The process of taking the cashew from tree to table isn’t as simple as it is for other nuts. This is mainly because the cashew isn’t exactly a nut. It’s classified as a fruit, though the nut itself isn’t actually found in the cashew apple. Instead, it’s located in the drupe, a small kidney-shaped hard shell that grows beneath the cashew apple. The process of removing the cashew from the drupe is more complicated than simply cracking open the shell. Let’s take a look at the steps it takes to get a cashew off the tree and into your mouth as raw or roasted cashews.
Step 1: The Drupe Is Removed from the Tree
First, farmers carefully remove the mature drupe from the tree. They have to be extremely careful when doing this so the drupe remains intact. The interior of this shell is filled with several different oils and acids that can cause extreme skin irritation. Workers should always wear gloves and long-sleeved shirts when picking cashews to protect their skin if a drupe does break open.
Step 2: The Drupe is Dried or Frozen
Next, the drupe is placed in the sunlight to dry out for several days. This helps dry out the acids and oils within the shell, making it safer to crack open. The drupe can also be placed in the freezer instead. Both techniques help reduce the risk of cutting open the shell.
Step 3: The Drupe is Roasted
After the drupe has dried out, it’s roasted over a fire or steamed in a boiler. The drupes are roasted for about 20 minutes, after which the hard outer shell will be more flexible. After cooling, they can then be cut open. Roasting must be done in an open-air space because the fumes can be toxic if inhaled.
Step 4: Removing the Shell
Now that the shell can easily be removed, workers can carefully cut it away. They still have to wear protective gear because some oils and acids may remain in the shell. They will carefully remove the kernel, which contains the actual cashew nut inside of another shell. These kernels are then washed and carefully cleaned to ensure that no trace of oils remain on them.
Step 5: Peel Away the Inner Shell
Once the outer shell has been removed and the cashews have been cleaned, they’re placed in an oven and heated at 60 degrees for 24 hours. This softens up the kernel’s inner shell, which can then be peeled away. Workers have to be very careful not to damage the cashew as it’s removed because whole cashews are worth more than broken pieces. There are no acids or other harmful oils within the inner shell, so the process isn’t as dangerous.
Step 6: Grading
Once the edible cashew nut has been removed and cleaned, it can be graded. Whole cashews can be categorized in a number of categories based off of their size. The most valuable ones are the largest. Broken pieces are removed but kept. They can be sold as cashew pieces and, while not graded, still taste as good as whole cashews.
Why Fair Trade Processing Matters
If you purchase cashews that are roasted or raw, and are not labeled as fair trade, it may mean they were processed using very unsafe methods. Workers may not have access to gloves and other protective gear. This means their hands and arms may be burned or irritated by the oils in the drupe. One of these oils is actually what makes poison ivy so irritable to the skin, so workers’ hands can be scared and permanently injured from repeated exposure. Workers may also be paid very little for their work.
We Offer Only Fair Trade, Organic Cashews
Beyond the Nut prides itself in offering only cashews that have been processed in safe conditions by workers who are fairly paid for their work. Our cashews are also organic, which means no chemicals were used in the growing and harvesting process. Take a look at the cashews we offer and add this flavorful, healthy nut to your diet.