Once you’ve seen where a cashew nut comes from, it is easy to understand why they are so pricey! The plant is actually a smallish tree and, although grown all over the tropics worldwide, it is native to Brazil. Known in Amazonian Peru as Cashu or Marañón, it is best suited for drier, open regions such as pastures or savannas. The fruits (actually the pedicels) look a bit like apples and are red to yellow when ripe. The pulp and juice are somewhat astringent but tasty and an important source of Vitamin C. Fermented, it is used to make brandy or wine.
Each fruit has a single nut at one end and this is encased in the actual fruit, which is hard and highly toxic. In fact, the cardols produced from baking this fruit are used to make lacquers and varnish. The seed (cashew nut) itself cannot be consumed unless it is roasted so cashews are labor intensive! The yellowish resin produced by the bark is used by some indigenous communities for treatment of bowel disorders, as a contraceptive, or as an astringent. Latex from the shell of the nut is used topically for skin disorders such as warts or ringworm, and infusions for toothaches are made from the leaves.
Cashew production in India and Brazil is a significant agricultural enterprise, and the fact that the tree thrives on poor, sandy soils makes it an ideal choice for growing in tropical regions.