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What Are Cashews?
Cashews are seeds produced by a tropical evergreen tree known as Anacardium occidentale. The cashew tree produces cashew apples, small red-yellow false fruit (called an accessory fruit) with a cashew nut dangling off the base. (The true fruit of the cashew tree is a much smaller drupe that acts as a receptacle for the cashew nut.) Although the cashew seed is called a nut, it's not a true nut—true nuts come from fruits with a single seed and a hard shell that does not split open upon reaching maturity.
Native to South America, cashews were exported from Brazil in the sixteenth century by the Portuguese, who kept the plant's Tupian name, caju (acaju for the nut). Some of today’s major producers of cashews include India, Mozambique, Vietnam, and Nigeria. You can purchase cashews at the grocery store, where they are sold deshelled and skinless because the nut’s raw exterior contains anacardic acid, a skin irritant.
6 Ways to Use Cashews in Your Cooking
Cashews are versatile nuts that you can use in savory and sweet applications, such as:
- Toast for a snack. Cashews are protein-packed and great for snacking. Try them roasted with rosemary, brown sugar, and salt, or try your own salty, sweet, or spicy seasoning.
- Purée into butter. Roasted and raw cashews make an excellent nut butter that you can use to replace peanut butter. Additionally, you can make homemade cashew butter without any sweeteners and use it as a substitute for cream or cheese in dairy-free recipes.
- Blend into milk. Cashew milk is one of the creamiest nutmilk alternatives. You can make this easy recipe at home by blending cashews with water and a sweetener of your choice. Learn more about different nutmilks in our complete guide.
- Make cashew chicken. Cashew chicken is a Chinese-American dish of chicken and roasted cashew nuts coated in a sweet brown sauce that typically features hoisin sauce or oyster sauce, soy sauce, sesame oil, white pepper, and honey or sugar.
- Add to stir-fries or fried rice. Chopped cashews add a nice textural component to stir-fries and fried rice.
- Make korma. Ground cashews form the base of the creamy, nutty sauce known as korma, which is used in vegetarian and meat-based stews in India and Pakistan.