Bengaluru, March 24 (IANS) Once touted as a privilege of only the rich, cashew or kaju is the most consumed nut in the Indian subcontinent and used in a variety of food products.
“India is not only the world’s largest producer, processor and exporter of cashews but also its largest consumer, especially the broken nuts, used in making sweets, biscuits, cakes, chocolates and snacks throughout the year,” Karnataka Cashew Manufacturers Association secretary M. Tukaram Prabhu told IANS.
Excluding groundnuts, a common man’s delight, the cashew nut is more affordable than other nuts like walnuts among dry fruits and a key ingredient in a range of dishes, including upma, curries and even curd rice to tickle the palate.
Though grown mainly in the south and western states of Karnataka, Kerala, Goa and Maharashtra since the Portuguese brought a few cashew saplings in ships and sowed them along the west coast over 400 years ago, farmers in eastern coastal states like Andhra Pradesh, Odisha Tamil Nadu and West Bengal have also begun growing them.
“Cashew came to India in the 16th century and took roots in the coastal region, as its saplings found the local soil more congenial than in southern Europe where it originated. Through a three-month crop in a year and harvested in summer, farmers in eastern states have also joined us in growing its trees,” Prabhu said.
According to the Kochi-based state-run Cashew Export Promotion Council, the crop is grown across 700,000 hectares, producing around 400,000 tonnes of raw nuts in shells annually though the yield per hectare is less than in Africa, Brazil, Indonesia and Vietnam for various reasons, including mechanization.
“As a short, stocky and ever-green tropical tree, the cashew tree flowers once a year between November and January and its fruit ripens in two months (February-March) for harvesting by summer,” Prabhu said.
In raw form, while cashew kernel is soft, white and meaty, its colour and taste changes when roasted, turning into a golden hue from creamy white and its mellow pulp becomes crisp. When salted, it turns into a most delicious nut.
“India was the first country to enter the world market with cashew kernels and pioneered its processing as an industry, with 4,000 units, employing about 400,000 people, 90 percent of them being women,” Prabhu added.