What’s the Fruit?

There's a lot more to it than you might think!

Can you identify this fruit?


If you’re stumped, don’t feel bad. This is not the kind of fruit you will see at the grocery story. However, you are probably familiar with its nut:


It’s a cashew apple! That weird green bit is the cashew nut (technically a seed). You can eat the fruit and make juice and alcohol from it but it is very delicate so it’s not exported fresh.

There’s apparently a bit of a catch 22 with the cashew fruit: when the apple is nicely ripe, the cashew nut isn’t ready to be harvested; when the nut it ready, the fruit is basically rotten. Which do you want more: the apple or the nut?

I bring this up because today, April 21, is Chocolate Covered Cashew Day according to Foodimentary.

And, every time I think I cashews, I’m reminded of a story from my childhood. My family lived in Jamaica for 2 years in the early 90s. Cashews grow in Jamaica and I guess we had some near by. My brother and dad decided to roast some cashews. So, they put the nuts, in their shells, into the oven and waited. Then, they opened the oven to check on and were greeted with a hot burst of poisonous gas! My brother’s face and hands swelled up like balloon. My dad’s hands looked unreal.

We didn’t have internet access back then; no way to Google “the best way to roast cashews”, no way to know they can be poisonous!

Cashews are in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac! Many plants in this family “produce Urushiol, an oil that can cause a nasty, painful rash” (source)

The shell of the cashew nut can cause a reaction just from touching it. Roasting it releases the gases and, if you roast them in a closed oven, you end up with a concentrated cloud of gas coming at you as you open the oven. After the ‘poison gas’ incident my mother said that’s why she’d only ever seen people roast cashews over open fires.

So, that lovely, rich cashew that you enjoy roasted and salted or from which you make vegan cheese or use to thicken your soup, well, there’s a lot more too it than you probably thought! And now you know why, unlike other nuts, you don’t ever find cashews for sale in their shells.