What Are Cashews?
Like many nuts, cashews have an identity crisis. While in most instances, they’re categorized as nuts, botanically speaking, they’re actually seeds. That’s right, like almonds and walnuts, cashews are drupes, which means they’re technically a seed and not a nut. Knowing that cashews are seeds, it starts to make a lot more sense that they grow on trees and alongside their fruit, known as a cashew apple.
What Is A Cashew Apple?
Many people are surprised to learn that cashews grow alongside a fruit known as a cashew apple, better known in Central America as marañón. Cashew apples are the accessory fruit of the cashew tree, meaning that they don’t grow from the ovary of the plant, but instead grow from the stem of the cashew. Cashew apples only begin developing in the final few weeks of the cashew growing season, just before the cashew nuts drop from the tree. Once ripe, the cashew apple and accompanying cashew nut drop to the ground together where, in the wild, they would be eaten and distributed by animals.
It’s very uncommon to see cashew apples in the United States and Europe because they don’t travel very well. Instead, they’re often consumed locally, or in Goa, they’re pressed into a juice and fermented into alcohol known as Feni.
Where Do Cashews Grow
Cashew nuts grow on the cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale. This tall, tropical plant is native to Northwestern Brazil but has subsequently been transported all over the world. There’s not a lot of information about how cashews spread from Brazil to India and Africa, but the story goes that in 1558 the native tribespeople of the Tupi Indians, showed Portuguese travelers their cashew trees and how they safely harvest cashew apples and cashew nuts.
Intrigued by this new tree and its exotic fruit, these Portuguese travelers took cashew seeds with them on their journey, bringing cashew trees to Goa in around 1560 and then onto India soon after. By the second half of the 16th century, cashews had spread across Southeast Asia and other parts of Africa, where they quickly became a food staple and a valuable product for export abroad.
Top Cashew Producing Countries
Despite being the birthplace of cashews, Brazil is barely hanging on to its top-ten spot when it comes to the top cashew-producing countries of the world. In 2019, the Ivory Coast topped the list, with Brazil hanging out all the way down in tenth place.
- Côte d'Ivoire
How Do Cashews Grow?
Once planted, it takes roughly three years for a cashew seed to grow into a tree that will start producing cashews, but most producers must wait a further 5-8 years before harvesting their first commercial cashew harvest.
A healthy and happy cashew tree will produce fruit and cashews every year, which are usually ready to harvest between February and May, depending on the climate. Once matured, both the cashew nut and its cashew apple will naturally fall to the ground, where they can be ground-harvested by hand or by machine.
From here, the cashews that we eat must first be separated from their shells and heat-treated to remove any trace of the toxin urushiol.
Can You Grow Cashews At Home?
Cashew trees thrive in hot countries, which means that you may struggle to produce your own cashews at home unless you have a huge heated greenhouse or live in the tropics. If you want to give it a try, remember that cashew trees can grow to be 46 feet tall, so you may want to stick to a dwarf variety. If eight years waiting sounds like too much, then you can always get your cashew fix from us here at Ayoub’s.
Are Raw Cashews Poisonous?
A little-known fact about cashew trees is that they come from the same plant family as poison ivy. This means that both cashew leaves and cashew shells contain toxic levels of urushiol, an oil that can cause a very itchy rash. Cashew nuts themselves do not contain this poison but are contaminated with it by their shells. The good news is, urushiol is broken down by heat which is why all cashews undergo steaming or roasting to remove their shells and make them safe to eat.
Does That Mean That Raw Cashews Aren’t Really Raw?
Raw cashews that are sold in stores aren’t technically raw nuts because they have undergone some heat treatment, but they can still be labeled as raw if they haven’t been roasted or flavored. For strict raw vegans, this could eliminate cashews from their diet, but most raw vegans allow them.
What Happens If You Eat Truly Raw Cashews?
Coming into contact with urushiol either by touching broken cashew leaves or the sap inside cashew shells won’t kill you, but it will give you a nasty rash. There haven’t been many studies on the effects of consuming unprocessed raw cashews, but studies in mice showed them to break out in an itchy rash.
