Cashew, monkey nut, noix d’acajou (French), Elefantenlaus (German), noce d’anacardo (Italian), nuez de anacardo (Spanish), caju (Portuguese), gajus/kajus (Malay), jambu monyet (Indonesian), kaju (Hindi), hijli badam (Bengali), mundiri paruppu (Tamil), mamuang himmaphaan (Thai), kasoy (Philippines), acaju (Tupi – Brazil)
(Anacardium occidentale family Anacardiaceae [Coryaceae])
Caution: The cashew is related to the poison sumac, so those who are sensitive to that plant may develop some reactions to the cashew (as well as to mangos or pistachios). Cashew nuts should always be heated (or roasted) to destroy the toxin. Care must be taken not to inhale the steam from the cooking.
The Cashew fruit is one of the strangest fruits in the world, having two parts. Mango-shaped, the stem end is a large, bright red “apple” while the other end is the small nut projection. Technically, the apple is the receptacle for the true fruit, the nut. Only after the nut has reached its full size does the fleshy exansion of the apple portion develop. This degree of expansion can reach four inches in length. When the apple becomes ripe, both fall to the ground together. The apple keeps only for a very short time, and will spoil within a day at room temperature. In some countries, it is the fruit that is prized and the nuts discarded while, in others, the emphasis is on the nuts, and the fruits are left to the animals.
The nut has a hard double shell, making it difficult to take the nut out of the shell. This is accomplished by roasting; but, during the process, hot resinous sap (cardol and anacardic acid) squirts out from the two layers of hard shell. This sap is highly caustic, and, being hot, leaves dangerous burns on the skin of the workers. It is a most disagreeable and dangerous job, done by the people of India, where labour is very cheap. The shell, acrid oil, and skin are removed from the nut before marketing. As in the case of the Brazil nut, all of this is reason enough to appreciate the availablilty of the cashew to us.
Adapting perfectly to moderately dry areas near the sea, the 40-foot tree grows easily from seed and starts producing nuts after three to four years. Portuguese colonists found the nut in Brazil and took it to Southeast Asia, where its cultivation is now widespread. Although the cashew is native to Brazil, the nut is rarely consumed there. Cashews are much used in Chinese cooking. The texture is delicate, and the flavour has a pleasantly sour taste with a hint of almond. In Mexico, the “apple” is preserved in a syrup (marañónes en almíbar) leaving a subtly different flavour that cannot be related to anything else. The nut is very rich in phosphorus and Vitamins A and C, as well as having fiber, iron, potassium, and some B vitamins.
– The Malay rose apple (Syzygium jambos – Family Myrtaceae) is sometimes called the French cashew or Otaheite cashew because its fruit resembles that of the fruit of the cashew, but is not in any way related.
– The marking nut (Semecarpus anacardium) is related to the cashew, and so named because its outer shell yields a black, resinous liquid which can be mixed with lime to produce an indelible ink. Both the fruit, if cooked, and the nut, once freed of its toxins by roasting, are edible, but are rarely eaten.