Cashews, with their unique, light taste, are harvested from a tree of the same name. Native to Brazil, and with the greatest production in India and Africa, they’re related to poison sumac, mangoes, and pistachios. These nuts are used in a variety of ethnic dishes and as a topping for salads and desserts. When compared to other nuts, they are lower in fat and carbohydrates.
Cashews are always shelled and roasted. The raw nut is encased in a hard shell and attached to an “apple,” which is a delicacy in itself. The shell’s interior is coated with a toxic resin – known as “cashew balm” or cardol - that is used in insecticides and industrial products. The nuts are harmless with fully developed flavor after heating.
As the #1 nut crop (surpassing almonds in 2003), cashews are produced in more than 30 countries. They are are graded by color (based on the level of roasting or drying) that will range from white to ivory to a dark brown. The largest cashews are from Brazil. India (and more recently, China and Vietnam) produce smaller nuts that are almost as sweet.
Avoid purchasing nuts in plastic bags. They won’t be as fresh as those in cans and jars. Choose dry roasted nuts for the lowest fat content.
Refrigerate to prevent rancidity. Nuts will be good for about six months when kept cold and up to a year if frozen.
- Flavor will intensify with a brief oven roasting.
- Cashews become soft when cooked. Add to heated foods just before serving or in the last few minutes of a stir-fry.
- Processing cashews with olive oil (or margarine) in a blender will turn them to “butter” and can be used as a spread.
Cashews are made up of nearly 50% fats, of which 75% is monounsaturated, or the “good” fat. Much of that is oleic acid, which is also found in olive oil. Additionally, they have no cholesterol and are an excellent source of magnesium and copper.
- Peanuts for toppings, stir-fries, and making butter.