The Cashew fruit (Anacardium occidentale) is probably one of the most bizarre edible products found in nature. In countries outside its cultivation zone live most of their lives not realising that those cashew nuts they have for christmas actually have a really delicious fruit attached to them. In tropical climates the cashew is grown not only for its nuts but also for the bright orange/red juicy fruit. Native to Brazil over 95% of cashew cultivation is found in the northeast of the country.While most who know a bit about ingredients will assume that Brazil is the leading producer of cashews in fact countries like Nigeria, India, Ivory Coast and Vietnam have consistently produced more.
It’s genus Anacardium refers to the shape of the fruit. If you turn a cashew fruit upside (which is how you see it when on the tree) it looks like an inverted heart (Ana-upwards/Cardium-heart). The name Caju derives from the indigenous tupi name acajú which means ‘nut that produces itself.’ The part we consider to be the ‘fruit’ is actually the stalk of the fruit (which is what we know as a cashew nut). Very confusing! For this profile we will just look at the cashew fruit but go here for the nut.
THE FLAVOUR PROFILE
As with most fruits its flavour profile depends on just how ripe it is. It has a natural astringency due to a waxy layer that can be removed by steaming. Very akin to that horrible mouthfeel after eating an unripe Persimmon or Kaki which is down to the high tannin content of the fruit. Luckily once the cashew fruit ripens the flavour evolves from sour/astrigent to a juicy sweet/sour flavour profile that can be made into an excellent fruit juice. We would describe it as mango and orange mixed with a hint of persimmon. If you ever visit the north of Brazil you better search out this fruit as there is no comparison to it when fresh and just picked from the tree.
SCIENCE OF THE CASHEW FRUIT
The Cashew apple is rich in nutrients and has 5 times more Vitamin C than an orange. Chemically, the cashew apple contains volatile compounds, resorcinolic acid, anacardic acids, carotenoids (α-carotene, β-carotene and β-cryptoxanthin), vitamin C, phenols and tannin.
BUYING AND USAGE ADVICE
GETTING IT READY TO EAT
You can go to a food market and buy the cashew fruit much the same way as many other tropical fruits. It can be eaten without any preparation although locals prefer to have it juiced.
Outside of its cultivation area, most cashew fruits will have been frozen and then transported. Ideally if you can get hold of a fresh cashew fruit that has a deep orange to red colouration and that is slightly soft to touch you are more likely to buy a decent fruit. However if you are not lucky and can’t get it fresh, look out for fruit that has not suffered bruising from the freezing process as well as knocks. The cashew fruit is famous for being fragile so it can easily be ruined by poor packaging and transportation. In fact cashew fruits cannot be transported large distances i.e. to markets in the temperate world. They would ruin too quickly. It is very unlikely to see cashew fruit on a menu in Europe anytime soon.
KEEPING IT FRESH?
Cashew fruits should be used relatively quickly if bought ripe. They can start to deteriorate if let too long at this state. In fact if you leave it long enough it might well start to ferment into an alcoholic fumed mess.
Cashew fruits are used around the world in certain dishes but the predominant outcome is juiced and drunk with a bit of sugar fresh at the market. A popular drink in Brazil is cashew fruit juice mixed with mango, green pepper and citrus. There are examples of it being used in desserts in Panama where it is cooked into a paste-like mixture with sugar and water. It is very popular to use cashew fruit as an ingredient in alcohol as it ferments really well. In the northeast of Brazil they make Cajuina while in India, Tanzania and Mozambique the cashew fruit is mashed and doubled distilled to produce a final product of 40-42% alcohol.
FLAVOUR COMBINATION SUGGESTIONS
The fruit goes really well with other ingredients that bring out its sweetness. Whether that is just sugar or other fruits that have a high sugar content like mangoes. Condensed milk, coconut milk as well as basically anything sweet and creamy would combine nicely with a ripe cashew fruit.
- Don’t decide to eat the cashew ‘nut’ attached to your cashew fruit. It needs to be roasted to remove any toxins. Before that it is going to taste pretty bad.
- Try to get a ripe cashew fruit with clear skin that has not been bruised. If not expect a fruit that just is not going to taste as good as it could.
- If the fruit does not give when pressed it is going to be astringent and will not leave you wanting another thats for sure.