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Cashew apples.jpg
Ripe cashew fruit
Scientific classification
Kingdom: Plantae
(unranked): Angiosperms
(unranked): Eudicots
(unranked): Rosids
Order: Sapindales
Family: Anacardiaceae
Genus: Anacardium
Species: A. occidentale
Binomial name
Anacardium occidentale

The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is a tropical evergreen tree that produces the cashew seed and the cashew apple.

It can grow as high as 14 metres (46 ft), but the dwarf cashew, growing up to 6 metres (20 ft), has proved more profitable, with earlier maturity and higher yields.

The cashew seed, often simply called a cashew, is widely consumed. It is eaten on its own, used in recipes, or processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. The cashew apple is a light reddish to yellow fruit, whose pulp can be processed into a sweet, astringent fruit drink or distilled into liquor.

The shell of the cashew seed yields derivatives that can be used in many applications from lubricants to paints, and other parts of the tree have traditionally been used for snake-bites and other folk remedies.

Originally native to northeastern Brazil, the tree is now widely cultivated in Vietnam, Nigeria and India as major production countries.[1]


Its English name derives from the Portuguese for the fruit of the cashew tree caju (Portuguese pronunciation: [kɐˈʒu]), which itself is derived from the indigenous Tupian name acajú, literally meaning "nut that produces itself".[2] The name Anacardium, originally from the Greek, refers to the unusual location of the seed outside the core or heart of the fruit (ana means "without" and -cardium means "heart").

Habitat and growth[edit]

'Anacardium occidentale', from Koehler's 'Medicinal-Plants' (1887)

The cashew tree is large and evergreen, growing to 10-12 m (~32 ft) tall, with a short, often irregularly shaped trunk. The leaves are spirally arranged, leathery textured, elliptic to obovate, 4 to 22 cm long and 2 to 15 cm broad, with smooth margins. The flowers are produced in a panicle or corymb up to 26 cm long; each flower is small, pale green at first, then turning reddish, with five slender, acute petals 7 to 15 mm long. The largest cashew tree in the world covers an area of about 7,500 square metres (81,000 sq ft); it is located in Natal, Rio Grande do Norte, Brazil.

The fruit of the cashew tree is an accessory fruit (sometimes called a pseudocarp or false fruit). What appears to be the fruit is an oval or pear-shaped structure, a hypocarpium, that develops from the pedicel and the receptacle of the cashew flower.[3] Called the cashew apple, better known in Central America as marañón, it ripens into a yellow and/or red structure about 5–11 cm long. It is edible, and has a strong "sweet" smell and a sweet taste. The pulp of the cashew apple is very juicy, but the skin is fragile, making it unsuitable for transport. In Latin America, a fruit drink is made from the cashew apple pulp which has a very refreshing taste and tropical flavor that can be described as having notes of mango, raw green pepper, and just a little hint of grapefruit-like citrus.

Flower of cashew tree
Cashew tree

The true fruit of the cashew tree is a kidney or boxing-glove shaped drupe that grows at the end of the cashew apple. The drupe develops first on the tree, and then the pedicel expands to become the cashew apple. Within the true fruit is a single seed, which is often considered a nut, in the culinary sense. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the better-known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke (not unlike that from burning poison ivy) contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, reactions by irritating the lungs. People who are allergic to cashew (or poison ivy) urushiols may cross-react to mango or pistachio which are also in the Anacardiaceae family. Some people are allergic to cashews, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than tree nuts or peanuts.[4]

While the cashew plant is native to northeast Brazil, the Portuguese took it to Goa, India, between 1560 and 1565. From there it spread throughout Southeast Asia and eventually Africa.[5]

Cashew "nut"[edit]

Young cashew seeds
Cashews as a snack

Botanically speaking, cashew are not actually nuts but merely seeds. Culinary uses for cashew seeds are similar to uses for nuts, however, and the seeds are frequently referred to as nuts. Cashews, unlike oily tree nuts, contain starch to about 10% of their weight. This makes them more effective than nuts in thickening water-based dishes such as soups, meat stews, and some Indian milk-based desserts. Many Southeast Asian cuisines use cashews for this unusual characteristic, rather than other nuts.[6]

The shell of the cashew nut is toxic, which is why the nut is never sold in the shell to consumers.[7]

Cashew nuts are commonly used in Indian cuisine, whole for garnishing sweets or curries, or ground into a paste that forms a base of sauces for curries (e.g., korma), or some sweets (e.g., kaju barfi). It is also used in powdered form in the preparation of several Indian sweets and desserts. In Goan cuisine, both roasted and raw kernels are used whole for making curries and sweets.

