Nutritional Benefits of Costa Rican Cashew Fruit
Cashew: Not a Nut but a Fruit
Before moving to Costa Rica, I had no idea that the cashew nuts that I love and enjoy are actually a fruit.
This is common knowledge in places like Costa Rica but for those of us who have never lived in a region where cashews grow, most of us have never been exposed to the whole fruit. This is because the fruit is unable to be exported due to their very thin skin. The fruit is very juicy and starts to spoil almost immediately after being picked from the tree.
When not speaking of just the seed (which we call the nut), the cashew is actually known as cashew fruit. It is made up of three parts, the fruit, the nut and the apple.
- The kidney shaped part that encloses the nut is called the fruit.
- The yellow and orange fleshy part is called the apple.
- The "cashew" that we all know is called the nut or the seed.
Now, don't let this terminology confuse you.
If you ever come across a cashew tree, you do not want to bite in to the kidney shaped "fruit" surrounding the cashew nut! It contains urushiol oil, the same trouble causing, itch inducing substance that is in poison ivy and poison oak.
After studying this beautiful fruit, I realized that if you take a look at the make up of it you can see the brilliance of it's design.
The "fruit", the wrinkly grey coating that the seed is wrapped in looks much less appetizing then the gorgeous skin of the cashew apple, which just begs you to take a juicy bite!
This is nature's way of protecting the seed from being eaten by animals. In most cases, the animal will eat the apple and discard the not so visually appealing seed. This preserves the seed, allowing it take root and grow in to another tree.
This system all works perfectly out there in nature. Leave it humans to mess it all up!
We, of course, harvest the seed, roast them and then eat. (They are delicious!)
Beautiful and Nutritious Fruit!
Nutritional Benefits of Cashew Fruit
The health benefits of the cashew nut are widely known.
- They are high in fiber.
- They are lower in fat then most other nuts.
- The fat contained in cashew is unsaturated with 75% of it being oleic acid which is the same good for you monounsaturated fat that is found in olive oil.
- Cashews can help lower your "bad" cholesterol and reduce the risk of heart disease and stoke.
- Cashew nuts are also high in copper and magnesium.
However, the fleshy fruit also packs a nutritional punch.
- The fruit contains tannins, like those found in green tea and wine. Tannins are antioxidants. They help to strengthen the immune system and fight free radicals which cause cancer.
- The fruit also contains very high levels of vitamin C (more then 5 times more then oranges).
- It also contains mineral like copper and magnesium which help combat premature aging.
- It is rich in vitamins B1, B2 and B3 and contains calcium, iron and beta carotene.
- The cashew fruit is also know for it's antibacterial properties and is used to kill worms and parasites in the body.
Ways to Add Cashew to Your Diet
In places where cashew fruit is grown the locals use it to make delicious cashew juice.
The juicy apple of the cashew fruit is a little sour so typically some sort of sweetener - agave, honey or sugar is typically added. It does cause a slight dry sensation in the mouth that tannins are known for. Typically the pulp of the fruit is strained and just the juice is consumed.
Juicing is an easy way to boost your fruit and vegetable intake (something most Americans need to do) and is a great way to start getting a variety of nutrients into your diet.
I also like to make fruit smoothies using the flesh, pulp and juice of the cashew fruit. I add mango, papaya, pineapple and banana, which are naturally sweet so no additional sugar is needed.
A traditional South Indian recipe is to add salt and white pepper to the pulp and juice of the fruit and then drink it.
Cashew fruit can be pressure-steamed for 5-15 minutes and then made into chutneys and jams.
The fruit can also be dried in a dehydrator turning it in to a chewy fruit candy.
The cashew nut can be used to make a creamy milk which is more nutritious and much better for you then drinking cows milk. You can also make a delicious and very nutritious home made cashew ice cream.
Do you love peanut butter? Try cashew butter for a change.
If you live in a region where cashew fruit are grown, cashew fruit can be a delicious and nutritious addition to your diet. If you don't have access to the fruit, make sure to eat the nut!