Maybe you didn’t know, but Panama is a great place to grow cashews. This time of year, you can walk outside and pick them off the trees.
That’s right. Like walnuts and almonds, cashews grow on trees, and appear hanging below the fruit of the tree (actually a pseudo-fruit called the cashew apple or marañon) instead of part of the root or inside of the fruit.
Native to northeastern Brazil, cashews can now be found in most tropical climates worldwide, and are cash crops in 32 countries from Brazil to Nigeria to Vietnam to India. The trees can grow to a height of over 30 feet, and an adult tree will produce about 200 cashews per year. A single cashew nut grows below each marañon.
There is a lot of debate about the edibility of raw cashew nuts, with some people saying they can make you very ill. There are toxic characteristics to a liquid called cardol that exists between the shell and the cashew nut. The truth is that the raw cashew is more nutritious than the cooked version, but like many other foods, some people have an allergy to this particular nut. Cooking or processing seems to remove some of the allergic characteristics for some people, as well as a good way to remove cardol. Those who are allergic to cashews may also tend to be allergic to other tree nuts and have severe reactions to poison ivy. The cashew allergy can manifest itself as hives, or it may be respiratory or intestinal in nature.
But if you are one of the fortunate people who do not have allergies to this delicious nut, the variations are endless. Thai, Chinese, and Indian cuisine routinely use the cashew in various ways in many dishes. You can make cashew butter, cashew cheese, even a cashew wine.
The marañon is equally versatile, being edible by itself, or it can be prepared in syrup or candied. It, too, can be made into a wine. In India, the cashew apples are trampled by foot to make into a potent liquor called feni. Unless it is processed or preserved in some manner, the cashew apple is very perishable, and this may be one reason you do not see marañon much outside of the growing countries.
In some countries, the marañon is more prized than the cashew nut, in others vice versa. Depending on which country you are talking about, the part that is not used is typically discarded on the ground in favor of the other.
Cardol is toxic only if ingested. It has been used in traditional medicine to treat skin infections, warts, and parasitic larvae beneath the skin. Other traditional uses of the juice of the cashew apple and tree leaves include diuretics, anti-inflammatories, and astringents.
Cardol is also known as Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL) and has industrial applications in brake fluid, adhesives, paints and varnishes. Resins from the cashew tree wood and CNSL have been used in certain varnishes which prevent infestation by wood-destroying insects.
Although delicious and lower in fat than many other nuts, nutritionists recommend limiting your intake of cashews due to the high calorie content.