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Cashew, the fruit.

February 28, 2010

One of my all time favorite fruit juices, ever since I was a little boy, is suco de caju or cashew juice. When I moved to the United States I was astonished to find out that no one knew that cashew is a fruit, the “nut” is actually the single seed that comes from the cashew fruit. Attached to the fruit is a bigger pseudocarp, or false fruit, which is sometimes referred to in English as the cashew apple. These are the botanical definitions of the cashew but gastronomically speaking we refer to caju (cashew) as a fruit and we distinguish the nut by calling it castanha de caju. Here in Ceará cashew trees are found everywhere. The state is the biggest producer in the country. My dad’s property outside of Sobral has several trees.

Before roasting, the nut must be dried and peeled. Most locals roast cashews in an open wood fire (using  the cashew tree trimmings as fuel), which gives it a different flavor from the oven roasted cashew nuts that are sold in the big markets. After roasting, the nut can be served plain or salted or also used in culinary applications. Most cashew production in Ceará is targeted for the cashew nut export market. According to the state’s agricultural department almost 90% of the cashew apples are discarded, unused, after the fruit is harvested for its seed.

My main goal is to show you some of the many ways in which you can try the cashew apple. Unfortunately it is a fragile product which does not ship well, so the false fruit must be processed locally.

The first thing you can do with the cashew apple is to make juice with it. You simply blend it with water and then strain. I think this juice is delicious with a little added sugar (by itself it can sometimes be a little too tannic tasting).  The good thing is that the juice concentrate is easy to find in ethnic stores through out the USA.  In Ceará and its neighbor state of Piauí a traditional drink is cajuína. It consists of the cashew juice that is clarified with gelatin to remove all the tannins, giving it a sweeter taste and also purifying it to prevent fermentation. The juice can also be used in many dessert applications. It is also fermented into alcoholic liquor, something that has been consumed by local natives long before the arrival of the Portuguese.

The false fruit can be dried whole which preserves it and also concentrates the sweetness. Mel de caju is a syrup made by boiling the juice with sugar. It can be used in desserts or as topping to your pancakes. In the beach of Canoa Quebrada we tried a melosca, which is a caipirinha sweetened with cashew honey.

The remaining sediment that is strained from the juice process can also be used as a vegetarian meat replacement. It is high in fiber and said to have the texture similar to chicken. It takes well to savory seasoning and can be used in lots of creative dishes.

First drawing of a cashew tree, by French Franciscan priest André Thevét, circa 1590.

In addition to having a high fiber content the cashew apple is also rich in vitamins A, B, and C. It is a potent anti-oxidant; it boosts the immune system, and it helps heals wounds and scars. It is rich in  calcium, phosphorus,  zinc, magnesium, and iron: minerals that are essential for healthy muscle contraction. The pseudo fruit has high lipid, protein and carbohydrate content (hence its use as a meat replacement). It is also rich in unsaturated fats that help to reduce the bad blood cholesterol.

The fresh leaves of the cashew tree can be used against stomach cramps and as a laxative. The bark of the cashew tree can be used to make an astringent tonic.

Here are a few quick and easy recipes that use cashew apple:

Cashew Hamburguers

  • 4 cashew apples, thoroughly rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 onion, minced
  • 1 tablespoon scallions, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon achiote
  • 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour

First you have to juice the cashew apples in a blender with a little water. Strain the juice (reserve for drinking or for some other use) and save the leftover pulp.

Sweat the garlic and onions until aromatic, add the herbs and the cashew pulp. Season with the remaining spices and cook for about ten minutes. Spread on a sheet pan in order to cool. Mix the cooked cashew with the flour until you obtain a dough like substance. Roll the mixture over a surface dusted with flour. Cut out the hamburgers with a ring mold. Saute with vegetable oil and serve with your favorite type of roll and garnishes.

Cashew Vinaigrette Salsa

  • 1 cashew apple, peeled and diced
  • 1 tomato, diced
  • 1/2 cup scallions, chopped
  • 1/2 onion, diced
  • 4 tablespoons cashew juice
  • 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • 1/4 cup bell pepper, diced
  • 1/2 tablespoon jalapeño pepper, minced (may be omitted or replaced with another type of hot pepper)
  • 5 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Mix all ingredients and reserve in covered bowl for 30 minutes before serving. Serve with a salad, chicken, fish or meat.

Cashew Cake

  • 1/2 cup butter, at room temperature
  • 4 yolks
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
  • 3 teaspoons baking powder
  • 1 1/2 cups cashew juice concentrate
  • 1 cup chopped cashew nuts
  • 4 egg whites

Beat the butter with the yolks and sugar to a cream consistency. Gradually add the flour and baking powder previously sifted together, alternating with the cashew juice. Fold in the cashew nuts and lastly the whipped egg whites. Bake on a previously greased and dusted bundt pan in an oven preheated at 350F. After about one hour check if it is done by inserting a toothpick which must come out clean.

Share your comments if you try any of these recipes or have anything to add. Thanks!

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8 Comments leave one →
  1. Henrique permalink
    May 23, 2010 1:24 pm

    I just love cashew fruit Alex, its my favorite as well…..

  2. Joyce permalink
    May 23, 2010 3:57 pm

    Hmmm….I may have to try the cashew cake if I can find some cashew juice around here. The syrup sounds pretty good too. Thank you for teaching me something new that, if I ever go on Jeopardy, I would be able to get correct now! 🙂
    Looking forward to the two of you returning to the states sometime soon I hope!

  3. Alex permalink
    May 23, 2010 5:47 pm

    Hi Joyce. I’m sure you can find the juice in the international or Latin isle of a grocery store in your area. This is what the bottle looks like:
    http://www.latinmerchant.com/productdetail.asp?ProductID=D0008
    Good luck!

  4. May 23, 2010 10:58 pm

    I think it’s an acquired taste – I wasn’t immediately blown away by it, but the more I drank it, the more I liked it. The cajuina is awesome – one of my favorite new juices by far. 🙂

  5. Piero permalink
    May 23, 2010 11:53 pm

    Good article Primo. My fact for the day, now I’m hungry, haha.

    • Alex permalink
      May 24, 2010 8:57 am

      Thanks Piero!
      I really hope one day I can go to China and try all the unique food there.

  6. bos permalink
    June 2, 2010 11:10 am

    Hey Alex: This looks great. If you get this message, can you drop me an email about cooking this summer.

  7. Mary B permalink
    October 21, 2010 1:16 pm

    These look great! I am planning on moving back to Ghana next year (where there are cashew trees) and cashew fruit is one of my favorites. I know I’ll make the cake for sure! Do you happen to know a recipe or where I can find a recipe for cashew fruit preserves or jelly?

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