Cashew sprouts (above) are eaten raw as well as cooked

The cashew nut can also be harvested in its tender form, when the shell has not hardened and is green in color. The shell is soft and can be cut with a knife and the kernel extracted, but it is already corrosive at this stage, so gloves are required. The kernel can be soaked in turmeric water to get rid of the corrosive material before use. Cashew nuts are also used in Thai and Chinese cuisine, generally in whole form.

In the Philippines, cashew is a known product of Antipolo, and is eaten with suman. Pampanga also has a sweet dessert called turrones de casuy, which is cashew marzipan wrapped in white wafers.

In Indonesia, roasted and salted cashew nut is called kacang mete or kacang mede, while the cashew apple is called jambu monyet (literally means monkey rose apple).

In Mozambique, bolo polana is a cake prepared using powdered cashews and mashed potatoes as the main ingredients. This dessert is popular in South Africa, too.[8]

South American countries have developed their own specialties. In Brazil, the cashew fruit juice is popular all across the country. In Panama, the cashew fruit is cooked with water and sugar for a prolonged time to make a sweet, brown, paste-like dessert called dulce de marañón. Marañón is one of the Spanish names for cashew.


Top 5 Countries for Production of Cashew Nuts (with shell) in 2013
Country Production
MT (metric tons)
 Vietnam 1,110,800
 Nigeria 950,000
 India 753,000
 Côte d'Ivoire 450,000
 Benin 180,000
World Total 4,439,960
Source: Food & Agriculture Organization[1]
Cashew nuts being inspected after harvest

Cashew nuts are produced in tropical countries because the tree is frost sensitive, adapting to various climatic regions between the latitudes of 25°N and 25°S.[9] The traditional cashew tree is tall (up to 14 m) and takes three years from planting before it starts production, and eight years before economic harvests can begin. More recent breeds, such as the dwarf cashew trees, are up to 6 m tall, and start producing after the first year, with economic yields after three years. The cashew nut yields for the traditional tree are about 0.25 metric tons per hectare, in contrast to over a ton per hectare for the dwarf variety. Grafting and other modern tree management technologies are used to further improve and sustain cashew nut yields in commercial orchards.[5]

In 2013, the world total for production of cashew nuts (in shells) was 4.4 million metric tons.[1] Vietnam was the world's largest individual producer in 2013 with 1.1 million tons.[1] As of 2014, rapid growth of cashew cultivation in Côte d'Ivoire made this country the top African producer with nearly 500,000 tons.[10]

Fluctuations in world market prices, poor working conditions and low pay for local harvesting have caused discontent in the cashew nut industry.[11][12][13]


Cashews, raw
Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy 553 kcal (2,310 kJ)
30.19 g
Starch 0.74 g
Sugars 5.91 g
0.00 g
Dietary fiber 3.3 g
43.85 g
Saturated 7.783 g
Monounsaturated 23.797 g
Polyunsaturated 7.845 g
18.22 g
Vitamin A 0 IU
Thiamine (B1)
0.423 mg
Riboflavin (B2)
0.058 mg
Niacin (B3)
1.062 mg
0.86 mg
Vitamin B6
0.417 mg
Folate (B9)
25 μg
Vitamin B12
0 μg
Vitamin C
0.5 mg
Vitamin D
0 μg
Vitamin E
0.90 mg
Vitamin K
34.1 μg
37 mg
6.68 mg
292 mg
1.66 mg
593 mg
660 mg
12 mg
5.78 mg
Other constituents
Water 5.20 g

Percentages are roughly approximated using US recommendations for adults.
Source: USDA Nutrient Database

In a 100 gram serving, raw cashews provide 553 calories, 67% of the Daily Value (DV) in total fats, 36% DV of protein, 13% DV of dietary fiber and 11% DV of carbohydrates (table).[14] Cashews are rich sources (> 19% DV) of dietary minerals, including particularly copper, manganese, phosphorus and magnesium (79-110% DV), and of thiamin, vitamin B6 and vitamin K (32-37% DV) (table).[14] Iron, potassium, zinc and selenium are present in significant content (14-61% DV) (table).[14] Cashews (100 grams, raw) contain 113 mg of beta-sitosterol.[14]


