Anacardium occidentale, the cashew, is an evergreen tree in the Anacardiaceae (cashew or sumac family) that originated in Central and South America and is now cultivated commercially in semi-arid tropical areas in Africa, India, Sri Lanka, and southeastern Asia for the production of cashew nuts. The tree, which is up to 12 meters (40 feet) tall, has leathery alternate leaves, and flowers with 5 petals and 5 sepals. The fruits take an unusual form, with a kidney-shaped nut (drupe) borne on the end of an receptacle (the stem that holds the flower and fruit), which becomes enlarged and fleshy so that it appears as a fruit (with the nut like a comma dangling at its end), and is referred to as a “cashew apple.”
The cashew apple is edible, with an astringent flavor, and is used in jams, jellies, chutneys, and beverages (including a cashew wine); it is a good source of vitamin A and contains up to five times as much vitamin C as citrus juice. Cashew apples are also used as animal fodder. Cashew nuts, which are important in the cuisine of India, are often roasted and salted and eaten as a snack, and are high in protein, vitamins (A, D, K, and E) and minerals (including calcium, phosphorus, and iron). Other products from the plant include cashew nutshell liquid (CNSL), which is an irritant to human skin (it causes blisters similar to those of poison ivy, Toxcicodendron radicans, which is in the same genus) but is used as a lubricant and insecticide; and acajou gum, from the plant’s stem, which can be used as a substitute for gum arabic or in similar applications, such as varnish.
Total 2010 world production of cashew nuts was 3.6 million tons, harvested from 4.4 million hectares. India was long the leading producer of cashew nuts. However, Nigeria was the largest producer in 2001, and Vietnam’s production surpassed them both in 2002; Vietnam has been the leading producer since. Brazil is the leading producer of commercially sold cashew apples.
(Bailey et al. 1976, Encyclopedia Brittanica 1993, Morton 1987, van Wyk 2005)
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