Cashews are grown in select tropical climates - India, Vietnam, Brazil, Ivory coast in Africa & South East Asia. Cashews are one of the most popular and valuable nuts in the world.
Cashews without intensive, precise processing, wouldn't be edible at all. It can be dangerous to touch and eat. Surround the nuts is the double shell that contains three things we certainly don't want to eat:
- Phenolic resin, which can be used as an insecticide
- Anacardic acid, a serious skin irritant
- Urushiol, a substance related to anacardic acid that's also found in poison ivy
Once you roast or heat the cashew, the toxins are destroyed.
Cashew nuts adhere to the bottom of the cashew apple, the fruit of the cashew tree
A Price to Pay
It's due to the nature of this multi-step processing—and the fact that just one nut comes attached to each fruit—that cashews are pricier than other nuts. The cashew is a hard nut to crack, quite literally. To understand how you get to the ivory cashew kernel that you enjoy, it is important to know about cashew processing.
Cashews trees have to be farmed, harvested, separated from the false fruit, roasted, cooled, cracked open, peeled, sundried, and sorted – and only then can you sell them as raw nuts. The amount of value added is incommensurate to the amount of labor that goes into it.
The most difficult step in how cashew nuts are processed is extracting the kidney-bean-shaped nut from its shell, which is labor-intensive and requires a skilled workforce. When cracked open, the shell oozes a highly corrosive oil referred to as cashew nut shell liquid. This oil, when in contact with the skin, causes burns and sores which often present health risks for workers.
Does knowing how much work goes into extracting a single cashew nut make you value them differently?