Showing posts with label caju. Show all posts
Showing posts with label caju. Show all posts

Aug 22, 2016

Ingredient of the week: Cashews, Kaju

A native of Brazil the cashew tree was brought to India in the sixteenth century by Portuguese traders. The actual cashew nut or seed is inside a kidney shaped shell that is attached to the bottom of the edible cashew apple. Delicately sweet and somewhat buttery in flavor, cashews are used in cuisines world wide.

The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is evergreen and thrives in tropical regions. It is in the same family as both mango and pistachio trees, It grows to around thirty to forty feet in height and prefers well drained soils. One of the reasons Portuguese traders introduced cashews to coastal India and Mozambique was to prevent erosion of the sandy soils. The English word cashew comes from the Portuguese word caju which is derived from Brazilian indigenous peoples'  name for the seed acajú, literally meaning "nut that produces itself."

Cashew trees flower and set fruit during the dry winter season in tropical climes. The flowers are produced in a panicle up to ten inches long. Each flower pale green at first, turning reddish or pink upon opening.

The part we know as the cashew nut forms first as it is the seed. The cashew apple is not a part of the plant ovary like most fruits and is actually just the swollen stem of the fruit.

The cashew apple turns from pale yellow to an attractive red as it ripens. Cashew apples are quite sweet and juicy with a bit of an acidic, astringent, hesperidic, and slightly peppery mango-like flavor. Unfortunately their skin is quite fragile and does not travel well so unless you live in the tropics don't expect to see them at your local grocery store.

The pulp of the cashew apple can be eaten fresh, canned in jams or chutneys, or used for juice. The sugary juice can be fermented into vinegar or distilled into an alcoholic drink called feni, fenny, uraak, or arrack.

The seed or part that we call the nut is encased in a leathery, kidney-shaped shell at the end of the cashew apple. The leathery shell contains the caustic substance anacardic acid. Anacardic acid is similar to the uroshiol oil found in  poison ivy and can produce severe skin lesions with the merest contact. 

Cashew nuts will keep well in their shell for up to two years. Because of the toxic oil in their shells processing cashews is a complex and difficult process. To neutralize the anacardic acids the nuts must be heated in their shells. Unfortunately the toxic oil is quite volatile making the fumes from this process extremely irritating to skin, eyes, and lungs also. Probably why cashews are so darned expensive. If you'd like to read the misadventures of an American who tried to open a raw cashew nut with his hands and mouth you may do so here.

Kaju Katli
Cashew nuts are called kaju in South Asia and are prized for their buttery and sweet flavor in Desi cuisines. They often appear in delicious and delicately flavored sweets like the famously fudgy kaju katli or baked into biscuits. Ground into paste or powder cashews can also be utilized to decadently thicken and enrich curries. Cashews are used whole even as simple yet elegant garnishes on both sweet and savory dishes.

Helpful Hints:
Now that we know cashews must be processed by heat we also know there's no point in paying extra money for those "raw, unprocessed" cashews sold at health food stores.
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