The Nut that Grows Outside the Fruit

Vietnam, Nigeria and India are the leading producers of cashew nuts, while the African continent, despite its enormous amount of output, continues to lag behind its Asian rivals in its processing skills

The Nut that Grows Outside the Fruit

Cashew nuts are native to Brazil. Portuguese explorers brought this unusual nut from the South American country in the 16th century to as far as India and Mozambique. Now Vietnam is the world’s top producer of this valuable edible nut, although India is its top processer.

Let us take a look at this unique kidney-shaped nut. The cashew apple, its nuts and other byproducts, are of high commercial value. The greatest feature of cashew nuts is that it is attached to the cashew apple, the edible fruit of the cashew tree. The raw nut has a seed in itself – the kernel which is covered by a membrane and outer shell. When raw, the cashew kernel is soft and meaty.

India pioneered the processing of raw cashew nuts and also turned it into an industry. Almost 40 percent of the world’s raw nut production in the world is from Africa, but the continent processes just 10 percent of it. The rest is processed in India and Vietnam, followed by Brazil.

Sixty percent of this global output of cashew kernels are consumed by you and me as snacks, while the rest is used as an important ingredient in confectionery items.

Production Process Raw cashew nuts are roasted and the shell is removed. The shelling process is done manually. A medium-sized cashew enterprise in India employs between 300 and 500 people. India’s main cashew-producing centres are Goa, Bangalore, Kerala, Kanyakumari , Panruti, Chennai and Rajamundry in South India. In each of these regions, more than 50,000 workers are employed in the business.

Once shelled, the cashew nut is peeled. After peeling, cashew kernels are graded according to their colour and size. The white wholes are packed as W180, W210, W220, W240 and W450, according to the colour and size. The size is determined by the number of kernels in every unit of pound. The broken pieces are graded as splits, bults , large white piece and small white piece. During the roasting process some pieces get a slight reddish colour due to overheating . The brown kernels are marketed as scorched kernels. Whole scorched kernels and broken ones are packed separately for sale.


Most packing is done manually, as is the processing of cashews. Standard packing is fifty pounds (2 x 25 pounds) per carton. Preliminary packing is done in polythene bags. Carbon dioxide or nitrogen is infused in these bags to prevent insect infestation. The polythene bags are packed in good quality cartons.


The international market price of cashew kernels is highly volatile, making the trade risky. Raw cashew nuts are purchased in advance and kept in storage to facilitate the processing without any hindrance. The stored nuts remain there for months before exported. If the price falls during the processing period the seller could bear huge losses. On the other hand, if prices go up, the seller stands to reap what could be a massive windfall.


The cashew nut shell liquid ( CNSL), a byproduct of cashew nut processing, is composed of anacardic acids. It is a volatile industrial product and can be used to make anti-corrosive paints. The cashew kernel oil is an antidote for poisons.


Cashew kernels are rich in calories, minerals, vitamins and phyto-chemicals . They are a good source of minerals like iron, manganese, and potassium . Cashew nuts also lower LDL (bad) cholesterol while increasing HDL (good) cholesterol.


India’s cashew nuts exports have been growing in recent years, and the land devoted to its production is huge, as is employment in the sector. In a recent interview with The Guardian, Hari Krishnan Nair, chairman of the Cashew Export Council of India, who also runs his own business processing and exporting cashews, commented: “We have approximately one million people engaged directly in the processing of cashews, and another 200,000-odd people who are engaged in the growing of cashew in the country. If you look at the people dependent on this (industry) , you are talking about a very large number of people.”


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