The cashew, Anacardium occidentale, technically a seed, derives its English name from the Portuguese caju. The name Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit, which looks like an upside-down heart (ana “upwards” and -cardium “heart”)
Originally native to Northeastern Brazil, the tree which is very frost sensitive is now widely grown in tropical climates for its cashew apples and nuts. The largest producing countries include Nigeria, India, Vietnam and Ivory Coast
The tree is large and evergreen, growing to 10-12m (~32 ft) tall. The fruit is a pseudocarp or false fruit. The cashew apple that appears to be the fruit or pear-shaped structure, a hypocarpium is edible, with a strong “sweet” smell and a sweet taste, although because the skin is fragile, it is unsuitable for transport.
With a lower fat content than most other nuts, approximately 75% of their fat is unsaturated fatty acids, of which 75% is oleic acid promoting good cardiovascular health.
They are a rich source of essential minerals, especially manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc – cofactors for many vital enzymes that produce antioxidants, and regulate growth and development, sperm generation and digestion.
Cashews are also rich in many essential vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamine (vitamin B-1), reducing the risk of anaemia, dermatitis and aiding metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates. A small amount of zea-xanthin present is thought to provide antioxidant and UV filtering functions and help prevent age-related macular degeneration.
Popularly roasted, salted, sugared and chocolate covered, the cashew nut, unlike other oily tree nuts, has high starch content, making it useful for thickening water-based dishes such as soups and stews.
Cashew is commonly used in Indian cuisine. The nut is used whole or ground in curries and sweets.