The cashew plant is native to Brazil and was introduced to India in the latter half of the 16th century as a crop to check soil erosion. Today it is a valued cash crop, grown on the slopes of the hilly regions of the east and west coasts of India.
All those pictures with the cashew nut perched on top of its parent fruit should tell you that cashew nuts are seeds of the cashew plant- but with a difference. They grow OUTSIDE the core or heart of the fruit!
Uses of cashew nuts
A handful of cashew nut or kaju is the tastiest of snacks. Cashews are used for garnishing of curries and sweets, and made into a paste and used to enrich gravies. Who hasn't heard of or yearned after kaju barfi or spooned up the garnish of slivered kajus on top of a halwa!
A 100 gm. serving of kaju provides 553 calories. The nuts are high in fats, protein, and dietary fiber. They are rich sources of minerals including iron, potassium, zinc, selenium, copper, manganese, phosphorous and magnesium. Kaju also contains thiamine, Vitamin B6, and Vitamin K.
100 grams of raw cashew nut contains 113 mg of beta-sitosterol which has considerable medicinal value.
Cashew nuts are nutrient dense. Eating a handful of cashew nuts comes with many health benefits.
Rich in vitamins
The nutrition profile of cashew nuts shows us how rich they are in the vitamins that are so essential to the functioning of our bodies.
Vitamin B6 holds the key to more than 100 enzyme reactions in our body and is necessary for metabolizing proteins at the cellular level.
Thiamine or Vitamin B1 is essential to prevent deficiency diseases like beriberi, the inflammation of nerves or neuritis associated with pellagra or deficiencies during pregnancy. Thiamine is also beneficial to kidney health in people with type 2 diabetes and preventing memory loss including that caused by Alzheimer's. Thiamine is essential to the human body to make proper use of carbohydrates.
Vitamin K is necessary for the clotting of blood to prevent excessive bleeding. Recent studies have suggested that it is beneficial to bone health particularly in preventing osteoporosis and steroid-induced bone loss.
A handful of kaju is truly a vitamin supplement- and a tasty one at that!
Mineral wealth a boon to health
Cashew nuts are a good iron supplement: the mineral is essential for keeping anaemia at bay.
Selenium is an important micronutrient necessary for the formation of anti-oxidants that ensure heart health.
Minerals such as copper, manganese, and zinc are necessary for bone health, digestion, DNA synthesis, sexual functions, eyesight, etc. In fact, every function in our body is triggered and controlled by all these essential minerals.
Benefits of Beta-sitosterol
This plant ester found in cashew nuts is a boon of nature. It boosts the immune system, prevents colon cancer, and is good for the gall bladder by arresting the formation of gallstones. It is also useful in the treatment of migraines, hair loss, bronchitis and chronic fatigue syndrome.
Cashew nuts are also recommended for a pleasant night's rest especially during menopause.
Some common misconceptions
Cashew nuts are high in fats. But these are mostly unsaturated fats. You can get 67% of your daily value of fat from 100 grams of kaju. Cashew nuts also contain 17% of saturated fat; this is more than the 6% contained in walnuts and almonds, but not such a huge difference as to put them on a banned foods list! If you have to choose between an equivalent amount of chips or any other type of fast food, and cashews, go for the latter! Kaju is nutritionally more beneficial: this is not an 'empty calories' kind of snack.
There are those few who have tree nut and peanut allergies. Individuals with known allergic reactions must take care.
Since cashew nuts are so nutritionally dense, it would be a good idea to eat them by replacing empty calories like fried snacks rather than in addition to your regular calorific intake.
It's best to eat cashew nuts raw, but nobody should deny themselves the pleasure of the roasted and spiced variety once in a way.
How to store
Cashew nuts usually stay fresh for up to a month. Keep them in a bottle or container with a tight-fitting lid.
If you have more than you can use, you can keep them in the fridge for up to 4-6 months.
If you've got a whole lot in some sort of a Diwali bonanza, then it's best to store them in the freezer.
Kajus can be bought everywhere from your local grocery store to exclusive dry fruit shops. A good brand ensures that the cashew nuts that you are going to buy have been stored well and are free from pests.
Kaju also comes in different grades. The bigger the size of the nut, the costlier it is. These nuts are also more valued and expensive when they are whole. The problem with buying whole nuts is that you don't know what they may shelter inside. This is the reason that you must buy from a reputed brand or store to get the best value for your money.
Include cashew nuts in your diet to supplement your nutritional intake. Add them to your morning cereal. Use kaju paste instead of cream to give your gravies that thick texture and creamy taste. Or just take a fistful and enjoy your day while munching away.