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A High Protein Delicacy, The Cashew
Cashews (Anacardium occidentale) come from a large evergreen tree that grows widely in tropical climates. It is believed wild cashew trees were native to Brazil and Paraguay up until the Portuguese colonization of Brazil. The export of cashew seeds in the 18th century by Portuguese merchants resulted in the introduction of this incredible tree to other parts of South America, India, Asia and East Africa where it continues to be a prominent crop in the world’s tree nut market.
While we are most familiar with the cashew nut itself, all parts of the cashew tree provided the indigenous peoples of the Amazon rainforest a wide array of culinary, medicinal and practical applications. The bark and the leaves of the tree were used medicinally for digestive issues, inflammation and diabetes. The trunk of the tree exudes a white milky sap that turns black when it oxidizes to form a black stain that is used as an ink, varnish or dye.
The kidney-shaped cashew nut as we know it, is botanically speaking the seed of the fruit of the cashew tree that grows at the end of a brightly coloured yellow and red swollen receptacle, known as the cashew apple, which is the false fruit encasing the cashew nut. The cashew nut is surrounded by a caustic resinous material, which is followed by a hard outer shell. The resinous oil was traditionally used as a topical anti-fungal and skin treatment for wounds and is used today to produce resins and coatings. The brightly coloured cashew apple is still very popular today in local markets and is used to make juices, jams and various nourishing, vitamin C-rich fermented drinks.
Today it is the cashew nut that plays a central role in the global trade of tree nuts. It is no wonder why. The cashew nut has been prized by many cultures around the world for its incredible nutrition. It is one of the highest sources of protein among tree nuts with 18.2 grams per 100 grams and is therefore used by many vegans and vegetarians as a valuable plant based protein alternative with all essential amino acids present. The nut also contains minerals such as calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, iron and zinc making it a supportive food for many functions in the body that require these nutrients, particularly for contributing to bone health.
Predominantly comprised of monounsaturated fats, Cashews are a protective superfood for managing cholesterol and for promoting optimal heart health. Lastly, cashews contain roughly 33 grams of carbohydrate per 100 grams, making them a perfectly balanced snack containing all three macronutrients.
Great care must be taken to remove the whole cashew from the external shell so as to preserve the vital nutrition, enzymes, delicate fats and flavour profile. The ideal method is a low temperature process to soften the shell, followed by an extremely labour intensive hand peeling process of the thin bitter membrane. Hand-peeled whole cashews that are Certified Organic are difficult to find.
The versatility of cashews is endless. As the perfect snack they can be eaten as is or combined with other superfoods to make a trail mix. One can add cashews to a smoothie recipe, yogurt, cereals and on top of salads. Delicious non-dairy milks and butters with soaked cashews or a cashew paste to add a creamy element to stews and soups is a favorite in traditional Indian and Asian cuisines as well as in raw food circles. Lastly use cashews as a creamy element to make exquisite raw ice creams.
In a world of modern conveniences and access to a wide range of foods from around the world, we can easily overlook the consumption of a food such as the cashew nut. With its colourful history, laborious processing needs, exceptional nutritional benefits and vast culinary applicability, the cashew is truly a superfood delicacy.
Renita Rietz is a health and nutrition writer who educates on the phytotherapeutic potential of indigenous foods and plants for prevention and regeneration. E-mail: [email protected]