Cashews are not really nuts but are used as such can improve health
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Cashews are not really nuts but are used as such can improve health

Jan 26, 2024

Cashews are not really nuts in the true sense, but rather a drupe seed according to Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.

They grow on fruit producing trees that produce a "false fruit" known as the cashew apple. The fruit resembles a small bell pepper being yellow to red in color. At the base of the fruit is a kidney-bean-shaped hard shell with a single seed inside – the cashew nut.

Cashews are grown in many parts of the world with their origin in Brazil. However, Vietnam is the largest producer of cashew nuts followed by India. Cashews are a valuable agricultural commodity for both counties. The cashew nut industry in these countries (and other producing countries) provide vital year-round employment to millions of people.

Following harvest, the shells are roasted and dried to make extracting the nut easier. Removing the nut from the shell is the most difficult step in processing.

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It is either done by hand or machine, but in either case, it is one shell at a time. When done by hand, the workers beat the shell with a mallet in just the right way to release the nut unscathed.

If mechanical shelling machines are used, the shells are fed into the machines one at a time to split the shells. However, since the shells vary in size and shape, there is breakage so machines are not a perfect solution. As a result, manual processing is generally favored for nut perfection.

The cashew apple has a sweet flavor but a limited shelf life so it is not a marketable commodity in its fresh state. However, it has value as a fresh food, cooked in curries, fermented into vinegar and used to make preserves, chutneys, and jams. In India, it is fermented and distilled to make an alcoholic drink known as feni. The apples are also used for medicinal purposes.

Even though cashews are not technically nuts, we use them as such.

Cashews are rich in nutrients, antioxidants, healthy fats, plant protein, and fiber; they may be used interchangeably with other nuts in a variety of culinary applications, including trail mix, stir-fries, granola, nut butter, and nut dairy products.

Like most nuts, cashews may also help improve overall health. They’ve been linked to benefits like weight loss by boosting metabolism, improving blood sugar control, strengthening the immune system, and contributing to heart health.

Cashews are generally a safe addition to most diets. One should keep in mind that roasted or salted cashews contain added oils or salt. For this reason, it may be best to opt for unsalted, dry roasted instead.

People with tree nut allergies should avoid cashews since they are classified as tree nuts along with almonds, Brazil nuts, pecans, pistachios, walnuts and hazelnuts.

When eaten in large quantities, cashews can cause kidney damage due to a relatively high oxalate content. However, in moderation (true of all nuts), such is not likely. One serving of cashews is 1 ounce and contains about 18 nuts, 157 calories, and about 9 grams of carbohydrate largely in the form of starch.

Linda Robbins, CDN, is assistant director and nutrition educator for Cornell Cooperative Extension of Herkimer County.

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