Cashews have always been a favorite in our house. They are the first thing to disappear when a can of mixed nuts happens to show up at a party. Before moving to Brazil, I knew cashews were quite popular due to the fact that they are native to the country. What I didn’t know was that the cashew is popular for a very different reason than the nut we often associate it with. While the nuts can be found; here, cashew is known for its juice.
I was relatively surprised the first time I saw a whole cashew. You see, the picture to the right is of cashews from the farmer’s market in town. Being a plant/tree that is native to the northeast of Brazil the fruit is somewhat rare around here, but for a few weeks in February they do show up at one or two booths among the vendors.
When not speaking of the nut, the cashew is often called a cashew fruit, but in actuality it is made up of three distinct parts. That orange yellow part that I first thought looked like a bell pepper is called the cashew apple. It is referred to as a false fruit or pseudo-fruit in the plant world.
The cashew apple contains a high concentration of tannins which are the same substances found in tea and wine. They give the apple a very distinct taste which I’ll discuss a little later.
The kidney-shaped green stem is the fruit of the cashew and it encases the nut; the same nut that we eat and refer to in the US as simply “cashews”, called castanha de cajú in Brazil.
The green fruit contains urushiol oil, the same substance found in poison ivy and poison oak which irritate the skin. You have to be very careful when removing the nut and it is for this reason that I have never purchased a whole, fresh cashew for myself and experimented with it. In an older article from Purdue University Horticulture I read that in some countries at one point the nut was simply thrown out with the fruit due to this toxin and much more emphasis was placed on the apple.
Cashews are grown in other tropical places throughout the world such as Vietnam and India. However, unless you live very close to one of those places it is likely you will never see a whole cashew. The fruit is juicy, fragile and spoils very quickly so extended transport is not an option.
I have grown to love cashew juice which is made from the cashew apple. It has a sweet flavor with a richness that resembles that of the nut. The tannins leave that familiar drying feel in the mouth which they are known for. This is the reason my husband does not prefer it, but for me it gives the juice a unique appeal.
I have noticed a difference in the juice when I order it in a restaurant versus purchasing it prepackaged in the store. I should mention that you can buy bottled pulp without sugar in the supermarket and add your own water and sweetener if desired. The fresher juice is much more astringent than the packaged.
There are ways to remove tannins and I’m wondering if this has been done to the packaged juice to make it more appealing, as I came across some research from India where they were discussing processes to reduce tannins to get more people to drink the juice for its nutritional content.
Juice from the cashew apple contains about 205 to 220 mg of vitamin C per 100 ml. During my research I found a few sources online in the UK for the cashew apple pulp to make juice.
So even if you may never have the chance to see a whole cashew in person, it is looking like you may still be able to enjoy its flavor and nutrients as the news about cashew juice begins to spread to the rest of the world.