Cashews are from the Anacardiaceae family. The name Cashew is derived from the Portuguese name of the cashew tree namely ‘caju’ which in turn derives from the indigenous Tupi name ‘acaju’. It is widely grown in tropical climates. Cashew nuts are commonly known as kaju in Hindi.
Cashews, known scientifically as Anacardium occidentale, belong to the same family as the mango and pistachio nut. Native to the coastal areas of Brazil, in the 16th century the Portuguese explorers took cashew trees from South American country and introduced them into tropical regions such as India and some African countries. Between the years of 1560 and 1565, the Portuguese had taken the cashew plant to Goa, India from here it spread throughout Southeast Asia and eventually Africa. The cashew tree has always been a prized resource owing to its precious wood, cashew balm and cashew apple, but the cashew nut itself did not gain popularity until the beginning of the 20th century. India, Brazil, Mozambique, Tanzania and Nigeria are the leading commercial producers of cashews.
The cashew 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 into the cashew apple. Within the true fruit is a single seed, the cashew nut. The nut in the culinary sense and botanical sense the nut of the cashew is a seed. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the more well known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than nuts or peanuts.
They are actually kidney-shaped seeds that adhere to the bottom of the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree. Cashews are always sold shelled because the interior of the shells contains a caustic resin, known as cashew balm, which must be carefully removed before the nuts are fit for consumption. This caustic resin is actually used in industry to make varnishes and insecticides.
The seed, kidney-shaped cashew “nut” is delicate in flavor and firm, but slightly spongy, in texture. The delicately flavored cashew nut is a favorite between meal snacks or eaten as pass time comfort snack. Its excellent nut crunchy buttery taste is a special addition to salads and stir-fry dishes. The cashew nut is a popular snack, and its rich flavor means that it is often eaten on its own, lightly salted or sugared. Cashew nuts are sold covered in chocolate.
Cashew nuts are usually used in Thai and Chinese cuisines generally in whole form and often ground in to sauces or paste used for Shahi korma or gravies and also used as garnish in Indian sweets and desserts. Cashew or Kaju paste is also found in Kerala cuisine typically used avail, a dish that contains several vegetables, grated coconut, turmeric and green chillies. Salted cashew nuts are also used as an excellent cocktail snack. Cashew nuts gained popularity in North America and Europe mainly for its succulent flavor and health benefits. Whether roasted, salted, sugared or covered in chocolate, the cashew nut are often used as a flavorful complement to appetizers, main dishes and deserts, packs a mix of nutrients and minerals not found in many common foods.
Adding Cashews to any dish is a great way to add extra zing to taste and important nutrients to your diet. Cashew Chicken, Szechwan Chicken and cashews are few are excellent Indian dishes made with cashew. There are also a variety of sweets made of cashew nut like the kaju katli, kaju burfi, cashew biscuit etc. In Goa, a special alcohol is prepared from cashew apple, which is mashed; the juice is extracted and fermented for 2-3 days. Fermented juice then undergoes a double distillation process. The resulting beverage is called feni. Feni is a popular beverage in Goa and is usually home made.
The cashew tree’s leaves and bark as well as the popular cashew apple possess herbal health benefits that include killing bacteria and germs, stopping diarrhea, drying secretions, increasing the libido, and reducing fever, blood sugar, blood pressure and body temperature, but unfortunately the byproducts of these parts of the cashew tree are not available in North America and Europe, mainly due to their highly perishable qualities.
Cashew nuts also have a fatty acid profile that contributes to good health through phytosterols, tocopherols, and sqaulene, all of which lower the risk of heart disease, combined with the nut’s zero percent cholesterol content. Even with the relatively high fat content, cashew nuts are considered to be a “low-fat” nut. In fact, cashew nuts contain less fat per serving than many other popular nuts commonly found in grocery stores and health food stores, including almonds, walnuts, peanuts and pecans.
Cashew nuts have a high energy density and high amount of dietary fiber. With no cholesterol, a rarity for such a tasty and pleasing treat, cashew nuts are a healthy fat food for heart patients. And because of their high levels of monounsaturated fatty acids, they also help support healthy levels of low good (HDL) cholesterol. The cashew nut’s high magnesium content also good for its healthy heart qualities. Magnesium also works with calcium to support healthy muscles and bones in the human body. Recent clinical trials have shows that cashews and other nuts work with a person’s lipid profile to have a beneficial effect on those with diabetes or at risk for diabetes. All nuts, including the cashew nut, have been associated with a reduced risk of gallstone disease.
Cashew nuts, like all nuts, are an excellent source of protein and fiber. They are rich in mono-unsaturated fat which may help protect the heart. Cashew nuts are also a good source of potassium, B vitamins and folate. They contain useful amounts of magnesium, phosphorous, selenium and copper. There are many health benefits one can acquire by eating cashew nuts or kaju. They are a great energizing food; helps maintain healthy gum and teeth. Cashew is rich in antioxidants that help in the elimination of free radicals that may cause some cancer.
The nutritional values per 100 g of raw cashew nuts are:
Energy: 2314 kJ (553 kcal)
Carbohydrates: 30.19 g
Sugars: 5.91 g
Dietary fiber: 3.3 g
Fat: 43.85 g
Protein: 18.22 g
Calcium: 37 mg
Iron: 6.68 mg
Magnesium: 292 mg
Phosphorus: 593 mg
Potassium: 660 mg
Zinc: 5.78 mg