Friday, March 11, 2016

Cashew season begins

My son spotted one cashew fruit fallen on the ground when we were walking in the farm today. Then we walked around and found several dozens of them fallen on the ground.

Bucket full of cashew apples
Biological name of cashew is "Anacardium Occidentale". Anacardium is derived from Greek language. Ana meaning "reverse" or "backwards" and cardium or cardio means "heart". Meaning of the term is one having its heart reversed - that is to say heart of the fruit, the seed, is outside; which is the reverse of vast majority of fruits containing the seed inside the fruit.

Cashew flowers and fruits under development
You are very well aware of tasty cashew nuts (called "kaju" in Hindi which is an adaptation from Portuguese name "caju" for cashew). It is eaten as a nut, dipped in masala and fried to make it a tasty snack, and used in cooking. However, the fruit part is not well known to people; especially city dwellers. Actually it is not a fruit; it is the swollen stalk of the real fruit. Real fruit is the cashew nut hanging below the pseudo fruit securely wrapped in a hard shell with toxic/acidic liquid called urushiol. You will repent if you bite into the shell because the juice burns the skin and causes blisters. People allergic to urushiol get severe skin rashes if touched. This is the main reason why cashew nut is always sold to end users after removing the shell. Cashew processing factories extract the nut shell oil after removing the cashew nut from the shell. This oil is traditionally used as a protective coating on wood to protect wood from rotting and termite attack.

This year I am going to get some amount of cashew nuts. At home it is difficult to remove the shell like the factories do because factories use a special cashew nut cutting machine (manual / semi-automatic / fully automatic) to remove the shell.

Traditionally cashew was processed at homes by burning the shell. In my ancestral home we had a perforated steel plate for this purpose. We used to light a fire, keep the perforated plate on the fire and put the cashew nuts on the plate. Cashew nut shell has highly inflammable oils. It catches fire soon and burns rapidly. Burning process emits beautiful and characteristic smell which goes to far away distances. Whole village will know if one house is burning cashew shells. Burning process should be carefully controlled and the burning nuts should be doused at the right time because:

  • Too less burning leaves the urushiol and other toxic contents in the shell. It burns the fingers if one tries to take out the kernel from incompletely burnt shells. Sometimes left over toxic oil that came out of the shell reaches the kernel which makes them inedible.
  • Too much burning converts the whole thing into charcoal!

Cashew burning expert in the house knows when to douse the fire and douses it. After dousing the fire and nuts cool down it is the matter of hammering out the outer burnt shell to take out the tasty kernels. By the way, burnt kernels taste better than the factory shelled kernels because burning process introduces new flavors and smells. You can see the whole process in the video below. The guy in the video makes it look so easy. But don't be fooled by that; he is a professional who knows the process very well.

Coming back to the fruit (well, it is a pseudo fruit, I have already told you) it is a very juicy and tasty fruit. It is highly nutritious too. It is very rich in fiber, antioxidants, calcium, phosphorous, iron, vitamin C and potassium. Some sources say it contains 4-5 times more Vitamin C than Orange. Fruit juice boosts immune system. It is also known to kill worms in the digestive system.

Ripe cashew fruit in foreground
Unfortunately several thousand tonnes of this fruit with such good health benefits goes waste every year. Goa is the only state which extracts the famous Feni liquor from it. Selling this fruit is not a commercial success because: (a) Its shelf life is very short - a day or two maximum after plucking from the tree. (b) Being a soft fruit it bruises and is damaged easily. Therefore difficult to transport. (c) It has a strong smell. Some people don't like that kind of strong smell. It is a great fruit to eat if you are not averse to its smell.

Pluck a ripe fruit from the tree, wash it, twist and keep aside the nut, cut it, apply little salt if you like and eat it. You may spit out the fiber if you don't like to swallow it. If you can lay your hands on a cashew apple try it and see if you like it! See you later, I am busy enjoying today's harvest of my cashew apples :-)

Note: Be careful about cashew nuts and fruit if you are allergic to nuts because many people with nut allergy are allergic to cashew nuts too.

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