Here’s a guide to cashews — the tasty, creamy nut that everyone loves. Here you’ll find lots of ways to enjoy them as well as how to make and use cashew butter.
Cashew nuts may be the closest rival to peanuts in terms of popularity in North America. They’re a favorite in many Asian countries, including India, as well.
It used to be that the world’s leading producer and exporter of cashews was India, though now, that has been surpassed by Vietnam. However, the large tropical evergreen on which they grow is believed to have originated in South America.
How cashews are prepared for consumers
Cashews grow on the bottom of an odd-looking, pear-shaped fruit. The hard outer shell of the cashew consists of two layers, between which is a substance called cardol. To release this highly caustic substance, cashews are roasted at high temperatures.
The nuts can then be removed from the shell. They’re then heated again to remove an unwanted membrane layer. The necessity for these rigorous processing steps is the reason cashews are always sold shelled. The final step before exportation is sorting and grading cashews according to size.
To be clear, then, when cashews are labeled raw, that only means that the nuts haven’t undergone an additional roasting process after the membrane has been removed.
Buying and storing cashews
Both raw and roasted cashews are available in bulk in natural food stores. In the supermarket, you’re more likely to find them packaged, with a choice of salted or unsalted.
Broken cashew pieces are also available in bulk, offering a more economical alternative to buying them whole. These are fine for use in baking or cooking. Look for whole nuts or pieces that are fragrant and uniformly golden and plump.
Store cashews in airtight containers if bought in bulk, or keep in packages until ready to use. Because cashews are lower in fat than other nuts, they don’t go rancid as quickly.
Still, it’s best to buy only what you’ll use within a month or so, and keep cashews refrigerated in the warmer months to be on the safe side and preserve their freshness longer.
Despite their creamy, rich quality, cashews are among the lowest in overall fat content of all the nuts, at 46 percent. The largest portion of the fat is monounsaturated, with small, roughly equal amounts of polyunsaturated and saturated fat.
Cashews are 15 percent protein. One cup of cashews contains about 22 grams of protein and 750 calories; 1 ounce (18 medium or 14 large nuts) contains 185 calories.
Cashews are rich in iron and zinc. They provide good amounts of other minerals as well, including phosphorus, potassium, and magnesium, as well as several B vitamins. Learn more about the nutrients in cashews.
Tree nut allergies
Cashews are tree nuts, and as such, some people are prone to allergies to them. If you have tree nut allergy, you’ll want to avoid cashews. If not, please be aware of this factor when serving others. It’s always good to ask guests ahead of time if they have any allergies or sensitivities to certain foods.
General uses for cashews
Stir-fry or curry garnish: Look for global recipes using cashews in Indian and Asian cookbooks and websites. Their delicious flavor adds a nice touch to stir-fried vegetables and to spicy curries.
Grain pilafs: Toss a handful of cashews into grain pilafs. They’re compatible with any kind of rice, especially brown Basmati, as well as pilafs made with couscous and quinoa.
Add a sweet touch to vegetable salads: Try this: combine a cup or so of very lightly steamed snow peas with an equal amount of matchstick-cut white turnip or daikon radish. Add a 15-ounce can of drained baby corn and toss together with tender greens as desired. Dress with sesame-ginger salad dressing and toss again. Garnish with chopped cashews. Try this simple Kale Salad with Cranberries and Cashews.
Ditto for fruit salads: Cashews are delicious tossed into winter fruit salads of apples, pears, and bananas.
Raw vegan cheesecake: Look for recipes using raw cashews to make divine vegan cheesecakes. Try this lemony beauty.
In smoothies: Since cashews blend up so well, toss a handful into your blender to create a rich, creamy beverage.
In dips and patés: Use cashews as a base for truly luscious dips like Vegan Mock Chopped Liver, above.
Cereal topper: Top individual servings of cold or hot cereal or granola with 2 tablespoons or so of chopped cashews.
Trail mix: Make your own trail mix by combining cashews with other nuts, plus seeds and dried fruits.
Cookies and other baked goods: Because they tend to lose their crunch in baking, cashews are better in drier batters, such as those for cookies or shortbread, than in wet ones, such as for cakes and muffins.
Vegan cashew sauces and cheeses
This deserves its own category! Whoever discovered that cashews can be the basis of rich, creamy sauces and cheeses is a genius. Basically, you need to soak cashews for some time, after which they blend beautifully. Here are a few recipes for creamy vegan cashew sauce, which is a fantastic embellishment for vegetable dishes, pastas, and as a dip.
Rivaling the genius of cashew sauce any cashew-based vegan cheeses. To learn this technique and discover some great recipes, there are a number of cookbooks dedicated to the subject of vegan cheeses. Here are a pair of recipes to get you started:
If you like cashews, you’re bound to love cashew butter. Imagine the rich, slightly sweet flavor of cashews translated into a sensual, spreadable substance. Why isn’t this product more widely used? The most obvious reason is surely the cost, since cashews often cost three to four times more than peanuts.
Make your own cashew butter: Though readymade cashew butter can be a somewhat costly treat, the good news is that if you have a food processor, you can easily make a very fine homemade version. Simply start 1 to 2 cups (depending on the size of your processor and how much you want to make) of lightly roasted cashews (whole or chopped). Use 1 tablespoon of neutral oil per cup to get things moving, and simply process until smooth and creamy.
Cashew butter is a concentrated source of all the nutrients that nuts are known for. A 2-tablespoon serving contains approximately 190 calories, 16 grams of fat, and 6 grams of protein.
Use cashew butter wherever you’d use peanut butter; here are a few ideas:
- Your favorite peanut butter cookie recipe will be transformed into something a bit more special with cashew butter.
- For a twist on the classic peanut butter-and-jelly sandwich, try cashew butter on whole-grain bread with a natural fruit butter.
- Another satisfying sandwich is cashew butter with sliced banana and vegan bacon on whole grain or sourdough bread.
- Use cashew sauce in place of peanut butter to make luscious nut sauces. Try substituting it for peanut butter in Coconut-Peanut Sauce or Dressing.
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