The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple.
It can grow as high as 14 meters (46 ft), but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 meters (20 ft), has proved more profitable, with earlier maturity and higher yields.
The cashew seed is served as a snack or used in recipes, like other nuts, although it is actually a seed. The cashew apple is a light reddish to yellow fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.
The shell of the cashew seed yields derivatives that can be used in many applications from lubricants to paints, and other parts of the tree have traditionally been used for snake-bites and other folk remedies.
Originally native to northeastern Brazil, the tree is now widely grown in tropical regions, India and Nigeria being major producers, in addition to Vietnam, the Ivory Coast, Pakistan and Indonesia.
The cashew tree is large and evergreen, growing to 10-12 m (~32 ft) tall, with a short, often irregularly shaped trunk. The leaves are spirally arranged, leathery textured, elliptic to obviate, 4 to 22 cm long and 2 to 15 cm broad, with smooth margins. The flowers are produced in a panicle or corymbs up to 26 cm long; each flower is small, pale green at first, then turning reddish, with five slender, acute petals 7 to 15 mm long. The largest cashew tree in the world covers an area of about 7,500 square meters (81,000 sq ft), it is located in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.
The fruit of the cashew tree is an accessory fruit (sometimes called a pseudocarp or false fruit). What appears to be the fruit is an oval or pear-shaped structure, a hypocarpium, that develops from the pedicel and the receptacle of the cashew flower. Called the cashew apple, better known in Central America as maranon, it ripens into a yellow and/or red structure about 5–11 cm long. It is edible, and has a strong "sweet" smell and a sweet taste. The pulp of the cashew apple is very juicy, but the skin is fragile, making it unsuitable for transport. In Latin America, a fruit drink is made from the cashew apple pulp which has a very refreshing taste and tropical flavor that can be described as having notes of mango, raw green pepper, and just a little hint of grapefruit-like citrus.
The true fruit of the cashew tree is a kidney or boxing-glove shaped drupe that grows at the end of the cashew apple. The drupe develops first on the tree, and then the pedicel expands to become the cashew apple. Within the true fruit is a single seed, the cashew nut. Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense the nut of the cashew is a seed. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolicresin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the better-known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke (not unlike that from burning poison ivy) contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, reactions by irritating the lungs. People who are allergic to cashew (or poison ivy) urushiols may cross-react to mango or pistachio which are also in the Anacardiaceae family. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than other nuts or peanuts.
Cashews are not actually nuts but seeds. They are a popular snack and food source. Cashews, unlike oily tree nuts, contain starch to about 10% of their weight. This makes them more effective than nuts in thickening water-based dishes such as soups, meat stews, and some Indian milk-based desserts. Many Southeast Asian cuisines use cashews for this unusual characteristic, rather than other nuts.
The shell of the cashew nut is toxic, which is why the nut is never sold in the shell to consumers. Cashew nuts are commonly used in Indian cuisine, whole for garnishing sweets or curries, or ground into a paste that forms a base of sauces for curries (e.g., korma), or some sweets (e.g., kaju barfi). It is also used in powdered form in the preparation of several Indian sweets and desserts. In Goan cuisine, both roasted and raw kernels are used whole for making curries and sweets.
The cashew nut can also be harvested in its tender form, when the shell has not hardened and is green in color. The shell is soft and can be cut with a knife and the kernel extracted, but it is still corrosive at this stage, so gloves are required. The kernel can be soaked in turmeric water to get rid of the corrosive material before use. Cashew nuts are also used in Thai and Chinese cuisine, generally in whole form.
In the Philippines, cashew is a known product of Antipolo, and is eaten with suman. Pampanga also has a sweet dessert called turrones de casuy, which is cashew marzipan wrapped in white wafers.
In Indonesia, roasted and salted cashew nut is called kacang mete or kacang mede, while the cashew apple is called jambu monyet (literally means monkey rose apple).
In Mozambique, bolo polana is a cake prepared using powdered cashews and mashed potatoes as the main ingredients. This dessert is popular in South Africa, too.
South American countries have developed their own specialties. In Brazil, the cashew fruit juice is popular all across the country. In Panama, the cashew fruit is cooked with water and sugar for a prolonged time to make a sweet, brown, paste-like dessert called dulce de maranon. Maranon is one of the Spanish names for cashew.
Cashew nuts are produced in tropical countries because the tree is very frost sensitive; they have been adapted to various climatic regions around the world between the latitudes of 250N and 250S. The traditional cashew tree is tall (up to 14 m) and takes three years from planting before it starts production, and eight years before economic harvests can begin. More recent breeds, such as the dwarf cashew trees, are up to 6 m tall, and start producing after the first year, with economic yields after three years. The cashew nut yields for the traditional tree are about 0.25 metric tons per hectare, in contrast to over a ton per hectare for the dwarf variety. Grafting and other modern tree management technologies are used to further improve and sustain cashew nut yields in commercial orchards.
Vietnam was the world's largest producer of cashew nuts with shell in 2012. Cashew nut production trends have varied over the decades. African countries used to be the major producers before the 1980s, India became the largest producer in the 1990s, followed by Vietnam which became the largest producer in the mid-2000s. In 2008, Nigeria had become the largest producer. As of 2014 though, the rapid growth of the culture in Cote d'Ivoire made this country the first African producer, first global exporter and second world producer after India. Peru reported the world's highest production yields for cashew nuts in 2012, at 5.11 metric tons per hectare, nearly nine times the world average.
Fluctuations in world market prices for cashew nuts have been a source of discontent for communities in Tanzania which grow the nut as a cash crop; reduced payments in April 2013 sparked serious rioting in Liwale District in the south of the country.
Nutrition: The fats and oils in cashew nuts are 62% monounsaturated fat, 18% polyunsaturated fat, and 21% saturated fat (9% palmitic acid (16:0) and 7% stearic acid (18:0))
Cashews, as with other tree nuts, are a good source of antioxidants. Alkyl phenols, in particular, are abundant in cashews. Cashews are also a source of dietary trace minerals copper, manganese, magnesium and phosphorus.
For some people, cashews, like other tree nuts, can lead to complications or allergic reactions. Cashews contain gastric and intestinal soluble oxalates, albeit less than some other tree nuts; people with a tendency to form kidney stones may need moderation and medical guidance. Allergies to tree nuts such as cashews can be of severe nature to some people. These allergic reactions can be life-threatening or even fatal; prompt medical attention is necessary if tree nut allergy reaction is observed. These allergies are triggered by the proteins found in tree nuts, and cooking often does not remove or change these proteins. Reactions to cashew and other tree nuts can also occur as a consequence of hidden nut ingredients or traces of nuts that may inadvertently be introduced during food processing, handling or manufacturing. Many nations require food label warning if the food may get inadvertent exposure to tree nuts such as cashews. Individuals with IgE-mediated allergy to cashews are highly likely to be sensitized to the botanically related pistachio nut.
In some people, cashew nut allergy may be a different form, namely birch pollen allergy. This is usually a minor form. Symptoms are confined largely to the mouth.
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