Cashews: All you need to know

The cashew is a fascinating nut with a unique harvesting process, storied history, healthy nutritional profile, and so much more. Native to the Caribbean Islands, northern South America and Central America, this nut is born out a tropical evergreen tree, the cashew tree. Cashew is derived from the Portuguese word caju, which in itself is a derivation from another word acajú from the Tupian language that translates to “nut that produces itself”.

The tree produces the cashew seed, which is the nut customers know and love, and the less talked about by-product the cashew apple. The cashew tree’s botanical name is Anacardium occidentale but has different names according to geography. In addition to caju in Brazil and Portugal, and acajú in the Tupian language, the cashew tree is known as anacardier in France.

Portuguese colonists exported cashews from Brazil to parts of East Africa and India in the 1550s, and the tree nuts blossomed in abundance in the coastal regions.

At present, India, Ivory Coast and Vietnam are the world’s biggest producers of this kidney-shaped nut. In fact, Olam has a large presence in Vietnam, having set up base 22 years ago and has grown organically to over 6,500 employees in the central and southern regions. Olam Vietnam Limited, a subsidiary of Olam International, has even been recognized as one of the best places to work in Vietnam, thanks to the company’s commitment to investing in its people.

Cashews: Growing and processing

So, how do cashews grow? Consumers will be surprised to note that the cashew nuts they eat are not in the same form as when picked from the cashew tree. Each cashew grows attached to what is called a “false fruit” known as a cashew apple.  These are mostly red and yellow in color, resembling an apple, but are pear-shaped (Purdue, 1987). The fruit is edible but also highly perishable and is a mere by-product of the cashew tree. Hence, it isn’t as popular or widely consumed as the cashew nut itself.

The cashew tree is considered to be low maintenance, as it does not require high levels of irrigation and is used in afforestation programs. The tree, which can grow up to 14 meters in height, can survive in poor soil conditions and is reasonably tolerant of drought-like circumstances.

The cashew nut is first detached from the cashew apple, and with its shell still intact is left to bake in the sun. Customers typically will not be sold cashews along with the shell.


Because the cashew shell contains anacardic acid, a toxic compound that can cause irritations similar to poison ivy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Mar 1983).

Therefore, the nuts are deshelled and are then either roasted or steamed to remove the testa (skin), along with any possible traces of poisonous residue, before being sorted and packaged for commercial distribution.

Take a look at how Olam processes its cashews at its Vietnam plant as they're transformed from a raw, shelled nut into the ready-to-eat snack people around the world know and love! From steaming and shelling, to mechanical and hand sorting, to drying, roasting, dicing, and packaging - Olam does it all. Click here to watch the fascinating video.

Cashew Apple

The cashew apple is the fleshy fruit the cashew nut is plucked from. While it may not be mass exported and well known like its seed counterpart, owing to bruising easily and having a short shelf life, the cashew apple is consumed in different ways. It is eaten fresh like any other juicy fruit, is made into an alcoholic drink, fermented into a vinegar and even used as an ingredient in curries.

Nutritional profile and benefits

These light-colored nuts contain a whole host of healthy goodness and pack a healthy punch in just one serving. An ounce, that equates to around 28 grams, of cashew contains (Nutrition Data):

Cashew nutritional properties




8.56 g


1.68 g


0.9 g


5.17 g

Total fat

12.43 g


10 mg


1.89 mg


83 mg


168 mg


187 mg


3 mg


1.64 mg

These kidney-shaped nuts have a multitude of benefits and when incorporated in a healthy, balanced diet can have positive effects on human health. Some of cashew’s benefits include:

  • Weight loss: Cashews, especially in their raw form, may aid in the effective management of weight because the human body only absorbs 84 percent of the calories they provide (National Center for Biotechnology Information, Dec 2018). This is owing to a portion of fat not being absorbed during digestion as it remains trapped in the cashew’s fibrous wall.
  • Heart health: Consuming cashews may help heart health as that possibly lowers LDL “bad” cholesterol, which is an indication of good heart health (National Center for Biotechnology Information, Jan 2019).
  • Sugar level: Adding cashews to one’s diet may be beneficial for people with type 2 diabetes. This is because the fiber content of cashews possibly prevents blood sugar spikes (Healthline, Jun 2020).

Popular Recipes

Customers looking to experience the above benefits and overall good health should consider incorporating cashews in their balanced diet. It is very easy to add cashews to one’s diet as they can be consumed on their own, used as a recipe in sweet or savory snacks, dinners and delicious desserts, or even processed into cashew cheese or cashew butter. Olam has curated a list of cashew recipes, click here to know more. Buy cashews in bulk online from Olam Nuts!