Cashews

Cashews

(Anacardium occidentale) Although a native of Brazil, the cashew was taken by the Portuguese to Goa on the south-western coast of India. Its native (South American) name of acaju became caju or cadju or kaju in the Indian sub-continent, Sri Lanka and Malaysia. South India is now one of the world's leading exporters of cashews, growing as many as Brazil.

The cashew fruit, sometimes called cashew apple, has a shiny skin which turns orange-red when ripe. It is eaten, but not in large amounts as its flesh has considerable astringency. A strange fruit, it carries its seed outside, not in. The seed is enclosed in a thick, hard shell which hangs off the end of the somewhat pear-shaped fruit and the cashew as we know it is the kernel of the seed. The shell contains anacordolic acid, a substance which can damage the salivary glands and cause paralysis of the jaw. While it is unlikely anyone would attempt to eat the shells, they have to be cut open in order to get the kernels. The sap is capable of blistering the hands.

Fresh cashews have a sweet, milky and crunchy rather than crisp texture. In Asia they are boiled with turmeric and salt, and small parcels of these boiled nuts wrapped in mango leaves are taken round by street-sellers. When roasted, cashews are crisp yet softer to bite through than many other nuts. In Goa, they are lightly fried and sprinkled with salt and chili powder, just enough to add a touch of excitement. These are often served with a drink of fresh coconut juice.

Since cashews are grown in Asia and are much cheaper than imported almonds, they take the place of almonds in many recipes. In southern India cashews are added to thicken sauces in much the same way almonds are used in northern India. Cashews are also used in savory dishes, and in Sri Lanka, one of the regional specialties is a cashew nut curry. Fresh cashews are not available in countries where they are not grown. Raw cashews, if soaked in water for 30 minutes, are reasonably like fresh cashews, and certainly have a much better texture than canned cashew curry.

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