It’s also important to realize that people react differently to urushiol. While some people may not experience any side effects at all, others will get a rash, and some could experience a serious allergic reaction. If you were to eat a lot of raw unprocessed cashews, then this reaction could even be fatal.
7 Amazing Health Benefits Of Eating Cashews
If all this talk of urushiol and poisons has started to put you off cashews, then let us encourage you to think again! After steaming, cashews are 100% safe to eat and provide so many amazing health benefits. Here are just seven ways that cashews are good for you.
- Cashew Nuts Can Help You Lose Weight
While cashews may be high in fat and quite calorically dense, they’re still one of the best snacks for people who are trying to lose weight. A one-ounce serving of cashews contains 157 calories and 12g of fat, but most of their fat content is monounsaturated and polyunsaturated. Unlike saturated fat, which isn’t good for you, monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fat are actually beneficial.
Monounsaturated fat, in particular, can actually help people to burn their fat stores by turning stored fat into free fatty acids that are easier for the body to use for fuel. Aside from being packed with healthy fats, cashews are also a good source of copper, which helps boost your metabolism, and they’re a great source of protein and fiber, which help keep you feeling full for longer.
- Cashews Can Lower Your Blood Pressure
If you have hypertension, then you should consider adding more cashews to your diet! Like many other nuts, cashews are full of healthy fats, which can help to lower levels of bad (LDL) cholesterol in your blood and increase levels of good (HDL) cholesterol, lowering total cholesterol levels overall. Cashew nuts are also a great source of potassium and magnesium, which are proven to help relax blood vessels and counteract a high-sodium diet.
- Cashews Can Reduce Sugar Spikes In Diabetics
Raw cashews are an excellent snack for people with diabetes. They’re low in sugar and high in fiber, which means that they won’t spike your blood sugar. Like many other nuts, when consumed in moderation, cashews can be extremely beneficial for people who are pre-diabetic or who have type-2 diabetes.
- Cashew Nuts Can Help To Prevent Heart Disease
Heart disease can be caused by many factors, two of which are high levels of bad cholesterol and narrowed blood vessels. The good news is, cashews can help to lower total cholesterol and increase vascularity. Despite being a calorific nut, cashews are packed with heart-healthy fats; therefore, when eaten in moderation, they can help to keep your heart healthy and prevent heart disease.
- Cashew Nuts Can Help Reduce The Risk Of Stroke
Cashew nuts not only reduce a person's risk of heart disease but can lower their risk of stroke too. Magnesium found in cashews can help to lower blood pressure, helping to prevent hemorrhagic strokes in people with weakened blood vessels.
- Cashew Nuts Help To Repair Muscle Tissue
If you like going to the gym, then you've probably heard of BCAA’s (branched-chain amino acids). BCAA’s help muscle tissue to recover after strenuous activity, which is why they’re often supplemented by bodybuilders. Cashews may not contain as much total protein per serving as some other nuts, but they have one of the highest levels of BCAA’s, specifically valine.
- Cashews Help To Combat Negative Effects Of The Keto Diet
Lastly, cashews are a great nut to include on the keto diet. Although they may have a slightly higher carb content than some other nuts, their healthy fats, and micro-nutrient content outweigh their negatives. Particularly for people consuming a lot of saturated fat, nuts such as cashews can help to lower their cholesterol levels and keep their vascular systems healthy.
Can Dogs Eat Cashews?
While cashews are considered extremely healthy for humans, they don’t tend to be fed to dogs. This isn’t because they’re poisonous but more so because they’re calorific.
So Cashews Aren’t Toxic To Dogs?
That’s right, cashews, like almonds and peanuts, are safe for dogs to eat but just because they aren’t poisonous doesn’t mean you should feed them to your dog all the time. Here are some of the key reasons why you should be cautious about feeding cashews to your dog.
