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This month's selection, the cashew, is an edible nut, and is the seed of the tropical American cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale, which is a member of a large family, Anacardiaceae, of which only a few species (sumac, poison ivy, the smoke tree) are found in the temperate zone. The cashew is a large evergreen tree that reaches heights of 9-12 m (29-39 ft). The leaves are oval and leathery; the rose-tinted, fragrant flowers grow in clusters at the ends of young branches. The nut is kidney shaped, the size of a large bean, and borne beneath a yellow or orange fruit called a cashew apple. The apple is edible and can be fermented to make wine. The outer covering of the fruit contains an extremely caustic oil that must be burned off before the nut can be touched. The kernels are then boiled or roasted again, and a second shell is removed. The nut is used as a food, as a source of food oil, as a flavoring. The tree yields a gum that is the basis of a special varnish used to protect books and woodwork from insect damage.

The cashew tree is indigenous to the West Indies, Central America, Peru, and Brazil. The Portuguese transplanted it to the East Indies as early as the 16th century, and it was later established on the eastern coast of Africa. Today, the leading cashew-producing countries are India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mozambique.

Grollier's Multimedia Encyclopedia

Click here to see this month's exotic recipe: Oriental Stir-fry Chicken and Cashews

Hazelnuts | Hickory Smoked Almonds | Peanuts | Brazil Nuts | Cashews | Pecans
Mixed Nuts | Macadamias | Honey Roasted Peanuts | Almonds | Pistachios | Walnuts

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