color.
The color grading of Cashews is as follows:
- White Wholes (“W” appearance – white, pale ivory),
- Scorched Wholes (“SW” – slightly reddish) and
- Scorched Wholes Seconds (“SSW” – discolored)
Grading by size:
Whole Nuts and Split Wholes
W (whole) and SW (split wholes) are graded according to size, i.e. number of nuts kernels per Pound... So 150's are 150 kernels/lb. The smaller then number, the larger the nut.
- Colossal – W 180
- Large– W 240
- Medium– W 320
- Economy – SW 450
The grading does range and there are no restrictions on what companies call their cashews -
so one company's colossal cashews could be 210's versus our 180's (larger cashews)
Cashews broken evenly into 2 parts are cheaper than wholes. They are most often used for baking, candy bars, sweets and pastry.
Splits are crisper than wholes and sometimes preferred for that reason.
The different varieties are:
- Fancy Splits (FS)
- White halves split lengthwise
- Fancy Bults (FB)
- White halves broken crosswise
- Scorched Splits
- Scorched Bults
Cashew pieces are also used for baking, pastry, and cooking. They are favored by many confectioners and ice cream shops.
Types of Pieces
- Large White Pieces (LWP)
- Scorched Pieces (SP)
- Scorched Pieces Seconds (SPS)
Did you know?
Just about 60% of cashew kernels are consumed as salted nuts.
Because of all the work involved cashews command a higher price than most nuts.
In the snack and nut market, cashews compete with lower priced almonds, peanuts, the pistachio and even other snack items.
Cashews have become one of the most popular nuts second only to almonds.
You can enjoy them raw, roasted and salted or roasted no salt, or in a variety of candied varieties including chocolate covered and honey roasted and butter toffee.
Cashews- Nutrition And Health Benefits:
It has been long known that not only do cashews taste great but the are very healthy for you.
Cashews like most nuts are often a bit high in calories, but that's because they are loaded with the good fats---
you know the one's I'm talking about - they stick with you all day so you're less hungry and don't feel the need to eat as much at meal times.
So lets dig into all the good stuff that cashews are chalk full of...
Cashews are high in calories- there's no denying it. 100 g of nuts depending if they are raw, roasted, or roasted and salted - typically contain 553 calories.
Now here's the good news - cashews are packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals. On top of that studies show that the health-promoting phyto-chemicals help prevent cancer and other serious illnesses.
Some Cashews every day keep the doctor away!
Rich in heart healthy monounsaturated fatty acids like oleic and palmitoleic acids- eating the a serving of cashews may well help lower the bad LDL cholesterol and increase good HDL cholesterol.
Translation - cashews, as studies show, may well help prevent heart attacks and strokes!
Cashews contain copious amounts of your daily dietary mineral requirements-
You'll find the following Minerals in your cashews: Manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc and selenium.
How many cashews should you eat a day?
A handful of cashew nuts a day will do it!
It's a rough estimate- but one we can all relate to... with one handful you get all the health benefits while not overdoing it.
Cashews - Vitamins and Minerals a further look.
The micronutrient Selenium is a co-factor for antioxidant enzymes such as Glutathione peroxidases - an exceeding important antioxidant.
Copper manganese and zinc are cofactors for many crucial enzymes, ex. cytochrome c-oxidase and superoxide dismutase.
Zinc is a co-factor in many enzymes that regulate growth and development, sperm generation, digestion and nucleic acid synthesis.
---It's all fancy talk for: "They're really good for you!"
Cashews are also rich in many essential vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B-1).
These particular vitamins are essential in to metabolize proteins, fats, and carbohydrates at cellular levels.
And not least of all- they contain a small amount of Zea-xanthin, an important flavonoid antioxidant, which is thought to have antioxidant and protective UV ray filtering properties that help prevent age related macular degeneration (ARMD) in the elderly.
I don't know about you but i like my eyesight :) and plan to keep it sharp and clear!
If you're still curious after all this info - although we tried to do a pretty comprehensive job of covering the various topics-
check out this cashews wiki
So give some cashews a try today!