- Cashews Are Calorie Dense
Like all nuts, cashews are a nutrient powerhouse, but this also means that they are very calorie-dense. While humans should limit their portion of cashews to one ounce at a time, dogs should only be eating one or two nuts and fairly infrequently. This is because most dogs tend to require far fewer calories than humans and can quickly become overweight when fed high-calorie treats.
- Cashews Are High In Fat
Almost all of the calories in cashews come from fat. Although cashews are filled with good kinds of fat, they’re still a fatty food and can upset your dog’s stomach. Feeding your dog a high-fat diet can also result in a condition known as pancreatitis that can be fatal. Feeding your dog a small amount of fat is usually fine, but it’s important to remember that they don’t need to eat as much as humans, and so their portion sizes should be smaller.
- Dogs Can Choke On Cashews
Cashews and all other nuts are a big choking hazard. Their size and shape make them a perfect obstruction, and so it is essential to chop them or grind them into nut butter before feeding them to your dog. If you are going to feed your dog whole cashews, then watch them carefully for any signs of choking.
- Cashews Can Be Contaminated
Finally, it’s important to remember that not all nuts are safe for dogs. Macadamias, in particular, are highly toxic, so you should never feed your dog cashews from a bag of mixed nuts. Chocolate is another ingredient to watch out for, and seasoned cashews can contain high levels of sodium.
- Can Dogs Be Allergic To Cashews?
Dogs can develop nut allergies just like humans can. If you’re feeding your dog nuts for the very first time, then only feed them a very small amount and watch them closely to see if they have a reaction. Signs of an allergic reaction include itching, head shaking, and face rubbing. If you suspect that your dog is having a reaction to nuts, then take them to the veterinarian and don’t feed them nuts again.
- How To Feed Cashews To Your Dog Safely
Dogs don’t need cashews in their diet, but if they scavenge a couple or are begging you to try one, then they’re not going to cause any harm. If you do want to feed cashews as a part of your dog's diet, then just remember that they are high in calories and high in fat, so they won’t need very many. To prevent inhalation or choking, you may want to chop your cashews or grind them into a nut butter - nut butter is a great filler for Kong toys and can also help to keep dogs occupied in the bath!
How To Make Your Own Cashew Cream
For a non-dairy cream alternative that is as thick and creamy as the real deal, then look no further than cashew cream. In recent years, cashew cream has become fairly mainstream and is now used in a wide range of vegan and dairy-free recipes and can even be found in some whole food stores. One of the reasons why cashew cream has become so popular is because of the growing number of people following a plant-based or vegan diet, but you don’t need to be dairy-free to enjoy cashew cream.
Cashew cream is also a healthier alternative to conventional dairy cream. Although cashews may be high in fat, they’re packed with the good kinds of fat that actually help to keep your heart healthy and can even lower your cholesterol levels.
If you’re looking for a cream substitute, then here’s how to whip up a batch of cashew cream from the comfort of your own home.
You will need:
- 1 cup of raw, unsalted cashew nuts (soaked overnight)
- ½ a cup of water
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- The key to a smooth cashew cream is well-soaked cashews. If you haven’t done so already, then you need to soften your cashews by soaking them in water. If you don’t want to wait, then the quickest way to do this is by covering them with boiling water and allowing them to sit for as long as you can (ideally, at least 20 minutes). For a super-smooth cashew cream, try to soak your cashews overnight.
- Add your soaked cashews, half a cup of cold water, and ¼ teaspoon of salt to a high-speed blender and blend together until they are smooth.
- If your cashew cream is a little thick, then add in some more water.
- Scrape down the sides of your blender a couple of times to remove any lumps.
And that’s it! Cashew cream really is quick and simple to make.
Flavoring Your Cashew Cream
Cashew cream doesn’t need to be flavored to taste amazing, but if you fancy a sweeter cream, then try adding in a couple of pitted Medjool dates or a dash of agave nectar with some vanilla extract. For chocolate cream, add in some cocoa powder and agave nectar. For a cream-cheese style sauce, add a tablespoon of nutritional yeast and a dash of garlic powder. And for a spicy, savory cream, throw in a chopped chili or some chili powder and a dash or two of smoked paprika. You get the idea.