For some 5% of people, cashews, like tree nuts, can lead to complications or allergic reactions.[15][16][17] Cashews contain gastric and intestinal soluble oxalates, albeit less than some other tree nuts; people with a tendency to form kidney stones may need moderation and medical guidance.[18] Allergies to tree nuts such as cashews can be life-threatening or even fatal; prompt medical attention is necessary if tree nut allergy reaction is observed.[16] These allergies are triggered by the proteins found in tree nuts, and cooking often does not remove or change these proteins. Reactions to cashew and other tree nuts can also occur as a consequence of hidden nut ingredients or traces of nuts that may inadvertently be introduced during food processing, handling or manufacturing, particularly in Europe.[15][16]

Cashew oil[edit]

Cashew oil is a dark yellow oil for cooking or salad dressing pressed from cashew nuts (typically broken chunks created during processing). This may be produced from a single cold pressing.[19]

Cashew shell oil[edit]

See also: Urushiol

Cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL) or cashew shell oil (CAS registry number 8007-24-7) is a natural resin with a yellowish sheen found in the honeycomb structure of the cashew nutshell, and is a byproduct of processing cashew nuts. It is a raw material of multiple uses in developing drugs, antioxidants, fungicides, etc. It is used in tropical folk medicine and for anti-termite treatment of timber.[20] Its composition varies depending on how it is processed.

  • Cold, solvent extracted CNSL is mostly composed of anacardic acids (70%),[21] cardol (18%) and cardanol (5%).[22]
  • Heating CNSL decarboxylates the anacardic acids, producing a technical grade of CNSL that is rich in cardanol. Distillation of this material gives distilled, technical CNSL containing 78% cardanol and 8% cardol (cardol has one more hydroxyl group than cardanol).[22] This process also reduces the degree of thermal polymerization of the unsaturated alkyl-phenols present in cashew nutshell liquid.
  • Anacardic acid is also used in the chemical industry for the production of cardanol, which is used for resins, coatings, and frictional materials.[21][22]

These substances are skin allergens, like the oils of poison ivy, and present danger during manual cashew processing.[20]

This natural oil phenol has been found to have interesting chemical structural features which enable a range of chemical modifications to create a wide spectrum of bio-based monomers capitalizing on the chemically versatile construct, containing three different functional groups: the aromatic ring, the hydroxyl group and the double bonds in the flanking alkyl chain. These can be split into key groups, used as polyols, which have recently seen a dramatic increase in demand for their bio-based origin and key chemical attributes such as high reactivity, range of functionalities, reduction in blowing agents and naturally occurring fire retardant properties in the field of ridged polyurethanes aided by their inherent phenolic structure and larger number of reactive units per unit mass.

Cashew shell oil may be used as a resin for carbon composite products.[23] CNSL-based Novolac is another versatile industrial monomer deriving from cardanol typically used as a reticulating agent for epoxy matrices in composite applications providing good thermal and mechanical properties to the final composite material.

Cashew apple[edit]

Cashew apple with nut
Cashew apples for sale

The cashew apple, also called cashew fruit, is the fleshy part of the cashew fruit that is attached to the cashew nut. The top end of the cashew apple is attached to the stem that comes off the tree. The bottom end of the cashew apple attaches to the cashew nut, which is encased in a shell. In botanical terms, the cashew apple is an accessory fruit that grows on the cashew seed (which is the nut).

The cashew apple is a soft fruit, rich in nutrients, and contains five times more vitamin C than an orange. It can be eaten fresh, cooked in curries, or fermented into vinegar, as well as an alcoholic drink. It is also used to make preserves, chutneys, and jams in some countries such as India and Brazil. In many countries, particularly in South America, the cashew apple is used to flavor drinks, both alcoholic and nonalcoholic.

Cashew nuts are more popular than cashew apples in many parts of the world that do not grow cashews, because the fruit, unlike the nut, is difficult to transport.[24] Cashew apple juice, however, may be used for manufacturing blended juices.[24]

Cashew apples have a sweet but astringent taste traced to the waxy layer on the skin that contains a chemical, urushiol, which can cause minor skin irritation to areas that have had contact with it.[citation needed] In cultures that consume cashew apples, this astringency is sometimes removed by steaming the fruit for five minutes before washing it in cold water; alternatively, boiling the fruit in salt water for five minutes or soaking it in gelatin solution also reduces the astringency.[6][25]


In Goa, the cashew apple (the accessory fruit) is mashed and the juice extracted and kept for fermentation for a few days. Fermented juice then undergoes a double distillation process. The resulting beverage is called feni or fenny. Feni is about 40-42% alcohol. The single-distilled version is called urrac, which is about 15% alcohol.

