Posted on May 31, 2014
The average person rarely questions where cashews come from and this fact is proven every time we work a market. People stopping by our booth are often amazed to hear where cashews come from so we thought it would be nice to post a little background. It’s really quite interesting…
It all begins in a tropical region such as Brazil, Nigeria, India, Vietnam, Philippines and of course Indonesia. Basically any tropical country which could properly house the cashew tree. That’s right, cashews grow on a tree!
The cashew tree is a large evergreen and typically grows on a cashew farm. Once the seed is planted, it will take several years before the tree starts producing a harvest. The tree is extremely frost-sensitive, which explains why it can only be grown in certain regions of the world. The climate must be arid since an overly wet season will result in low production.
We all know what an apple tree looks like and a cashew tree isn’t very different as it too grows an apple-like fruit known as the cashew apple. It’s yellow or red in color and has a black, hook shape protruding from the bottom. This “thing” sticking out of the apple is the cashew! Not edible in it’s original form, the cashew must be carefully removed from the cashew apple and begin it’s long journey to your snack bowl.
The cashew is surrounded by a hard double shell containing an allergenic resin. This toxin is related to poison ivy and can cause a severe skin reaction. Removing this shell is very labor intensive and requires careful precision by skilled hands. Yes, every cashew is de-shelled by human hands. One by one, each cashew nut is cracked open (usually by the farmers’ wives). It’s important to wear gloves or cover the hands in chalk to protect against the allergic irritants.
After removing the outer shells, the roasting process can begin. Proper roasting destroys the toxins and must be done outdoors since the smoke released can cause severe damage to the lungs.
Going back to the cashew apple….this too has a purpose. Once the cashew is removed, the apple can be eaten as is. It’s incredibly rich in nutrients - containing 5x more vitamin C than an orange. In some countries it’s regarded as the true achievement of the cashew tree, rather than the cashew itself. Unfortunately the outer skin is super thin making it unsuitable for transport. As a result, you will never see this one-of-a-kind fruit in the United States.
The time, labor, skill and exportation involved in the harvesting and processing of cashews is what makes them more expensive than other nuts. But, this process is also what makes them so interesting and a true delicacy!