University of Florida Extension ServiceUF/IFAS Okeechobee County Extension Service

458 Highway 98 North

Okeechobee, FL 34972-2578

 June 26, 2008

Quick Links:  Relatives     Tropical Fruit Tree   Growing Cashews   Cashew Products   References 

Feature Article - for release the week of June 30, 2008

Dan Culbert -  Extension Horticulture Agent, retired Cashew Botanical Print

I Can’t Believe - it’s a Cashew!




My recent visits and work at EARTH University’s new campus in Northwest Costa Rica introduced me to many different plants.  As an incurable gardener, I was amazed at the crops that can grow in this dry tropical area of Central America .



One of the more fascinating trees I encountered was a small tree that was covered with a fleshy fruit.  It looked like a sweet pepper, except it had a seed growing at the end.  Many small trees lined  the main entrance road and a few others were scattered around campus. 




The local “Ticos” (Costa Ricans) called this fruit el Marañón and said the fleshy fruit was good to eat.  But they warned me to stay away from that seed.  The seed looked familiar, and I found out is quite toxic in the raw form.  However, if properly roasted and cracked open, it is very familiar to snack food fans.  This is the subject of this week’s column – the cashew.




All in the Family


It amazes me that this plant family can have such a wide variety of really good and really bad plants.  And, rather than call it by a “proper” name – Anacardiaceae – it would be easier to fall back on a more familiar family name– the Cashew Family.



This family includes some rogues that are all too familiar in our Florida Yards, the Brazilian pepper (Schinus terebinthifolius), poison ivy (Toxicodendron radicans),  poison sumac (Rhus vernix) and our native poison wood (Metopium toxiferum). 



Brazilian Pepper Tree Poison Ivy Vine Poisonwood Tree
"Hayden" Mango Here are some less desirable Cashew relatives: (top left) Brazilian Peppertree [photo: B. Navez, Wikpedia]; (top center) Poison Ivy [Anne Murray, UF/IFAS]; (top right) Florida native Poisonwood tree [David Lee, FIU].

Some other desirable cashew relatives include the Mango [left, Ian Maguire, UF/IFAS] and (right) pistachio [Stan Shebs, Wikpedia.]




Not all of this family is undesirable, as there are several useful plants also in the cashew family; the mango (Mangifera indica) and the pistachio (Pistacia vera) are two that come to mind.



All of these plants have thick dark green leathery leaves with prominent veins.  They generally grow with woody stems, although in the case of poison ivy, the stem is not self-supporting.   And in most cases the fruit is significant – for better or worse. 



Running through all of these plants is an oily sap that contains a very irritating substance – urishol –which causes most people to break out in a skin rash when they contact it.  The warning is that some are more sensitive to this sap that others. If you are severely affected by poison ivy, you should be cautious about mangos, and pistachios, and cashews for that matter. 



And for safety’s sake, don’t burn any of the raw plant residues.  The sap stays around even in dried cuttings and can become airborne in smoke.   A product called ivy-block can be applied before contacting these plants. It reduces the severity of the rash if it is put on before exposure to the cashew relatives. 




Cashews in the Tropics



The cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) originally came from the dry tropical highlands in eastern Brazil.  From there, it was sent all over the world because of its fleshy fruit.  As people have learned how to safely and efficiently roast and shell the seed, the nut has now become more important in the marketplace.



The cashew apple “fruit” is not really a fruit, but an enlarged fleshy stem that produces the seed.  The flesh has the consistency of a mango, and the flavor is somewhat similar in taste.  I only had one chance to taste the fruit.  It was good but much milder than a mango.



Cashew apple “fruit” is sweeter when fully ripe, but if it falls off the tree you would have to race the many other creatures that want to eat it.  It has a short shelf life, so if not eaten fresh or made into tropical beverages or desserts, it may be made into fruit preserves or dried.




Cashew Trees line the entrance to EARTH LaFlor's Campus in the dry northwestern part of Guanacaste, Costa Rica.  Flowering occurs in mid winter (January) ; the fruit mature in mid spring (April.)  Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Mature Cashew Apple The fleshy stem of the cashew-apple matures to a yellow or red color. They have a short shelf life.  The true fruit is the hard capsule on the blossom end of this "receptacle". Photo: Adrian Hunsberger, UF/IFAS  The flesh of the cashew apple is like a Mango in texture and flavor. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS.

