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Cashew nut growing at Eden

Find out about the cashew nut and how it is harvested.

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Facts

  • The cashew fruit is not a nut, but instead more of a drupe (a seed contained in a hard coating surrounded by flesh). This drupe forms first at the end of the inflating pedicel, which in turn forms the cashew apple.
  • These fast-growing, drought-tolerant trees produce ‘nuts’ after three years and can live for 50.
  • Cashews are more expensive than peanuts because roasting, shelling and cleaning of the kernels is a delicate and laborious process and the liquor produced by the shells is highly corrosive.

Where it grows

The cashew is native to tropical and subtropical South America, but is now cultivated worldwide. It can grow in warm temperate forests, dry tropical forests and tropical rainforests. Vietnam is the largest producer of cashews in the world; India, Mozambique and Tanzania are also major producers.

Common uses

Cashew nuts are an extremely popular snack and ingredient worldwide. In Goa, India the swollen pedicel (cashew apple) is mashed and brewed into an alcoholic drink.

The shells produce cashew-nut shell liquor (CNSL), which is used in the tropics to treat ringworm and warts, and is also used globally in marine paints, heatproof enamels, brake pads and more recently as a resin in ‘ecocomposites’ (traditionally bio-composites are made from plant fibres, such as hemp, embedded into fossil-fuel-based resins).

Some African tribal cultures use cashew nuts as part of the scarification process, where people permanently mark their skin by cutting it. Ash, charcoal and cashew nuts are used to irritate wounds and get them to swell up so cuts heal as raised scars.

Wildlife facts 

Cashews are generally pollinated by flying insects, but not all insects are helpful: ants have been studied 'ruining' the flowers.

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Glossary

  • Corymb: flat-topped branched flower stalk.
  • Obovate: two-dimensionally egg-shaped with widest part at the apex.
  • Panicle: branched flower stalk.
  • Pedicel: flower/floret stalk.
  • Style: the tube connecting ovary and stigma.

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