Few in the West are familiar with cashew apple’s tangy, sweet, and astringent flavor. Even in India—a country famous for its rich, buttery kaju katli and creamy cashew nut korma—the fruits are seldom seen. And yet, cashew apples have a vibrant history with a bright taste to match.
Cashew apples are native to northeastern Brazil, and were first described by European explorers. Andre Thevet, a French monk, spent three months in the country in 1556 and provided the Old World with the first drawings of the cashew plant. Shortly thereafter, the fruit spread to India by way of Portuguese explorers.
Initially, most countries were enthusiastic about the apple but less so about the nut. With cashew nut’s poisonous resin and arduous extraction process, many people didn’t think harvesting the nuts was a worthy venture. India was one of the first countries to tap into the potential of the cashew nut and to discard the apple. Even today, several tons of cashew apples go to waste because of the labor-intensive nature of keeping, preserving and shipping the fruit.
2010 figures by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization list the top cashew producers as Nigeria, India, Cote d’Ivoire, Vietnam, Indonesia, the Philippines, Brazil, Guinea-Bissau, Tanzania, and Benin. West Africa dominates world’s cashew production, producing a third of the total supply.
Availability of cashew apples in India
Cashew apples are plentiful in India as a result of producing 613,000 tons of nuts annually. 60 varieties of cashews grow across several states including Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra (and Goa), Odisha, Tamil Nadu, and West Bengal.
2010 figures published by the Indian government’s Directorate of Cashew and Cocoa Development reveal that Maharashtra is the nation’s top cashew grower, producing approximately 198,000 metric tonnes. Other main producers are Kerala, West Bengal, Odisha, and Goa, respectively.
Though cashew apples are not sold commercially, the India’s scientists and entrepreneurs are working to unlock the potential of what’s otherwise a discarded byproduct. Fuel shortages throughout the country have prompted some states to investigate cashew apple as a possible biofuel. A 2012 “Times of India” article cites how one entrepreneur bottles the cashew apple into juice, citing its high vitamin C and ability to fight wheezing as health benefits. In Mysore, locals make candied cashew apple products. Other than these micro-ventures, cashew apples remain relatively unknown on the Indian markets.
Cashew apples grow from February through May, extending as late as June in some regions.
Where to find cashew apples in India
Unfortunately, cashew apples are remarkably perishable. Unless they’re frozen or kept in cool temperatures, fresh apples last only for a day or so. The need for careful packaging and cool storage inhibit many farmers from selling the fruits to distant markets.
That said, and one doesn’t have to look far to find a grove of cashew trees. If visiting the popular tourist destination of Goa, go to one of the many stalls selling fresh cashew nuts—they can point to the nearest grove. With the small region growing 26,000 tons per year, an orchard will not be far. Several residents in the warmer Indian states also maintain cashew trees: They’re low-maintenance, withstand high temperatures and are drought-resistant. These factors—coupled with their bright, beautiful fruits—make them an ideal choice for lazy gardeners.
Checking for Ripeness in cashew apples
Ripe cashew apples are bright yellow, pink or red. Once dropped, cashew apples are prone to bruising and rotting in the sun. It’s best to gently pluck the fruits from the tree when their colors have fully formed. If ripe, they should come off the tree easily. Cashew apples will continue ripening in warm conditions, but they should only be kept at room temperature for a day.
Taste of cashew apple
Cashew apples have a waxy skin and a crisp, watery texture that resembles a bell pepper. However, unlike a capsicum, its flesh is fibrous and cottony: Some field workers choose to chew the fruit for its juice, and then spit out the tough, stringy flesh. It has a sweet, lightly citrusy flavor enjoyed by most who try it.
A few cashew apple varieties have astringent tannins that produce a chalky, starchy taste like a raw plantain’s. Red cashew apples are more astringent than the milder, sweeter yellow fruits.
Nutritional Value in a Cashew Apple
100g of edible cashew apple has the following nutrition as per the book, “Nutritive Value of Indian Foods”:
49mg Vitamin C
124mg of Potassium
Medicinal Value of Cashew Apples
Cashew apples are a good source of iron, phosphorous, calcium, and have five times the vitamin C of an orange. Populations throughout the world have extolled the health benefits of cashew apples for centuries. According to the “Encyclopedia of Fruit and Nuts,” Cubans eat the fruits to treat dysentery and sore throat. European civilizations ate cashew apples to combat fever, sweeten the breath and maintain stomach health. In the Amazon, tribes use cashew apple juice to sooth influenza and treat warts. Other forms of traditional medicine prescribe cashew apple and the bark for diarrhea. The proteins also assist with skin rejuvination and combats premature aging. Traditionally, scalp and hair treatments use the juice as a vital ingredient. The nutshell liquid is renowned for its acid capable of preventing tooth abscesses. Some groups use cashew apple seeds as a snakebite antivenom.