How To Store Cashew Cream
If you aren’t going to use your cashew cream right away, then pour it into a jar or container with a lid and keep it refrigerated. Cashew cream can be stored in the fridge for up to a week. It’s not uncommon for cashew cream to split a little if left standing, so give it a good shake before using. If you like to plan ahead and want to make a big batch of cashew cream, then you can also freeze it for use at a later date. When freezing cashew cream, always cover it to avoid freezer burn and allow it to thaw before using. If your frozen cashew cream splits when melting, then add it back into your blender and give it a quick blend to bring it back together.
How To Make Three Types of Cashew Cheese
With just a slight alteration, you can quickly turn cashew cream into many different types of cashew cheese. Although cashews don’t ferment like conventional dairy, they can be manipulated into cheese-flavored sauces, a cream-cheese substitute, and even a set, sliceable cheese!
What Do You Need To Make Cashew Cheese?
Whether you’re making a solid cashew cheese or a creamy cashew cheese sauce, you need the same five essential ingredients.
- Raw cashews
- Lemon juice
- Nutritional yeast
With these base ingredients and some extra flavorings, you can create dozens of different types of cashew cheese!
How To Make A Cashew Cheese Sauce
For a rich and creamy mac-n-cheese, look no further than a cashew cheese sauce.
You Will Need:
- 4 cups of raw soaked cashews
- 1 cup of water
- 2-3 tbsp of nutritional yeast
- ¼ cup of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ¼ teaspoon of garlic powder (or a clove of garlic)
- ½ teaspoon of paprika
- 2 tbsp of olive oil
- 0.5-1 tbsp of sea salt
To Make Your Cashew Cheese Sauce
Making cashew cheese is as simple as throwing all of the ingredients into a food processor or blender and processing them until they’re smooth. That’s all there is to it!
Once added to your pasta, cashew cheese sauce tends to thicken a little. If you prefer a runnier sauce, then just add in some extra water.
Everyone likes their mac-n-cheese slightly different. So feel free to spice your sauce up with extra garlic, pickle juice, or even the odd chili or two for some extra spice.
How To Make Cashew Cream Cheese
Whether you spread it on crackers, add it to your sandwich, or use it as a dip, you have to try cashew cream cheese. We’ve kept this recipe super-simple, but feel free to add in garlic, chives, or sundried tomatoes for extra depth of flavor!
You will need:
- 1 cup of soaked raw cashew nuts
- ¼ cup of water
- 2 teaspoons of freshly squeezed lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon of sea salt
- Pinch of freshly ground back pepper
- To Make Your Cashew Cream Cheese
- Like cashew cheese sauce, cashew cream cheese is also a one-step recipe. Just add all of your ingredients to a food processor and process them together.
Although cashew cream cheese can be made in a blender, it does tend to work best in a food processor. If you only have a blender, then keep scraping the sides down.
How To Make A Sliceable Cashew Cheese
Sliceable cashew cheese is a little more complex to make than cashew cheese sauce or cashew cream cheese. Some set cashew cheeses are made by pressing cashews in a cheesecloth or a nut bag, but these are often crumbly and not easily sliceable. For a realistic, sliceable cheese, the best recipes that we’ve found use an ingredient known as agar agar. Agar agar is a vegan-friendly alternative to gelatine and helps to hold the cashew cheese together.
We’re aware that there are quite a few ingredients in this recipe. If you don’t have all the spices to hand, then you can omit them, but your cheese could lack depth of flavor.
What You Will Need:
1 cup of raw cashews (no need to soak them this time!)
