Cashew Nut (Anacardium occidentale)

Cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) with CashewsThe cashew is a spreading evergreen tree growing to a height of 12 meters (40 feet), with leaves up to 20 centimeters (8 inches) long and 10 centimeters (4 inches) wide. Its trunk is often irregularly shaped and its flowers are yellowish-pink. The leaves of the Cashew tree are spirally arranged with a leathery texture.

Drawing of a Cashew Tree showing the various componentsIts fruit is very easy to recognize because of its peculiar structure. The fruit is thick and pear-shaped, pulpy and red or yellow when ripe.  This fruit bears a hard, green, kidney-shaped nut at its tip. This nut is smooth, shiny, and green or brown according to its maturity.

Where to Find: The cashew is native to the West Indies and northern South America, but transplantation has spread it to all tropical climates. In the Old World, it has escaped from cultivation and appears to be wild at least in parts of Africa and India.

Edible Parts: Color drawing of a Cashew Tree showing the various componentsThe nut encloses one seed. The seed is edible when roasted. The pear-shaped fruit is juicy, sweet acid, and astringent. It is quite safe and considered delicious by most people who eat it (it is rarely sold in stores because its fragility makes it difficult to transport).  The fruit of the Wild Cashew, a related plant, is poisonous unless it is cooked.

Note: The green hull surrounding the nut contains a resinous irritant poison that will blister the lips and tongue like poison ivy (which is why you never see Cashew Nuts sold in their shells). Heat destroys this poison when the nuts are roasted but you must take care because smoke from roasting the nuts can also irritate the lungs.

Cashew Tree branches with hanging fruit

Cashew Tree flowers and leaf structure

Nuts on a Cashew Tree

Flowers on a Cashew Tree

Close up view of Cashew Tree nuts

Cashew Tree

Wild Cashew Tree - note the similarity in leaf structure to the regular Cashew tree