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Exploring Cashews: Fun Facts and 15 Fabulous Recipes

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Cashews are great for snacking, cooking, and baking.

Cashews are great for snacking, cooking, and baking.

Cashews and Poison Ivy?

Anacardium occidentale is an impressive evergreen tree. A member of the sumac family, its leaves are leathery and glossy, similar to the foliage of a rubber plant. At maturity, these native trees of Brazil reach a height of about 46 feet. But they're more than a beautiful jungle plant.

  • Its sap is used to make varnish that protects wooden furniture from insect infestation.
  • Oil extracted from its fruits is used in the manufacture of plastics, brake linings, and insecticides.
  • The tree is a relative of the mango, pistachios, and poison ivy.

And this same tree produces one of the most expensive nuts in the world. This is the cashew tree.

The fruit of a cashew tree

The fruit of a cashew tree

Don't Worry—They're Perfectly Safe to Eat

In 1558 Portuguese explorers reached the shores of Brazil; there they found the cashew tree and the local tribe, the Tupi Indians, showed them how to roast and remove its irritating outer hull.

Erosion Control

Between 1560 and 1565, those Portuguese explorers transported the cashew from Brazil to Goa, India. It was assumed that this fast-growing tree would be the perfect specimen to help control coastal erosion. It has a far-reaching horizontal root system and creates a broad canopy to shield the soil from torrential rains.

The few trees soon spread across the entire coastal region with the aid of the Indian elephant. Elephants adore the taste of the cashew "apple," a bell pepper-shaped fruit from which the nut hangs. Pachyderms aren’t picky—they would eat the “apple” and nut, and as one might expect, the nut in its protective shell could not be digested; it would be replanted by the elephants along with an ample supply of fertilizer.

Difficult and Dangerous Harvest

At harvest, the apple and nut are removed from the tree, then the nut is separated from the apple, but that's just the beginning. Although the nut itself is harmless, it's encased in a double-hulled shell that contains anacardic acid, the same toxin which causes the skin rashes and painful blisters of poison ivy.

A 2011 Human Rights Watch report found (Vietnamese) workers at "drug rehabilitation centers" forced to harvest between roughly 4,800 nuts a day for under $3 a month as part of their "therapy." Workers suffered hand burns, respiratory problems, and other allergic reactions as a result of working with the cashews. Punishments for slow work, refusal to work, or breaking any "rules" unbelievably included beatings, sometimes with electrical batons.

—Hanna Claeson, 23 June 2020

Sadly, working conditions in other parts of the world are almost equally harsh with minimal wages, child labor, and lack of protective safety equipment.

Cashew Production in Metric Tonnes


CountryProduction% of World Total

Viet Nam






Côte d'Ivoire









Sweet and Savory Recipes in This Article

Chicken Dishes

  • Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry
  • Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken
  • Thai Chicken With Cashews

Seafood Dishes

  • Cashew Coconut Salmon Curry
  • Shrimp Alfredo
  • Baked Haddock Filets With Cashew Cracker Crust


  • Rosemary Cashews
  • Basil and Cashew Pesto
  • Cashew Queso

Sweet Treats

  • Brown Sugar Cashew Blondies
  • Honey-Roasted Cashews
  • Chocolate Toffee Cashew Clusters

Vegetarian/Vegan Dishes

  • Cashew Cauliflower
  • Vegan No-Clam Chowder
  • Halloumi Curry With Cashew Nut Sauce and Broccoli

Chicken Dishes

Cashew Chicken Stir-Fry: Prasanna's recipe for cashew stir fry is so easy and flavorful that you'll never do take-out again. There's a little sweet, a touch of heat, savory, and (of course) crunch.

Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken: Here's a different but equally tasty approach to cashew chicken. Allyssa coats boneless chicken chunks with cornstarch and sautees them until they are golden. Simmered in a tangy sweet-sour sauce, the cornstarch breading thickens the sauce and the sauce tenderizes the chicken, keeping it moist and succulent—a culinary symbiotic masterpiece.

Thai Chicken With Cashews: This Thai version of cashew chicken introduces more depth of flavor with a touch of fish sauce and pops of heat from the traditional dried red chilies.

Seafood Dishes

Cashew Coconut Salmon Curry: Salmon is my favorite fish to eat, but it can go from luxuriously moist and succulent to dry as sawdust in a matter of moments if you don't treat it gently, tenderly, and with love. Gently poaching the fish in coconut milk is the key to this recipe. The fish stays moist and is saturated with the simmer-sauce flavors of lime, ginger, and red curry paste.

Shrimp Alfredo: Cashews are a versatile ingredient; not only do they provide crunch and sweet flavor they also help create a non-dairy creamy sauce, as in this alfredo

Baked Haddock Filets With Cashew Cracker Crust: The creator of this dish used one of my never-fail tricks for moist, flavorful fish filets—not only does mayonnaise protect the tender white meat of haddock from the oven's heat, but it also helps the buttery crunchy topping to adhere to the fish. If you cannot find haddock, you could substitute flounder, sole, cod, or halibut.


Rosemary Cashews: Sweet, spicy, and savory, these rosemary cashews make a great snack, accompaniment to an after-dinner sip of wine or a welcome hostess gift.

Basil and Cashew Pesto: The traditional recipe for basil pesto calls for pine nuts; this version with Parmesan and cashews whips up salty and slightly sweet. Don't just serve it with pasta; break out of your rut and mix it with Greek yogurt for a dip, brush it in roasted corn on the cob, spread it on sandwiches, or dollop it in steaming bowls of vegetable soup or minestrone.

Cashew Queso: This silky, rich cheese dip is vegan, but it's so luxurious you just might fool your cheese-loving friends. Dairy- and gluten-free, it requires no cooking and comes together in minutes with your trusty blender and items you probably have in your pantry.

Sweet Treats

Brown Sugar Cashew Blondies: Brown sugar creates a caramel-like flavor in these moist brownie bars studded with roasted chopped cashews.

Honey-Roasted Cashews: Honey-roasted cashews are the perfect combination of sweet and salty. They make an easy snack, appetizer, or a welcome hostess gift.

Chocolate Toffee Cashew Clusters: You don't need to be an experienced confectioner to make these candies filled with buttery toffee bits and scrumptious salted cashews all smothered in chocolate.

Vegetarian/Vegan Dishes

Vegetarian Cashew Cauliflower: If you love cashew chicken but don't (want to) eat meat, this recipe is for you.

Vegan No-Clam Chowder: Comforting food can be delicious and healthy. This Boston-style clam chowder is gluten and dairy-free.

Halloumi Curry With Cashew Nut Sauce and Broccoli: Halloumi is a unique cheese—it can be baked, fried, or grilled and does not melt. Ground cashews, coconut milk, and tomatoes are blended to create a spicy/silky sauce. If you want to make this vegan, replace the cheese with firm tofu.


  • November 23 is National Cashew Day
  • Cashew growing season is from March to May
  • More than half of the cashews produced in the world come from just three countries—Vietnam, India, and the Ivory Coast.


© 2021 Linda Lum