⅓ cup of water
The juice of one lemon
- 2tbsp of coconut oil
- ¼ cup of tahini (you could use almond butter)
- ½ a carrot (peeled)
- 2.5 tsp of salt
- ⅓ cup of nutritional yeast
- 1 tbsp of agar agar powder (+ an extra cup of water)
- 1 tsp of garlic powder
- 1tbsp of dijon mustard
- Dash of cayenne pepper
- Dash of paprika
To Make Your Sliceable Cashew Cheese
- Start by finding yourself a cheese mold. This could be a bowl or a cake tin.
- Grease your chosen mold well with non-stick spray or coconut oil to stop your cheese from sticking.
- Next, add all of your ingredients to a blender or food processor, except for the agar agar powder and the extra cup of water.
- Keep the agar agar and water to one side.
- Blend the rest of your ingredients together at high speed until well combined and smooth. Don’t remove this mixture from the blender, as you will be re-blending it soon.
- Meanwhile, add the agar agar powder and extra water to a saucepan and bring to the boil over medium-high heat.
- Once boiling, set a timer for one minute.
- After one minute, remove the agar agar mixture from the heat and add it to your blender or food processor.
- Give everything another quick blend together. *Warning* - Do not use a sealed blender! Ensure that your food processor or blender has room for the steam to escape; otherwise, it could explode.
- Work quickly before your cheese starts to set, and pour your mixture into your desired mold.
- Place your cheese in the fridge until it has set, and you can turn it out.
This is just one recipe for a set cashew cheese, but there are plenty more online. If you don’t like the flavor of this cheese, then swap out the spices and try adding in some garlic and chives. Alternatively, you could keep your cheese plain and let the creamy cashews speak for themselves.
How To Make A Cashew Cheesecake
When it comes to vegan desserts, cashew cheesecake is a classic. While vegan-cream cheese substitutes undoubtedly taste better now than they used to, cashews still make the best cheesecakes!
We love this recipe because it is packed with nutritious whole foods. If you don’t want to make a raw vegan base, then you could use vegan Oreos or any other vegan biscuit crushed together with some melted vegan butter instead.
For A Chocolate Vegan Cheesecake You Will Need
For the base
- 1 cup of raw pecans or walnuts
- 3-4 pitted Medjool dates
- 1 teaspoon of vegan vanilla extract
- ½ cup of cacao powder
- 2-3 teaspoons of water
- ½ teaspoon of salt
For the filling:
- 3 cups of raw soaked cashews
- ¾ cup of cacao powder
- ½ cup of coconut oil
- ½ cup of water
- ½ cup of maple syrup
- 2 pitted Medjool dates (optional)
- 3 teaspoons of vegan vanilla extract
- ¼ teaspoon of salt
- Before you start making this cheesecake, you need to soak your cashews. It’s best to do this the night before, but if you’ve forgotten, then cover them with boiling water and allow them to sit for 20 minutes.
- Grease a 9-inch springform pan with coconut oil. Using a springform pan will make it much easier to remove your cheesecake.
- Next, make your cheesecake crust by adding all of the base ingredients to a food processor and pulsing until they combine to form a dough-like texture. If the base looks too crumbly, then add a dash of more water. Your base should resemble crumbled cookies.
- Add your base to the bottom of your springform pan and press it down firmly with the back of a spoon.
- Transfer your base to the freezer while you make your filling.
- For the cheesecake filling, add the soaked cashews (drained) to a high-speed blender with the rest of your filling ingredients. Blend on high power until smooth and thick. You can also do this in a food processor.
- Pour your filling over your base, level it out, and place the tin back in the freezer.
- Allow 4-5 hours for your cheesecake to fully freeze and set before serving.
- When you’re ready to serve your cashew cream cheesecake, take it out of the freezer and gently release it from the springform pan. If you like, you could drizzle it with some melted chocolate or top with some dark chocolate sea salt cashews.
Our top tips for the perfect vegan cheesecake:
- This cheesecake recipe is set in the freezer. If your cheesecake is a little firm when you take it out, then allow it to thaw slightly before serving. This will give it a lighter, mousse-like texture.
- If your cheesecake looks runny in the middle, then allow it to freeze for longer.
