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Exploring Cashews: Fun Facts and 15 Fabulous Recipes

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Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes, one ingredient at a time.

Cashews are great for snacking, cooking, and baking.

Cashews are great for snacking, cooking, and baking.

Pretty Poison

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

But Also an Edible Treat

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, Mashed.com 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

Source: Top5ofAnything.com

CountryProduction% of World Total

Viet Nam

2,663,885

44.9%

India

785,925

13.2%

Côte d'Ivoire

688,000

11.5%

Philippines

228,612

3.8%

Benin

215,232

3.6%

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

Snacks/Appetizers

  • 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 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 sautes 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.

Snacks/Appetizers

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 whip 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 on sandwiches, or dollop 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 this 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.

Trivia

  • 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.

Sources

Comments

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 28, 2021:

Adrienne, the cashew chicken is absolutely devine. I do hope you will give it a try.

Adrienne Farricelli on April 28, 2021:

Cashews are one of my favorite nuts and I always keep them handy when I crave a healthy snack. I will have to try the recipe of chicken with cashews as I like almond chicken, but cashew chicken sounds much better!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 25, 2021:

And, comments are valuable to all readers. If your exchange back and forth is on FB others can't see that

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 25, 2021:

I’m frustrated. I suspect when they announced the comments wouldn’t be coming back to the tattoo niche site then that was a forerunner for the rest of the niches. I get a healthy number of external comments from people asking questions or making suggestions on new songs to add to my playlists and I depend on those comments. HP wants us to handle comments via Facebook I think, but that’s just too much. It doesn’t offer the control I want. Facebook is so yesterday. Frustrating.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 23, 2021:

Flourish, we were "promised" first half of the year 2021, but since Sammantha has resigned I'm not sure that anyone (else) really cares. Thanks for taking the time to find me.

FlourishAnyway from USA on April 23, 2021:

Fascinating intro, Carb Diva. They are very expensive but I love them. I don't use them in cooking or baking but I'd love to try two of your recipes, the vegan one and the chicken one for my family. Sounds wonderful! It took me awhile to find this article again to comment on it in the feed. It's so frustrating what HP has done. I have people emailing me trying to comment on my hubs. NUTS!

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 21, 2021:

Devika, as you can see they can be used in so many delicious ways. Where I live they are very expensive so rather than using as a casual snack, we include them in cooking or baking to fully appreciate their taste and texture. Thanks for writing.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on April 21, 2021:

I like cashews and you told a lot about it. Nuts are great snacks and recipes about cashews must be delicious.

Ann Carr from SW England on April 20, 2021:

That's a good point, Linda. Mixtures of tastes must change the whole thing, to become a new taste. I'd bet that there is some chemical reason too though. I keep meaning to look it up!

Keep well!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 20, 2021:

Peggy, I don't know if the forced labor still exists--I certainly hope not. Thanks for stopping by. Have a wonderful day.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 20, 2021:

Misbah, I like the name Kaju. The Thai chicken is quite good and I hope you will give it a try. Blessings to you as well.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 20, 2021:

Chitrangada, good morning to you. Thickening sauces with ground nuts (instead of using cream) is so smart and healthy. Cashews have such a unique taste--they are perhaps my favorite of all of the nuts. Thank you for your kind words and support.

Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on April 20, 2021:

I had no idea that the cashew tree was related to poison ivy. That story about the people being forced to work with them is terrible. I hope that is not continuing today. I enjoy the taste of cashews, and many of these recipes sound delicious.

Misbah from The Planet Earth on April 20, 2021:

Linda, cashews are super nuts. I love eating them. We call It Kaju in Pakistan. I like a few of the recipes you mentioned. I like Thai Chicken with Cashews and Shrimp Alfredo. I love to eat cashews in cakes as well. Thanks for sharing this beautiful hub. I enjoyed reading it.

Blessings

Chitrangada Sharan from New Delhi, India on April 19, 2021:

An excellent article about cashew nuts. You have provided some interesting details about it, including the recipes.

I remember having cashews directly from the plants, while it was still green and in it’s shell. There are big farms in India, as you have rightly mentioned above.

The cashew paste is used to thicken the gravy, and is used in almost all the Indian sweets and desserts. My favourite is roasted cashews with a little bit of salt and pepper.

As always a detailed, well written and well presented article. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

John, it is my pleasure.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

MizB you'll have that summer-like weather soon enough. We are enjoying almost 80 (very I usual for us) and I would gladly share if I could.

I look forward to hearing from you tomorrow.

Doris James MizBejabbers from Beautiful South on April 19, 2021:

I kind of breezed through your cashew article because it's bedtime. I'll take a more thorough look at the recipes tomorrow. I like nuts like cashews, peanuts or pecans in baked goods or candy like cashew brittle, but not in main dishes like cashew chicken. It is the crunchy texture of the nut, not the flavor that I dislike. I believe I would like them used as a crust, so I'll check out the fish recipe. As much as I love peanuts, I still favor cashews for snacking.

I enjoyed your elephant story very much. Til next time, stay safe and warm, my friend. (Freezing our butts off in the South right now.)

John Hansen from Queensland Australia on April 19, 2021:

Linda, cashews are one of my favourite nuts. I didn’t know how difficult they were to harvest or of the harsh conditions faced by many workers however. I loved reading the history and facts, and the recipes look and sound absolutely delicious. Thank you for sharing.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

Ann, if I still had my weekly Q&A series in operation I'd answer your question there. But I no longer have that forum so I'll give you my two cents worth here (oops, there I go using an American colloquialism that might not translate well. My apologies to Bill Holland).

I think your dislike of bananas as an ingredient (or Bill's similar feelings about nuts) is simply because you like the pure, unadulterated flavor. I compare it to my feelings about french fries. Many people douse them with ketchup or some other sauce (I have a friend who prefers yellow mustard and my husband uses vats of tartar sauce). You're no longer tasting the french fry when you use those condiments, right?

Ann Carr from SW England on April 19, 2021:

Bill's comment about not liking nuts in recipes isn't that weird. I love bananas, but not in any other form, in recipes or drinks - yuk! I wonder why that is. Does the chemistry change? Maybe you can answer that question, whether it's regarding nuts or bananas. I've just realised both words can mean 'mad'!!

Now I'm rambling so I'll stop.

Enjoy your day!

Ann

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

Pamela, you and Ann Carr have made my day. Thank you for your kind words.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

Bill, you are my nutty friend, and I wouldn't have it any other way.

Linda Lum (author) from Washington State, USA on April 19, 2021:

Ann, you have no idea how happy you've made me. I'm doing a little dance (in my head, of course). The Carb Diva family is doing very well indeed. Bill Holland and I live about 30 minutes from each other and the weather he speaks of I am enjoying as well. It feels like Summer and I'm loving it.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on April 19, 2021:

The history of the cashew is so interesting. I love cashews but I have never cooked with them. I have certainly eaten them many times. I need to try some of the recipes you have listed. I always cooked sweet treats with walnuts or pecans. Of course, they are also more affordable.

The story about Vietnam and the 'therapy' is horrible. There is too much torture in the world.

This is a great article, Linda. I feel inspired to cook!

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on April 19, 2021:

True story: I love nuts! I love cashews! I don't love nuts in recipes!

Yes, I am weird, but then you knew that already.

Enjoy the week, my friend. The garden is calling us!

Ann Carr from SW England on April 19, 2021:

Those brown sugar blondies look yummy, Linda!

I love cashews and this is full of interesting facts, background and recipes. You do realise you're making me want to cook more and more, don't you? You're the only person who has ever done that!!

Hope all's well with you, Linda.

Keep safe.

Ann

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