Cashews are native to Brazil, like the Brazil nut. Cashews were given their botanical name because they are heart-shaped. Both the Spanish and the Italian name for cashews include the root for the heart. The cashew tree belongs to the same family as the pistachio and is as a fast-growing, evergreen perennial. It loves the tropics and in tropical heat can grow to heights of forty or fifty feet.
The cashew fruit has two distinct parts: the fleshy pear-shaped stalk or stem known as the cashew-apple, two to four inches in length and the heart-shaped nut, the true fruit, about an inch in length that is attached to the lower end of the apple. The nut, like other nuts, contains the edible kernel. The “apple” is not only edible but also delicious and rich in Vitamin C, but it is practically unknown outside of regions where cashew trees grow, as are its products like cashew apple wine.
FROM BRAZIL TO ASIA AND AFRICA
Cashew nuts, unlike the Brazil nut, have traveled well away from Brazil, and today India is one of the major producers of cashews, so much so that people think that cashews are native to India. The cashew tree likes the jungle and the tropics and, contrary to its tropical Brazilian sister the Brazil nut, the cashew loves to travel.
The ripe cashew apples are allowed to fall to the ground. They are then gathered, and the nuts are sun-dried for two days. But don’t expect to go to the store to buy cashew nuts in their shells as you would buy most other nuts to crack at home. A double shell protects the cashew kernel with the space between shells filled by a resinous liquid that has many industrial uses. In India, cashew nuts are shelled commercially by very skilled and patient people who have learned the cashew-shelling technique as a trade. In Africa and Brazil, cashews are shelled by machine. The kernel, once removed from its shell, needs further work: after drying it, its reddish-brown outer coating is peeled, either manually or mechanically. The kernels are then graded and vacuum packed for export. Most cashews are dry or oil-roasted, although raw cashews are available in some specialty stores.
THE USE OF CASHEW IN AYURVEDIC MEDICINE
Ayurveda is an ancient Indian tradition of medicine that probably originated about 600B.C. and became known for its many herbal medicines for chronic diseases. Soon after the introduction of cashew nuts to India by the Portuguese in the sixteenth century, cashew became a favorite food and healing agent of ayurvedic medicine. Cashew nuts are still considered in India to be a good stimulant, an appetizer, a rejuvenator, a hair tonic, an aphrodisiac, and a restorative of lost vigor and sexual health.