Cashew Apple being cut

Flesh of cashew apple

Careful - Unripe Marañón are astringent, and my provoke a undesirable reaction. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS.



Cultural hints


Cashew trees may be grown in frost-free areas.  UF Tropical Fruit specialist Jon Crane has a very detailed bulletin on growing cashew apple trees.  Let us know if you would like to receive a copy.  If you want to grow cashews in Florida, here are a few important things to think about:


*       They do not like any frost.  Plan on keeping this tree in a container and rolling it indoors when near-freezing temperatures are forecast.

*       It will take several years for a small seedling tree to get big enough to flower and fruit.  Enjoy the fleshy cashew apple like a seedless mango; throw away the seed or use them to try to grow a cashew tree.

*       If you want to grow your own, don’t use a nut out of the jar – it has been roasted and will not grow.  While they are difficult to find in nurseries, I did locate a nursery near Homestead that has cashew trees for sale.

*       Do not (i.e. DON’T) try to break open the seeds, extract the nut and eat it, as there is a thick gooey layer of toxic oil just waiting to cause you lots of skin rash.  (If you want to learn how to properly roast any homegrown cashew nuts, please contact our office and I will help you locate some instructions.)



cashew apples and nuts

Cashew Apples are harvested for making into cashew apple recipes, while the external seed are separated for further processing.  Photo: Univ. of Georgia.  

Raw Cashews The fruit are sun dried and will needed to be roasted and cracked open before the nuts are safe to eat. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS Nuts and butter Roasted cashews can be processed into a very delicious cashew nut-butter. Photo: Dan Culbert, UF/IFAS


Enjoying Cashews


People living on this side of the border know cashews as that curved shaped nut with a pleasant taste.  Often found in mixtures of snack nuts, cashews are used in some favorite recipes like Cashew Chicken.



During my visit to a market in Costa Rica, I looked for some dried fruit or even a container of cotos de la Marañón (Cashew apple preserves).  My search for those products was unsuccessful, but I did find a very colorful jar of mantequilla del Marañón – cashew butter.  



On my return, I enjoyed this tasty product and then took a careful look at the label.  I discovered that the nuts were grown in Asia, shipped to New York State where they were processed into the spreadable cashew butter, then exported to Costa Rica for sale!  I’ve since found that cashew butter can be purchased here in Florida supermarkets, right next to the specialty peanut butter. 



Hope you enjoy some cashews while you are celebrating our country’s 232nd birthday.  If you need additional information on cashews, please contact your local Extension office.  GO GATORS!


Trade names, where used, are given for the purpose of providing specific information. They do not constitute an endorsement or guarantee of products named, nor does it imply criticism of products not named. The Florida Cooperative Extension Service - Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences is an equal opportunity/affirmative action employer authorized to provide research, educational information, and other services to individuals and institutions that function without regard to race, color, sex, age, handicap, or national origin.  Florida Cooperative Extension Service / IFAS / University of Florida Nick Place, Dean. Last update: 03/31/2015 


Azam-Ali,  S. H. &  Judge,  E. C.  Small-scale cashew nut processing.  Warwickshire, UK:  FAO, ITDG  Schumacher Centre for Technology and Development, © 2004. 

McLaughlin, John,    Balerdi,  Carlos and Jonathan Crane Cashew-Apple Fruit Growing in the Florida Home Landscape [HS1127].  Gainesville: UF/IFAS Extension Service,  March, 2011.

Morton, Julia. "Cashew Apple". p. 239–240. In: Morton, Fruits of warm climates.  Miami, FL, Fairchild Gardens, 1987.

Park-Brown, Sydney.  Cashew (Anacardium occidentale)  In: FlorIDa, Plant Identification website, 2009. 


Other Cashew references

Cashews    Wikipedia, accessed 11/16/2012. 

Cashew Butter:

How NOT to roast Cashew Nuts:  

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