For a long time, the cashews that customers ate came from wild trees. Now, the bulk of cashews are grown on tropical plantations across the world. We are going to take a look at the work of Scientists in India and their development of new varieties. Specifically, 60 percent of the worlds cashews are processed (and grown) on Indian plantations.
The National Cashew Gene Bank was started in India in 1986. At last report there was genetic material from more than four hundred varieties stored there. For a comparison, in the United States, six thousand farmers grow all of our almonds. In India, it is hundreds of thousands of growers, all involved in producing the world cashew supply.
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The Start Of Cashews Farming Season In India
The bloom begins in the dry weeks of November or December. Pollination is by the wind, although local bees contribute as well. New research on the red ants or weaver ants (Oecophylla smaragdina) find that are a potential biological control agent against a wide range of pests found to attack India’s cashew fruits. Ants that live in the trees help with the process.
Each branch of the tree will hold nuts at various stages of development. When the nut has grown to its full size, probably an inch and a half long, the stem elongates and the other part of the equation, the cashew apple, starts to grow. It is ripe when the apple is oval shaped, two or three inches long, and red or yellow in color. That is when the cashew apple and the nut hanging below it fall to the ground.
The cashew apple is a juicy but bitter and fragile fruit that must be used within twenty-four hours after ripening . Its juice is sometimes extracted and fermented into an inexpensive alcoholic drink, but mostly, it is considered expendable and is left on the ground after the nut is taken. The first batch of nuts will be gathered perhaps as early as January. The yield will ebb and flow, peaking and declining for the next several weeks.
In mid-March most will have matured and fallen. Farmers do not pick the nuts from the trees. Each branch will have nuts in various stages of development. Pulling a cashew from the branch might damage the immature nuts. There will be a few more in April, then a final small yield in May, just before the summer rains.
Cashews Processing Techniques And Usage
Mentioned at the top of this article that 60 percent of the worlds cashews are processed in India. Some of the Indian cashew crop comes from as far as Benin in West Africa for processing before getting to America and Europe.
The cashews, in their hard dark shells, are usually spread out in the sun to dry for a couple of days. They get a quick roasting to facilitate the removal of the pungent and corrosive CNSL, the cashew nut shell liquid. There are several processes used to do that. Most usually they are bathed in a solvent that dissolves and draws out the liquid. Then the skilled and patient women who work the processing lines carefully cut the cashews open, one by one.
CNSL is today still a profitable byproduct of cashew processing, showing up in paints and varnishes, or as an element in friction linings, such as clutch facings and brake linings. One of the workers pointed to a huge Indian-made Tata truck. “It uses the Cashew two ways,” he said. “There is CNSL in the clutch to get it going and in the brake linings to make it stop.” We also learned that it is sometimes used, unprocessed, by the fishermen to treat the wooden hulls of their boats.
About 90 percent of the world’s cashews are consumed as a snack food. In India, however, especially in the south, cashews are used widely and creatively, often ground to thicken and give flavor to dishes, cooked or roasted, as an integral part of a recipe. Often added as a tasty and attractive garnish.
Because of the intensive labor it takes to get them to market, the cashew is one of the more expensive nuts-but clearly the world thinks they are worth it. Read the full history of the Cashew here!