Delicately sweet yet crunchy and delicious cashew nuts are packed with energy, antioxidants, minerals and vitamins that are essential for robust health. Cashew is one of the popular ingredients in sweet as well savory dishes worldwide.
The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) is native to Brazil’s Amazon rain forest. It spread all over the planet by Portuguese explorers and today, it is cultivated at commercial scale in Brazil, Vietnam, India and in many African countries.
Growing Cashew Nuts:
Cashew tree bears numerous, edible, pear shaped false fruits or “accessory fruits’” called “cashew apples.” Cashew nut which actually is a “true-fruit”, firmly attaching to bottom end of cashew-apple, appearing like a clapper in the bell. Botanically, this tiny, bean shaped, grey “true fruit” is a drupe, featuring hard outer shell enclosing a single edible kernel known commercially as “cashew nut.”
Its exterior shell composes a phenolic resin, urushiol, which is a potent caustic skin irritant toxin. In the processing units, this outer shell is roasted under high flame in order to destroy urushiol resin, and only then underlying edible cashew kernel is extracted.
Cashew nuts measures about an inch in length, 1/2 inches in diameter, and kidney or bean shape, with smooth curvy pointed tip. Each nut splits into two equal halves as in legumes. Cashews feature a cream white color with the firm yet delicate texture and smooth surface.
Health Benefits of Cashew Nuts
- Cashews are high in calories. 100 g of nuts provide 553 calories. They are packed with soluble dietary fiber, vitamins, minerals and numerous health-promoting phyto-chemicals that help protect from diseases and cancers.
- They are rich in “heart-friendly” monounsaturated-fatty acids like oleic, and palmitoleic acids. These essential fatty acids help lower harmful LDL-cholesterol while increasing good HDL cholesterol in the blood. Research studies suggest that Mediterranean diet which is rich in monounsaturated fatty acids help to prevent coronary artery disease and strokes by favoring healthy blood lipid profile.
- Cashew nuts are abundant sources of essential minerals. Minerals, especially manganese, potassium, copper, iron, magnesium, zinc, and selenium are concentrated in these nuts. A handful of cashew nuts a day in the diet would provide enough of these minerals and may help prevent deficiency diseases. Selenium is an important micronutrient, which functions as a co-factor for antioxidant enzymes such as Glutathione peroxidases, one of the most powerful antioxidants in the body. Copper is a cofactor for many vital enzymes, including cytochrome c-oxidase and superoxide dismutase (other minerals function as co-factors for this enzyme are manganese and zinc). Zinc is a co-factor for many enzymes that regulate growth and development, gonadal function, digestion, and DNA (nucleic acid) synthesis.
- Cashews are also good in many essential vitamins such as pantothenic acid (vitamin B5), pyridoxine (vitamin B-6), riboflavin, and thiamin (vitamin B-1). 100 g nuts provide 0.147 mg or 32% of daily-recommended levels of pyridoxine. Pyridoxine reduces the risk of homocystinuria, and sideroblastic anemia. Niacin helps prevent “pellagra” or dermatitis. Additionally, these vitamins are essential for metabolism of protein, fat, and carbohydrates at the cellular level.
- Further, the nuts are also hold a small amount of zea-xanthin, an important pigment flavonoid antioxidant, which selectively absorbed into the retinal macula lutea in the eyes. It is thought to provide antioxidant and protective UV ray filtering functions and helps prevent age-related macular degeneration (ARMD) in the elderly.
Cashew nut allergy is a common hypersensitivity condition in some individuals, especially in the children. The reaction symptoms may range from simple skin itching (hives) to severe form of anaphylactic manifestations, including breathing difficulty, pain abdomen, vomiting, and diarrhea.
The allergic manifestations are due to chemical compound anacardic acid (urushiol) that is present in cashew apples, shells, and nuts. Cross-reactions may also occur with some other nuts and fruits of Anacardiaceae family such as mango, pistachio, etc.
Individuals with known allergic reactions to cashew nut and fruit may observe caution while eating them.
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