All about cashew

All about cashew
It is not a nut. It is a seed. It is not a fruit. It is a false fruit”. At Park Hyatt Goa’s annual Cashew Trail event, truths were getting muddled with my ignorance about cashew nut. Wait. So, the sole nut that hangs from the succulent cashew apple is a seed? And when did plants get trapped in the true/false identity angst? How do fruits become false? They are not humans.

Never before did I have existential questions about fruits, but there I was mulling over the cashew tree which originated in Brazil and was brought into Goa by the Portuguese nearly 500 years ago. Goa is the ideal place to ask all cashew questions. After all, the state is nearly synonymous with cashew.

Early April, the Goan air was redolent with the whiff of ripe cashew apples — red, yellow, orange and one breezy morning, I was picking fallen apples with a pointed stick in Madame Rosa Cashew Farm in Valpoi. That’s the rule — cashew apples are never plucked off trees. You wait for the fruit to ripen and drop off the bough. Traditionally, the apples were foot stomped to get the juices flowing which is later fermented and bottled as urak and feni, the latter listed by Time magazine as one of the world’s ‘Top 10 Ridiculously Strong Drinks’.

More than one use
In Brazil, cashew apples are stewed for dessert (doce de caju). I have no sweet tooth but I wanted a cashew wrap. Not as scrumptious grub sliced with a knife, but a cashew wrap for the skin to slough off the tan and get it gleaming. Cashew resins are used in car brake liners and in the paint industry.

Thankfully, I was not varnished at the spa. The cashew kernels were used as dead-skin scrub with pure cashew paste slathered over and then cling-wrapped; the regimen finished off with virgin cashew nut oil that contains loads of Vitamin E and unsaturated fatty acids. Cashew nut oil as beauty ingredient also finds mention in Ayurveda and even modern cosmetic industries use the unsaturated acids in this oil for restoring the skin’s moisture and smoothness.

At the Cashew Trail lunch in the shade of palm fronds, cashew was having a glorious moment. Every dish had a hint or an overload of cashew. Worldwide, cashew nut is the favourite munchie, but various cuisines have brought the cashew nut into the kitchen in myriad ways. In India, cashew turns into the scrumptious kaju katli; in the far East it can be softened and sautéed with bok choy into a salty snack; in the Philippines, turrones de casuy is a dessert where cashew is the marzipan boss. Cashew nut is an essential ingredient in the widely popular cashew chicken recipe and in shahi korma, in which cashew nut is ground to paste to make the gravy.

Thai and Chinese gravy dishes also contain cashew paste, while in Malaysian cuisine, a shrimp paste called sambal belacan includes the young cashew leaves. Milk extracted out of cashew nut is the saviour for vegans. Boiled cashew nut milk is used in vegan soups and is a preferred substitute for cream used in the kitchen.

Chef Saulo Bacchilega swears by cashew nut. Everyone can butter roast the nut perfect but this chef gives it tasty twists — pepper cashew nuts, cafreal and hot and sour nuts that turn into perfect drink accompaniments. All you have to do is roast the cashew nuts with readymade cafreal spice mix and oven dry it. For sweet/sour flavour, add jaggery and chilli before oven-drying the nuts. Cocktail master Maynard D’Costa recommends adding spices and seasonal fruits with feni and urak to create the innovative Buenisima, Orange Sunrise and Fenirinha cocktails.

Nearly 500 years ago, when a Portuguese sailor hopped off the ship with a cashew sapling in hand, little would he have known that the cashew nut would eventually become the monarch of Goa’s land.

The goodness of cashew
n Ignore all the spiel about cashew being fat-loaded. Cashew nut is certainly not fat-less but it contains ‘good’ and not ‘bad’ fat.

n It is a useful source of proteins and minerals such as iron, copper, manganese and phosphorous.

n The presence of copper in cashew makes it a popular antioxidant.

n Cashew apples are known to have health benefits, such as management of blood sugar levels and hypertension.

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