Fruit and Nut: Cashews

Cashew: A fruit or a nut?

This antioxidant-packed nut that is widely consumed across the world originated in the tropics of Latin America, in Brazil. The cashew nut became known to the world through the Portuguese sailor. The Portuguese travellers brought the nut to East Africa and India to cultivate it in the warm, humid climates of the east.

But is the cashew a nut or a fruit? Cashews are the seeds of the fruits of the cashew trees. The flowers from these trees are red in color, which produces red and yellow fruits, which are often apple shaped. These apples bear seeds, which unlike most seeds, grow outside the fruit. The cashew apple is rich in Vitamin C.  

In a few countries, such as Brazil and Nigeria, cashew apples were used in folk medicine, to treat heart ailments and diabetes. The cashew leaves have antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

The cashew nuts are the kidney-shaped seeds which are known as drupes. These are encased in a hard outer layer containing a poisonous substance called anacardic acid. This layer has to be removed to consume the nut. The toxin found in the layer is similar to the toxins in poison ivy and poison oak and is known to cause an allergic rash on the skin. The toxic layer is the reason why cashew nuts are not sold in their pristine form, but are dried and roasted to remove the toxic layer.

Cashew nuts are about an inch in length and half an inch in diameter. They are kidney-shaped and split into two halves. Processed cashew nuts have a creamy color and a crunchy texture. The unshelled cashew nuts can be stored up to two years.

The cashew apples are juicy, pulpy fruits with very short shelf-life. This perishable fruit turns rancid within a period of 24 hours after being harvested. Hence is mostly accessible to people living very close to the farms. However, the fruit is preserved in the form of jams, drinks, or alcoholic beverages.

Today, cashew crops are grown in countries like Vietnam, India, Nigeria, and Indonesia, which have warm, humid climates. The cashew trees grow to a height of about 20 to 40 feet. The trees flower only during the winters. They also set their fruits during the winter. On an average, the cashew trees give a yield of about 2kg of nuts at 3 to 5 years of age, and about 10 kg at 11 to 15 years of age.

Nutritional Composition

Cashews are considered as one of the health nuts and have plenty of health benefits. But what kind of nutrition does one ounce of cashew nuts give you?  Unlike other nuts such as walnuts, hazelnuts, and macadamia nuts, cashews have fewer calories per ounce. Each ounce of cashew nuts contains 155 calories.

  • Fiber: 0.9 grams
  • Protein: 5 gms or 8 % of the RDA
  • Fat: 12.3 gms 8 g of monounsaturated fat and 2 g of polyunsaturated fats)
  • Manganese: 23% of the RDA
  • Magnesium: 20% of the RDA.
  • Copper: 30% of the RDA
  • Zinc: 11% of the RDA
  • Iron: 9% of the RDA

Three reasons to include cashew in your diet:

1. Helps fight diabetes

Cashews help in lowering the risk of Type II diabetes. Cashews have monounsaturated fatty acids (MUFA), which help in lowering the triglycerides in the blood. Type II diabetic patients have high triglyceride levels in their bodies. The high amount of Magnesium in cashews also helps the insulin to function properly. Cashews also help to relieve arterial hypertension, obesity and reducing cardiovascular risk.

2. For a healthy heart

Studies show that eating nuts like cashews can help lower the risk of cardiovascular diseases. MUFA and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA) in the cashew nuts boost the metabolism. They also help reduce bad cholesterol (LDL cholesterol). Cashew nuts are linked to increasing HDL (High-Density Lipoprotein) cholesterol, the ‘good cholesterol’ and reducing systolic blood pressure.

3. Has cancer-fighting properties

Studies have shown that the cashew nut shell liquid can treat skin infections, cracks on soles of feet, and cancerous ulcers. The anticancer properties of cashew are known to be particularly effective against liver and colon cancers. Cashew has a good amount of antioxidants like anacardic acids, cardanols and cardols which help fight tumors and cancers.

The antioxidants fight against the free radicals in the body. Free radicals are known to cause damage to DNA, cell mutation, and cancerous tumor formation.

Including cashew in your diet

The best way to consume cashews is to soak them overnight and have them in the morning. This increases the nutrient content and reduces the antinutrient content. Another healthy way to include cashew in your diet is preparing trail mixes. A trail mix is rich in healthy fats and has no added sugar.

Preparing a trail mix:

Add one cup of raisins, one cup of sprouted almonds, one cup of sprouted cashews, and half a cup of dried cranberries in a container. Thoroughly mix all the ingredients and your trail mix is good to go!

Did you know that you can prepare butter and milk from cashews? Similar to almond milk and Brazil nut milk, cashew nut is also creamy and is a great substitute for dairy milk. You can prepare the cashew nut milk right at home, using a few cashew nuts that are soaked overnight, some water and a blender. The milk needs to be consumed within 3 to 5 days. And since it is made at home, you can also add honey or maple syrup to sweeten it.

Just like your peanut butter, cashew butter is also a great way to have your bread. Soak the cashews overnight and dry them. Blend the dried cashew nuts and add some salt to taste. Creamy, delicious cashew butter is ready to serve!

When should you say no?

Like peanut allergy, cashew allergy is also very common. Cashew nuts can cause a severe allergic reaction. If you are already allergic to nuts like peanuts, walnut or almonds, please avoid cashew nuts as well. It can cause a severe anaphylactic reaction. An immediate symptom of cashew allergy is hay fever or asthma. If you observe these symptoms, it is best to avoid cashew and consult a doctor right away.

While cashews may be filled with rich nutrients and minerals, it can be life-threatening if you are allergic to nuts or legumes. It is also best to avoid cashews if you are suffering from a kidney stone problem.

Disclaimer: The above article is sponsored by Thyrve, the world’s first Gut Health Program that incorporates microbiome testing and personalized probiotics to ensure a healthier gut, happier life, and a brighter future.