In the southern region of Mtwara, Tanzania, the cashew apple (bibo in Swahili) is dried and saved. Later it is reconstituted with water and fermented, then distilled to make a strong liquor often referred to by the generic name, gongo.

In Mozambique, cashew farmers commonly make a strong liquor from the cashew apple, agua ardente (burning water).

According to one source,[26] an alcohol had been distilled in the early 20th century from the juice of the fruit, and was manufactured in the West Indies.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d "Major Food And Agricultural Commodities And Producers – Countries By Commodity". 2013. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  2. ^ "Caju, identidade tropical que exala saúde — Embrapa". Retrieved 2012-12-22. 
  3. ^ Varghese, T.; Pundir, Y. (1964). Anatomy of the pseudocarp in Anacardium occidentale L. Proceedings: Plant Sciences. 59(5): 252-258.
  4. ^ Rosen, T.; Fordice, D. B. (April 1994). "Cashew Nut Dermatitis". Southern Medical Journal 87 (4): 543–546. doi:10.1097/00007611-199404000-00026. PMID 8153790. Retrieved 2011-01-13. 
  5. ^ a b "Cajucultura historia (in Portuguese)". Retrieved February 2, 2010. 
  6. ^ a b Harold McGee (2004). On food and cooking (See Nuts and Other Oil-rich Seeds chapter). Scribner. ISBN 978-0-684-80001-1. 
  7. ^ "Glossary C-G". iFood Media LLC. Archived from the original on 2014-03-27. 
  8. ^ Phillippa Cheifitz (2009). South Africa Eats. 
  9. ^ "Cultivating Cashew Nuts". ARC-Institute for Tropical and Subtropical Crops, South Africa. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  10. ^ Bavier, Joe (29 October 2014). "War-scarred Ivory Coast aims to conquer the world of cashews". Reuters. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 
  11. ^ "Tanzania riots over cashew nut payments". BBC. 24 April 2013. Retrieved 14 May 2013. 
  12. ^ Lamble L (2 November 2013). "Cashew nut workers suffer 'appalling' conditions as global slump dents profits". The Guardian. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  13. ^ Wilson B (4 May 2015). "'Blood cashews': the toxic truth about your favourite nut". The Telegraph. Retrieved 6 September 2015. 
  14. ^ a b c d "Full Report (All Nutrients): 12087, Nuts, cashew nuts, raw, database version SR 27". Agricultural Research Service – United States Department of Agriculture. 2015. Retrieved 6 August 2015. 
  15. ^ a b McWilliam V, Koplin J, Lodge C, Tang M, Dharmage S, Allen K (2015). "The prevalence of tree nut allergy: a systematic review". Curr Allergy Asthma Rep 15 (9): 555. doi:10.1007/s11882-015-0555-8. PMID 26233427. 
  16. ^ a b c "Cashew Allergies". Informall Database – funded by European Union. 2010. 
  17. ^ "Food Allergies – INFOSAN" (PDF). World Health Organization. 2006. 
  18. ^ Rittera; et al. (May 2007). "Soluble and insoluble oxalate content of nuts". Journal of Food Composition and Analysis 20 (3–4): 169–174. doi:10.1016/j.jfca.2006.12.001. 
  19. ^ "Cashew Oil". Smart Kitchen. Retrieved February 15, 2015. 
  20. ^ a b "World Agriculture and the Environment", by Jason W. Clay, p.268
  21. ^ a b Alexander H. Tullo (September 8, 2008). "A Nutty Chemical". Chemical and Engineering News 86 (36): 26–27. doi:10.1021/cen-v086n033.p026. 
  22. ^ a b c "Exposure and Use Data for Cashew Nut Shell Liquid" (PDF). United States Environmental Protection Agency. Retrieved 2012-01-12. 
  23. ^ Ferri, Enrico (22 May 2011). "Bioresins Derived from Cashew Nutshell Oil". MaterialsToday. Retrieved 7 September 2011. 
  24. ^ a b Strom, Stephanie (2014-08-08). "Cashew Juice, the Apple of Pepsi’s Eye". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2015-11-24. 
  25. ^ Azam-Ali and Judge (2004). Small-scale cashew nut processing. FAO, United Nations. 
  26. ^ Percival, Robert (1803). An Account of the Island of Ceylon: Its History, Geography , Natural History, with the Manners and Customs of its various Inhabitants. London: C. & R. Baldwin. Retrieved 9 February 2015. 

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]