Close Up: Cashews

A closer look at this popular, crescent-shaped nut.

When the cashew fruit and nut are ripe, they are harvested largely by hand, which accounts in part for their elevated price. Then the nut must be separated from the apple and processed in a very specific way, as the cashew nut is not ready to eat as-is. “The weirdest thing about cashews is you never see them in the shell,” says Ken Albala, author of “Nuts: A Global History.” This is because without careful treatment, the toxic shell will cause skin irritations. Luckily, proper roasting removes all traces of the toxin.

‘The weirdest thing about cashews is you never see them in the shell.’

Though originating in Brazil, the cashew plant traveled the world with Portuguese colonizers, reaching Western Africa, India and Southeast Asia. Today, the largest producers are Nigeria and India, while Brazil comes in at sixth.

The nut itself is high in oil, making it a great nut for butter. The juicy cashew apple, while not frequently available in the U.S., is consumed in regions where it is grown, and often made into jam – or alcohol. (It is a great source of protein for those looking to eat less meat.) In Goa, the apple is double distilled to make a popular 84 proof alcohol called “feni.” Cashews also contain proanthocyanidins, a type of flavanol, which has been linked with slowing the growth of cancer cells. All of that, stuck on the bottom of a fruit!

Photograph: Sambaphoto/flavio Coelho/ Getty Images.

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