The scientific community affirms these benefits:
--A 2013 study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition found that men who drank cashew apple juice during high-intensity exercise had enhanced fat utilization. The juice, then, may enhance athletic performance.
--A 1993 study in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry reveals that cashew apple juice exhibits moderate antitumor activity against breast cancer and cervical cancer cells.
--Another 1993 study published in the Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry found that compounds in cashew apple have anti-microbial and anti-bacterial qualities when tested against several strains of microorganisms.
--A 2012 study published in Food and Bioprocess Technology indicates that fermented cashew apple juice may be an inexpensive source of beneficial probiotics
--A 2008 study published in Applied Biochemistry and Biotechnology explains how cashew apples can be used as an ingredient in ethanol biofuel.
How to open/cut a cashew apple
Use a paring knife to cut away the flesh surrounding the cashew nut shell. Take caution to ensure the nut remains in tact, and set the nut aside. This will prevent ingesting any of the shell’s toxic resin, which may cause blisters and burning if it comes in contact with the skin.
Enjoy the fruit by biting into it like an apple, or by cutting it into slices. The fruit does not require peeling and has no core needing removal.
Note: Do not attempt to eat the raw nut, as it must undergo extensive treatment to become nontoxic.
Fresh cashew apples only keep for 24 hours at room temperature. In the refrigerator, the fruit will keep for a maximum of two weeks. Keep cashew apples in a polyethylene bag for best results.
Cashew Apple Recipe Ideas
Cashew apples have many uses, including the following:
--Make dried cashew apples by cutting into slices and dehydrating. Costa Rica residents produce a much-beloved product of sun-dried, candied cashew apples.
--Though fresh juice may have unpalatable tannins that dry out the mouth, cooking the juice will improve the flavor and reduce the astringency. Cashew juice is a common use for the fruit: Brazil has several cashew juice brands, and Nigeria, Benin, and Senegal are exploring production models to do the same.
--Make cashew apple syrup by juicing the apple. Use a ratio of 1 part sugar to 5 parts juice. Add malic acid, and then reduce the concoction in a shallow pan.
--Several countries preserve the fruit in syrup, and then sell the product in local markets.
--Create a baked dessert of cashew apples: Quarter the fruits and sauté them gently in coconut oil and toddy. Squeeze lemon juice atop the fruits if necessary. Place the concoction in a baking tray at 350F, and flip the fruit every 5 minutes until lightly brown.
-Create cashew pickle by soaking the apple cubes in brine for 10 days, then washing in clean water. Heat oil along with mustard seeds, onion, ginger and garlic. When the mustard seeds pop, add the chunks of fruit along with chili powder, coriander, fenugreek,, turmeric, and salt. Once cooled, add citric acid and acetic acid. Cover with oil and transfer to the fridge.
--Make cashew apple chutney by immersing the fruit in a brine solution for two days. Steam the fruit and then cool in water. Slice the fruits in segments and then cook in oil with salt, cloves, cardamom, sugar, nutmeg, ginger, cinnamon, jaggery and any other desired spices.
--Goans produce a special type of cashew apple alcohol, known as feni. Locals stomp the fruit to extract the juice, where it ferments in the sun. Then, the lightly fermented juice goes in a copper pot to distill until it is roughly 40 percent alcohol by volume.
--When further distilled, cashew apples make a sweet liqueur.
Making cashew apple powder entails de-juicing, drying, and grinding the pulp. This powder is used in a number of baked goods recipes including donuts, cookies and cakes. It can also be sprinkled into into porridges.
Fruits: Malay apple, java apple, carambola, cucumber, Asian pear, coconut, citron, guava, kiwi, kokum, mango, mangosteen, lemon, lime, orange, passion fruit, pineapple, roselle fruit, sour orange, sweet lime, tamarind
Vegetables: Tomato, cucumber, bell pepper, nopal, salsify, celery root, celery stalk, cabbage, radish, onion
Herbs, spices, and oil: lemon juice, limejuice, orange juice, citrus zest, mint, coconut water, salt, coconut oil, lemongrass, ginger, garlic, jaggery, soy sauce, sesame seeds, rice wine vinegar, shallots, cashew
Random Facts about the cashew apple
Some cashew-based sweets (kaju) sold in bakeries are molded and colored to resemble a cashew apple.
Cashew trees produce fruit for 20 years and may live up to 60.
Cashew apples are a “pseudofruit.” Technically, the fruit is the green shell housing the nut.
Kaju (Hindi, Manipuri, Marathi)
Mundiri, andima (Tamil)
Kasu mavu (Malayalam)
Godambi, Geru (Kannada)
Hijili badam (Bengali)