The cashew tree is known by the botanical name ‘Anacardium occidentale’. It is a close relative of the mango, pistachio, poison ivy and poison oak. It is considered to be a native of northern part of South America perhaps Brazil and Peru from where the Portuguese explorers are said to have taken it to the rest of the world in the sixteenth century. The name cashew is derived from the Portuguese name caju which further originates from Tupi-Indian word acaju. It is merey in Venezuela and maranon in other Spanish speaking countries of Latin America. It is presumed that the Portuguese brought with them the cashew to Goa between 1563 and 1578. 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.
Cashew contains essential fatty acids, minerals, magnesium, phosphorous, vitamin B fibre, protein, carbohydrates, potassium, iron, copper, manganese and zinc. Most people avoid cashew because of their high fat content, but the fact is that it is lower than the total fat in almonds, peanuts, pecans and walnuts. When eaten in small quantities it is a highly nutritious food.
- The nut yields oil used in flavouring, preserving (pickles) and cooking foods.
- The sap or gum is sometimes used in book binding
- The sap is also mixed with varnish to protect the woodwork from termites.
- The oil from the shell is used in the manufacture of brake linings
- The oil is also sometimes applied to metals as an anti-corrosive agent.
- It is also used for water proofing and as an adhesive.
- Traditionally cashew nut shell oil has been used in the treatment of scurvy, sores, warts, ringworm and psoriasis.
- The fruit (cashew apple) has a good astringent effect on the body.
The cashew apple is extremely rich in vitamin C. It 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 stored. In India Goa is one of the states where the cashew practically thrives and this alcoholic beverage is called ‘feni’. It is said to have a cleansing effect on the digestive system.
The cashew is called “Nature’s vitamin pill” so instead of popping vitamin pills for a healthy life, have a few cashew nuts a day.