Samui Wining & Dining
What do You Mean, it’s Not a Nut?

Whatever it is, the cashew is versatile, tasty and nutritious.

 

8When you think of eating in Thailand, what dish do you think of? Okay, well besides pad Thai? It’s quite possible it will be chicken with cashew nuts. Even though it’s actually Chinese in origin, it’s a tasty dish, not too spicy and still very much associated with Thailand.

      So what is a cashew nut and where does it actually come from? Well, without trying to confuse you, the cashew nut isn’t a nut at all - it’s actually a seed. A seed that sticks to the bottom of the ‘cashew apple’, which is the fruit of the cashew tree. The cashew tree is a tropical evergreen, officially classed as ‘anacardium occidentale’ (the same family as the mango and pistachio nut). The fruit, the cashew apple, looks like a yellow rose apple. In Latin America the pulp is made into a sweet fruit drink which apparently has notes of mango, raw green pepper, and just a little hint of grapefruit-like citrus. It is sometimes even distilled into liqueur. The seed is contained in a bean-shaped casing, which is sometimes used in lubricants and paints, and some other parts of the tree are traditionally used in folk remedies (including a treatment for snake bites!) The two layers of shell surrounding the seed contain a skin irritant, chemically related to a toxin in poison ivy, which is why you will never find cashews sold in their shells.

      So now you know all about the nut, (or rather the seed), but what about the tree? The tree is originally native to the coastal areas of north eastern Brazil, but is now also widely grown in other tropical regions. Vietnam and Nigeria are major producers, as well as India, Ivory Coast and Indonesia. You can also find cashew trees on Samui. In fact you can spot one on the path to Hin Lad waterfall in Nathon. The largest cashew tree in the world covers an area of around 7,500m2 and is found in Natal in Brazil. Needless to say, the one in Nathon is slightly smaller.

      Worldwide, cashews can be found in most supermarkets all year round, and are ideal as a snack, but are also an extremely tasty and nutritious addition to salads and stir-fries. Nutritionally, cashews have a lower fat content than other nuts and approximately 82% of their fat is unsaturated (which is good!) and of this, 66% are heart-healthy monounsaturated fats, similar to what you find in olive oil. Monounsaturated fats added to a low-fat diet can help reduce the bad fats in your system that are responsible for heart disease.

     The British Journal of Nutrition published a report showing that nuts were linked with a lower risk of coronary heart disease. Those who eat nuts at least four times a week, show a 37% reduced risk of coronary heart disease compared to those who don‘t. And even further, each additional serving of nuts per week is associated with a further reduction of risk. So if that’s not a good excuse to eat chicken with cashew nuts, or nibble on some nuts during the day, I don’t know what is.

      But even with this scientific proof, many people avoid eating nuts because they have a high fat content, and there is more emphasis nowadays on weight loss than consuming healthy fats. But weirdly, there was a 28-month study, that involved more than 8,800 adults, and was published in a journal called 'Obesity', that proved that people who eat nuts twice a week are 31% less likely to gain weight than those who don't. Food for thought?

       The cashews that you can buy in most health stores are raw, and even though you can eat them plain like this roasting them really brings out the flavour. Toss the raw cashews in a little oil, sprinkle with salt, and then toss again. Lay them on a baking sheet and put them into a low heat preheated oven and roast until they start to turn light brown. Toss them occasionally to prevent them from burning. For a quicker result, you can also fry them in a little oil on the stove top but be warned, once they start to brown, they can burn quickly!

         Because cashews have a high fat content, if they're left at room temperature, they won’t stay fresh for very long, so make sure you store them in an airtight container in the fridge. This way they can last around four to six months, or up to eight months in the freezer.

         They are often used as a thickening agent because of their high starch content (23%), and can be added to curries in the form of a paste; chopped or used whole; and are sometimes used in desserts and cakes.

         So there are many ways for you to enjoy the cashew - sprinkle a handful over your breakfast cereal or lunchtime salad, enjoy with your stir-fry or curry, or just nibble on a handful when you're feeling peckish.

         

Colleen Setchell


 


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