I love cashews, but, honestly, I never thought about how they grow, until my neighbor reached into the back of his produce-filled pickup truck and handed me an unusual gala apple-colored fruit with a little black nose sticking out of the top. The cashew apple is actually not considered a true fruit, but a pseudofruit. Of course, even after taking a bite, cashews didn’t immediately come to mind. When my neighbor told me that in some parts of the world people only eat the nuts, it became obvious that the little black nose was actually more cashew-shaped.
Cashew trees, Anarcardium occidentale, are native to Brazil and belong to the Anarcardiaceae (Sumac) family. Other well-known members of this family are the pistachio and mango. The word cashew is derived from the Brazilian Tupian language’s word for the plant, acajú. The Portuguese call it caju. In the 16th century, the Portuguese introduced the cashew tree from their Brazilian outpost to Mozambique and India to control erosion. The cashew’s commercial value wasn’t realized until the 19th century, when it started being planted in various tropical regions, including other parts of South America. More than 90% of the world’s cashew supply comes from Vietnam, Nigeria, India and Brazil. The United States, Netherlands and Germany are the primary cashew nut importers.
In Ecuador and Central America, the cashew apple, marañon in Spanish, is squeezed for juice or eaten fresh. In the El Salvadorian kitchen, it is commonly used in salads mixed with other fruits, such as apples and mamey. Generally, the seed (cashew nut) is discarded. In the United States and Europe, cashew nuts are commonly served alone, roasted and salted, as a tasty snack. In Thai cuisine, cashews are added to chicken and the Indian cultures mix cashews into salads, vegetables and lamb dishes. The cashew apple, which reminds me a bit of a persimmon, is also delicious, but the nuts are still my favorite.