The cashew tree is a curious plant with multiple uses, yet we are only familiar with one of its fruits - the cashew nut. The cashew tree also produces an edible, pear-shaped fruit called the cashew apple. The cashew apple, extremely rich in vitamin C, is eaten raw, as well as made into jam, marmalade, candy, and juices. In Brazil, one of the areas where the cashew tree grows indigenously, cashew apple juice has become one of the most popular beverages. The juice can also be fermented to make an alcoholic beverage. Because the cashew apple spoils quickly, it cannot be exported; we can only enjoy it on a visit to Brazil. The cashew tree is native to South America where it flourishes in Brazil and Peru. In the sixteenth century, Portugese traders introduced the tree to India where it has more recently become an important export crop equal to that of Brazil. Other countries that grow and export cashews include Sri Lanka, China, Malaysia, the Philippines, Thailand, Colombia, Guatemala, Venezuela, the West Indies, Nigeria, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Kenya. The United States is the largest importer of cashew nuts.
In addition to being an excellent food source, the nut yields an oil used in flavoring and cooking foods. The tree produces a sap or gum sometimes used in bookbinding and often incorporated into a varnish used to protect woodwork from insect damage. The cashew nut shell produces an oil used in the manufacture of brake linings and is sometimes applied to metals as an anti-corrosive agent. The shell oil is also used for waterproofing and as an adhesive. Natives in South America used cashew nut shell oil in the treatment of scurvy, sores, warts, ringworm and psoriasis. The oil is found to have potent antibacterial properties. Not many plants can claim to provide so many benefits.
Many people avoid cashews because of their high fat content, though they are lower in total fat than almonds, peanuts, pecans, and walnuts. Cashews provide essential fatty acids, B vitamins, fiber, protein, carbohydrate potassium, iron, and zinc. Like other nuts, cashews are high in saturated fat; however, eaten in small quantities, cashews are a highly nutritious food.
Cashews can be enjoyed raw or roasted. Sprinkle them into salads and grains, use them on top of breakfast cereals, and enjoy cashew butter on your favorite whole grain breads.