October 9, 2016: I love cashews. I love cashew butter. I love sourcing locally grown cashews here in the Philippines.
You can’t get much more local than this.
Earlier this spring, I happened to be visiting friends in Pamatawan, about a 30-minute bus ride from Subic. While I was there, Nelia and Merlyn’s father, Tatay Joe, who is 87 by the way, decided it was time to roast a batch of cashews from their tree.
Before this moment, I’d never given any thought to how cashews grow or how they are processed.
What an eye opener this day was for me. As Joe cracked open the shells, Merlyn and I peeled off the bitter, outer skin, revealing the freshly roasted cashews inside. It was hard not to gobble them all up. I resisted, except for the odd broken piece.
After about an hour, we ended up with a small bowl of cashews. It was a lot of work. Sometimes the peels came off easily, other times not so much. It certainly seemed that the well roasted nuts were much easier to peel. Merlyn sent me home with a bag of the freshest roasted cashews. Yum.
Later, as I checked into cashews a bit more, I started uncovering a whole bunch of really interesting things about these nuts. The first one being that they really aren’t nuts at all.
Here are ten fun facts about cashews:
- Cashews are not nuts. They are actually seeds.
- The seed hangs down from the outside of the cashew fruit. Because the seed is outside, the fruit is considered a false fruit. Strawberries are another example of a false fruit.
- The fruit can be eaten, processed into jams and jellies or fermented into alcohol. Apparently bats like the apple too. Maybe that helps to explain why there are so many fruit bats in Subic.
- When still in the shell, cashews resemble a large lima bean. At this point the cashews are actually quite dangerous. The shell contains an oil that can “burn” skin. For this reason, cashews aren’t sold in the shell to consumers.
- Compounds found in the shell can be used in the manufacture of paints and varnishes.
- Cashews originally came from Brazil and were first introduced to India by the Portuguese before eventually making their way to Southeast Asia and the Philippines.
- World cashew production reached almost 630 thousand metric tons in 2014, similar to production levels of pistachios and walnuts, and lagging only behind almonds at one million metric tons. (Source: International Nut & Dried Fruit, 2014 statistics)
- Cashews are only grown in the tropics where there’s no risk of frost. The biggest producers are Vietnam, Nigeria and India. Brazil now lags in tenth position.
- In the Philippines, which is the sixth largest producing nation overall, most cashews grow in Palawan. There are also grown even closer to us, just down the road in Bataan.
- Roasting the shells and getting the cashews out isn’t an easy process. It’s no wonder they’re expensive.
Around Subic Bay, there are a number of ladies that hawk bags of roasted cashews from one of a few different small local cashew producers at very reasonable prices. Of course, when I am running out of cashews, they are nowhere to be found and I am forced instead to buy cashews from the grocery store. Invariably the ones for sale in the shops are processed in Vietnam and elsewhere.
Have you ever seen a cashew in the shell? I still have my first pod tucked away somewhere on MOKEN. At some point I expect it will be confiscated by quarantine officials when we enter a country that has restrictions on agricultural imports.