- If you don’t have cacao powder, then use cocoa powder instead. For a non-chocolate cheesecake, omit the cocoa altogether.
- Always taste-test your filling before freezing it so that you can adjust the sweetness or flavor as necessary. For more sweetness, add in some more maple syrup or agave nectar. For more chocolate flavor, add in a little extra cocoa powder. For more vanilla, add more extract. You can also add frozen strawberries to your filing for a strawberry cheesecake!
- Use a springform pan for easy extraction. Without a springform pan, it could be difficult to get your cheesecake out of the tin.
How To Make A Cashew Pesto
Last but by no means least, we want to leave you with this recipe for a delicious cashew pesto. Pesto is the perfect accompaniment to so many dishes. Throw it in pasta for an effortless sauce, add it to protein for a herbaceous kick, or use it as a dip for crackers or crudites.
While you may traditionally make pesto with pine nuts, we think this cashew variation works exceptionally well and gives the pesto some extra creaminess. Whatever kind of pesto you’re making, the key to a vibrant and delicious pesto is always to source high-quality ingredients. Where possible, try to use extra virgin olive oil, raw cashews, and organic herbs. If you’re vegan or dairy-free, then swap out the parmesan cheese for nutritional yeast.
You will need:
- 100g of raw cashews
- 50g of fresh basil
- 50g of spinach
- 4 cloves of garlic
- 6 tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
- 4 tbsp of parmesan cheese or a vegan alternative
- Pinch of sea salt
- This pesto recipe can be made in a food processor or in a pestle and mortar. Here’s what you need to do.
- If you have a food processor, then this pesto recipe can be whipped up in seconds.
- Add the cashews, basil, spinach, and garlic to your food processor and pulse until chopped.
- Slowly add the olive oil until your pesto reaches your desired consistency, and then mix in the parmesan cheese and sea salt. Try not to over-blend your pesto as it can become a little sloppy.
If you don’t have a food processor, then hopefully, you have a pestle and mortar. Making pesto with a pestle and mortar requires a little more elbow grease but is still definitely worth it!
- Chop the basil, garlic, and spinach roughly by hand and then add them to the pestle and mortar with the sea salt and a drizzle of olive oil.
- Carefully grind the leaves and garlic into a paste before adding your cashews and crushing them until they reach your desired chunkiness.
- Slowly drizzle in the remainder of the olive oil and mix in your parmesan cheese.
And finally, if you have neither a pestle and mortar or a food processor, then you can still make this recipe!
- Grab yourself a chopping board and a knife, and start chopping all of your ingredients finely.
- In a bowl, toss everything together and stir in your olive oil. Try to crush everything together with the back of a spoon to help the herbs release their oils.
Creating Your Own Pesto Flavors
Pesto is very versatile. While we’ve stuck to a traditional basil-based recipe, you could take your pesto in a whole different direction if you please. Here are some variations to try.
- Add in some coriander, mint, or parsley for a herbaceous basil alternative.
- Add a dash of lemon juice or orange juice for some fresh acidity.
- Swap out the extra virgin olive oil for another cold-pressed oil such as almond oil, avocado oil, or hemp seed oil.
- Add in a chopped chili or two for some spice.
- Toss in some chopped olives or capers for a little saltiness and zing.
How To Use Your Cashew Pesto
Cashew pesto can be used in exactly the same way as regular pesto. You can spread it on toast for a delicious healthy breakfast, toss it in with your pasta or salad as a dressing and even use it as a marinade for veggies or protein.
How To Store Cashew Pesto
We think that pesto tastes best when eaten fresh, but if you can’t use it all at once, then it will keep in the fridge for 3-4 days. If you’re trying to use up a big bag of cashews or a fresh bunch of herbs, then try freezing your pesto in an ice cube tray and pop a cube out as and when you need it.
So there we have it! Now you know everything there is to know about cashews. Do you like cashews? Don’t say no until you’ve tried our delicious hand-roasted cashew nuts! Or if you have a sweet tooth, then let our milk chocolate cashews tantalize your taste buds!