A native of the Americas, the cashew is one of the more unusual nuts we eat, for several reasons.
First, it grows on the bottom of a pear-shaped fruit called the “cashew apple,” hanging there like an afterthought, though the nut develops before the apple.
Second, the cashew is surrounded by a shell, which contains highly toxic liquid used in industry. (The cashew is cousin to poison ivy, and poison sumac and oak, as well as mango and pistachio.)
Finally, though American in origin, the cashew tree is not a primary commercial product in any American country. India, more than 7500 miles as the crow flies from Brazil, the cashew’s homeland, leads the world in production, with Mozambique and Tanzania close behind. The tree also grows in Kenya and Nigeria, as well as Malaysia and Thailand.
Both the Portuguese and the Spanish carried the cashew to their colonies in the late 1500’s, the Portuguese to Goa, India, the Spanish to the Philippines. The cashew tree is an amazingly hearty evergreen tree which thrives in the heat of the tropics. It grows wild or can be cultivated, with equal ease. Growing up to 50 feet tall, with crooked branches and a rough-barked sinuous trunk, the cashew puts forth perfumed, yellow-pink flowers.
Cashew nuts are lower in fat than most other nuts. They supply fiber as well as protein and B Vitamins. The fruit itself, not widely eaten outside of Brazil and Asia, is remarkably high in Vitamin C.