Sunday, October 11, 2009

Cashew, the nutty nut

In the 16thc CE when the Portuguese found the tree with twisted and bent trunks and branches and a strange kind of fruit in Brazil, they called it caju. That became ‘cashew’ in English and cashew became one of the most favourite edible nuts in the world. The official name of the tree which grows to a height of around 30ft, is Anacardium occidentale.

The Portuguese planted the cashew tree in Africa as well and from there it spread to different parts of the tropics. To day India controls a major portion of the cashew nut trade, but the bulk of the raw material supply is imported from Africa. The process of cracking the shell of the nut and extracting the kernel without breakage is mostly done manually and requires certain expertise in which the women of Kerala, India excel.

The nut of this tree is a bit of a nutty business. What is called ‘cashew apple’ (and is commonly believed to be the fruit of the tree) is actually a false fruit. It is a developed part of the receptacle of the flower of a cashew tree. The real fruit is the kidney shaped drupe that is found on the bottom end of the cashew apple. It is the kernel inside it that is the most valuable part of the cashew tree, ‘the cashew nut’.

Cashew nut is world famous as a cocktails and any time snack. It is also popular in confectionary and baking and in different cuisines. It is supposed to be a health food. Cashew nuts are usually available in salted and roasted packing. Those who wish to avoid salt can buy un-roasted nuts and roast them without salt if so desired.

Roasted cashew nuts.

Un-roasted cashew nuts

In cooking the nuts are some times used whole, sometimes broken and in certain cases, ground. One point to note here – the grading, and therefore pricing, of cashew nuts are based on size and colour. Except when whole nut is a must, cheaper broken nuts which are available in the market would suffice for culinary purposes.

Incidentally, among the Christians of Kerala there is a tender cashew nut curry which is made only on Good Friday. I have written about it in my post Memories: Passion Week, half a century back . Also suitable for the Indian palate is tender cashew nuts sautéed with onions and spices. The nut is taken when it is a little above this age:

The cashew apple (marañón) though it looks very attractive, has a strange taste which some people do not like. Still squashes and wines are made from it in different countries. The best use is to make a potent alcoholic drink called ‘Feni’ with it as the Goans do. When you get a chance, ask a Goan about Feni.

A liquid which contains anacardic acids is extracted from the shell of the cashew nuts – cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL). This is effective against gram-positive bacteria. Some parts of the cashew tree are also used in tribal medicine.

Cashew cultivation can be profitable with the new hybrid varieties .

Photos: Top left and second last from Wikimedia Commons. The rest TP/AT.

Click on photos to enlarge.


Kamini said...

Thanks for this informative post on my favorite nut, the cashew. I've never seen such close up pictures, which were very interesting to see.
I remember once tasting Feni in Goa - and almost choking on it!

Maddy said...

that was total coincidence, i just posted a blog on exactly the same topic!!

PN Subramanian said...

Short and sweet intro. Do we have odorless Feni

Jothish said...

Memories of my childhood vacation, includes collecting the fruit (Kashumanga) form cashew tree and devouring its juice, trying not to stain the dress, also frying the nuts in old clay pots and extracting the roasted nuts. But nowadays I don't see many trees in the 'parambu' when I visit my grand parents house. :(

Abraham Tharakan said...

Kamini, I am happy that you liked the post. Feni has done that to many people!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Maddy, that's incredible. No harm done though. I think our posts compliment each other.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Thank you PN Subramanian. I think they have not yet managed to make odorless caju Feni. A pity.

Abraham Tharakan said...

Jothish, thank you for the comment. Many people in Kerala have cut down cashew trees because they occupy much space and there is hardly any worthwhile income.

Sunita said...

Great post! And very informative.
The villagers here burn the shell of the cashewnut to drive away mosquitos. It's supposed to be more effective than the smoke / scent of anything else according to them.
Incidentally, the oil from the cashewnut shell is also supposed to be a very effective anti-termite chemical. I dont know about that but I do know that a bit of it when it comes in contact with skin can burn like hell!

Abraham Tharakan said...

Sunita, thank you for the informative comment.

? said...

Brought back a lot of memories; we loved the juice both fresh and chilled.