Cashew nuts grow out of a “strange apple”. Never seen it? It’s amazing! You have eaten these nuts hundreds of times but never thought about how they actually “come” to our world. The cashew apple is rich in nutrients and contains five times more vitamin C than an orange. It is eaten fresh, cooked in curries, or fermented into vinegar as well as an alcoholic drink. In parts of South America, natives regard the cashew apple as the delicacy, rather than the nut kernel popular elsewhere. Cashew apple is also used to make preserves, chutneys and jams in some countries such as India and Brazil. Cashew apples are not popular, in part because of highly astringent taste. This has been traced to the waxy layer on the skin that causes tongue and throat irritation after eating the cashew apple. In cultures that consume cashew apple, this astringent property of the cashew apple is typically removed by steaming the fruit for five minutes before washing it in cold water; alternatively boiling the fruit in salt water for five minutes or soaking it in gelatin solution reduces the concentration to palatable and acceptable levels.
The true fruit of the cashew tree is a kidney or boxing-glove shaped drupe that grows at the end of the cashew apple. The drupe develops first on the tree, and then the pedicel expands to become the cashew apple. Within the true fruit is a single seed, the cashew nut. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritant chemically related to the better-known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin, but it must be done outdoors as the smoke contains urushiol droplets which can cause severe, sometimes life-threatening, reactions by irritating the lungs. Some people are allergic to cashew nuts, but cashews are a less frequent allergen than nuts or peanuts.
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