Cashews are extremely popular nuts, known for their delicious flavor and abundance of health benefits. However, most people have never tried eating the cashew fruit itself. The cashew apple, as the fruit is called, is not sold commercially and is rarely consumed. This article will examine why cashew fruit remains obscure despite the nut’s popularity.
What is Cashew Fruit?
The cashew fruit is the yellow/red pear-shaped structure that grows at the bottom of the cashew nut. Botanically speaking, the cashew nut is actually a seed that grows outside the fruit.
The cashew fruit has a delicate, juicy flesh that is very perishable. It has a sweet, astringent taste, ranging from mild to intensely tropical depending on ripeness. Unripe cashew fruit is green but turns yellow, red or orange when mature. Inside the flesh is the cashew seed we know as the cashew nut.
Why Don’t We Eat Cashew Fruit?
There are a few key reasons why cashew fruit is not more popular as a food source:
- Delicate perishability – Cashew fruit bruises and spoils extremely fast after harvesting, usually within a day. Its thin, delicate skin makes it unsuitable for transport and storage. Cashews are grown primarily in tropical regions like Brazil and India, making it unfeasible to export the fruits to other markets. Even locally, the small window of freshness limits its distribution.
- Limited yield – The main priority of cashew farmers is to harvest and process the nuts, which provide the vast majority of economic value. Each cashew apple yields just one nut. With a thin layer of edible flesh, cashew fruit itself offers low material yield for the effort of harvesting.
- Difficult harvesting – Cashew apples do not all ripen at the same time, so harvesting the fruits requires multiple passes. The supple fruits fall easily from the tree, making collection labor intensive if largescale production is desired.
- Skin allergies – The skin of the cashew apple contains chemical compounds called anacardic acids. For some people, skin contact with this sap can cause serious allergic rashes similar to poison ivy. While the flesh inside is safe for consumption, the skin sensitivity poses additional harvesting challenges.
- Lack of processing and distribution – No commercial infrastructure exists to clean, store, package and transport cashew apple flesh. Nut processors focus facilities exclusively on nut extraction and drying. Without viable processing operations, there is no way to get cashew fruit to the mainstream consumer market.
Taste and Uses of Cashew Fruit
Those who have tasted cashew apples report it has an appealing, tropical flavor. It is juicy with slightly astringent notes. The texture is described as creamy and soft when ripe.
Here are some of the culinary applications for cashew fruit flesh:
- Eaten raw – Fully ripe cashew apples can be eaten out of hand for a refreshing, tropical snack.
- Juices – The strained juice is popular in regions where cashews are grown.
- Jams and jellies – When boiled with sugar, cashew apple pulp makes flavorful preserves.
- Fruit salads – Diced cashew apple is sometimes added to tropical fruit salad recipes.
- Curries – In parts of India and Brazil, cashew apple is used in chutneys and vegetarian curries.
- Cashew cider – Fermented cashew juice can produce an alcoholic cider-style beverage.
- Liquor – Distilled cashew apple juice is made into a popular Brazilian liquor called cajuina.
Unfortunately, most of the world never gets a chance to enjoy these products due to the obstacles preventing commercial availability of the fruit.
Possibility for Future Consumption
Despite all these challenges, there are some niche initiatives trying to bring cashew fruit to a wider audience:
- Improved harvesting – Mechanical shaking and collection methods can enable easier large-scale harvesting.
- Genetic research – Studying cashew apple genetics and selecting for traits like synchronized ripening could improve production viability.
- Better packaging – Using aseptic tin cans or vacuum sealing technology could extend the shelf life for transportation.
- Value-added products – Creating consumer products like canned cashew fruit, bottled juice or dried cashew fruit snacks would provide more ways to commercialize the harvest.
In coming decades, it’s possible we could see more cashew apples making their way into international supermarkets. But substantial investments and innovations in production practices would be needed to make it economically feasible.
For now, the challenges of perishability, difficult harvesting, allergies, and lack of infrastructure combine to prevent widespread availability. But with its sweet-tart tropical flavor and juicy texture, the potential is there for cashew fruit to gain popularity as a unique new superfood.
Nutritional Content of Cashew Fruit
Here is an overview of the nutrients found in raw cashew apple flesh:
|Nutrient||Per 100g of Raw Cashew Fruit|
|Vitamin C||260mg (400% DV)|
|Thiamine||0.048mg (4% DV)|
|Riboflavin||0.075mg (6% DV)|
|Niacin||1mg (6% DV)|
|Vitamin A||100IU (2% DV)|
|Magnesium||22mg (6% DV)|
|Phosphorus||16.5mg (2% DV)|
As you can see, cashew fruit is packed with vitamin C and contains decent levels of thiamine, riboflavin and magnesium. It has a starchy, low-fat carbohydrate profile supplying quick energy. Cashew apples offer a far different nutritional makeup compared to the high-fat, high-protein cashew nut.
Health Benefits of Cashew Fruit
Here are some of the top evidence-based health benefits that cashew fruit can provide:
- Excellent source of vitamin C – With over 400% DV per serving, cashew apple is one of the richest natural sources of immune-boosting vitamin C. This vital nutrient acts as a powerful antioxidant and also promotes collagen formation and iron absorption.
- Anti-inflammatory effects – Research shows extracts from cashew apple have significant capacity to reduce inflammation. Inflammation control may help lower risk of chronic diseases.
- Antimicrobial activity – Compounds in cashew apple demonstrate antimicrobial properties that may inhibit the growth of bacteria, fungi and viruses. This can support immune defense and food safety.
- Aids digestion – The fiber content in cashew fruit helps promote healthy intestinal movement and regularity. Fiber also feeds beneficial gut bacteria.
- High antioxidant content – In addition to vitamin C, cashew apple provides various carotenoids, anthocyanins and phenolic acids that act as antioxidants. Antioxidants neutralize cell-damaging free radicals.
- Supports heart health – With no cholesterol and protective antioxidants, nutrients in cashew fruit can promote healthy circulation and blood lipids.
- Provides B vitamins – Cashew fruit delivers B vitamins like thiamine, riboflavin and niacin that support energy metabolism and brain function.
Incorporating cashew fruit into more diets could provide easy access to these valuable health benefits, if commercial cultivation can be improved.
While we generally only eat the cashew seed, the juicy cashew apple that surrounds it could provide a tasty and healthy addition to our diets. Difficulties with harvesting, storage, processing and transportation currently limit its potential for reaching consumers. But with further research and investment, we may start seeing more cashew fruit products on store shelves. Cashew apple’s exceptional vitamin C content, sweet tropical flavor and history of culinary use in South American and Indian cuisine suggest it has untapped potential as a superfood if it could be produced and supplied on a global scale.