Cashews are my favorite nut….outside of my family that is! When the “top nut”, my Dad, sent me an article on cashews I about fell over. Did you know they aren’t really a nut? I sure didn’t! They are the kidney shaped nub that grows at the end of the “cashew apple” so they are a member of the fruit family. My love of what will always be a nut to me began a long time ago.
My girlfriend Donnene and I used to hang out at her parents grocery store when we were kids. We’d play Rummy for hours on end with an occasional ice cream treat for good behavior! We couldn’t get enough of hanging out with each other so the day would roll into the night and we’d have a sleep over. When her Dad came home from work he would always bring us a can of cashews and my love of that little nut began. To this day when I eat cashews I think of Donnene and all of the fun adventures we had as kids!
The story of the cashew is so interesting, if not down right bizarre, I just had to share it! It all begins with the cashew tree, a large evergreen tree that thrives in tropical climates. It was first introduced in India and Asia by the Portuguese in the 16th century.
The tree produces red flowers, which in turn produce yellow and red oval shaped fruit resembling apples. These so-called cashew apples are very juicy and pulpy, and their juice is often added to tropical fruit drinks.
The kidney-shaped formation growing at the end of the apple, also called drupes, are harvested and go through an intense process to become what we know as a cashew nut. In their raw form, the outer layer of the fruit contains multiple toxins
including anacardic acid, a powerful skin irritant similar to the toxin found in poison ivy.
Roasting the cashews destroys the toxins, but roasting must be performed carefully outdoors because the smoke can irritate the lungs, sometimes to a life-threatening degree. Makes you wonder how many people lost their lives trying to turn this odd looking item into something you can eat! Why not just stick with the fruit, make a drink and call it a success?
The fruit is stomped to release the juices and then distilled. The fermented juice of the cashew apple, after it is distilled, becomes a much beloved local beverage called Feni. The countryside people of India find great humor in watching the pigs, when they become intoxicated having eaten the fallen fermented fruit, stagger their way home.
So there you have it, from fruit to nuts!