The food world is always looking for the next “new thing.” One year, it's walnuts, then it's almonds, then it's pistachios. The humble raw cashew, however, may be due for its day in the sun, as this nut is not only delicious and nutritious, but it has culinary versatility other nuts can't match.
The cashew nut (technically, a seed, but it's lumped in with other tree nuts) comes from the cashew tree (Anacardium occidentale) and grows on the outside of the cashew apple, inside a hard, resinous shell. The shell can be used to make oils and lubricants, but is also toxic, which is why you'll never see cashews in the shell in stores anytime soon.
Raw cashews themselves are a significant source of protein, antioxidants (including several B-vitamins), and trace minerals copper, manganese, phosphorus, zinc, and magnesium. Even though they are almost half fat, that is primarily the “good” unsaturated fat, and cashews actually have less fat per ounce than almonds, walnuts, or peanuts.
Unlike other tree nuts, raw cashews are high in starches, up to 10%, which accounts for their smooth, buttery flavor. This high starch content make them ideal to use as natural thickening agents, something many Asian cuisines discovered centuries ago.
Raw cashews are great just by themselves, but their taste and health benefits makes them ideal in other applications, raw or otherwise. Throw them in with some raisins, goji berries, cacao nibs, and granola, and you've got homemade trail mix. Similarly, chopped cashews add a smooth crunch to raw energy bars, or as a topping on anything from breakfast oatmeal to dinner salads, and everything in between. Cashews are great for the raw food diet, but once they get heated, they start to lose their crunch.
Like other nuts, cashews not only make an excellent nut butter, but also a nut milk. Why not? You've had almond milk before, why not cashew milk? All you need is a nut milk bag and a quality blender and you've got a unique and tasty nut milk you can use in the same way as almond milk.
Cashew oil, like other nut oils, can be used for cooking, or raw for use in dressings or other applications. Cashew oil is low in fat and high in heart-healthy oleic and palmitoleic acids. You can find it at oileries and on the internet, or, should you happen to have your own cold press at home, you can make your own. Sadly, we're not quite to the day where everyone has their own cold press yet.
For those wanting to bake gluten-free, cashew flour can be mixed with other gluten-free flours, like almond flour or coconut flour. It's ideal in quick-baking recipes, such as pancakes, cookies, and cakes, or “un-baked” into raw cookies or other desserts. If you're experimenting with Asian cooking, cashew flour makes an ideal thickener for curries and other Asian dishes.
There's really little this kidney-shaped nut can't do. So why don't you give this year's “it” nut a try and see what you can come up with, because raw cashews aren't just good, they're good for you.
Cashew Nut Milk Recipe (courtesy of About.com)
- 1/2 cup raw cashews
- 2 cups water
- Sweetener (raw maple syrup, agave nectar, or raw honey), optional
- Sea salt (optional)
Cover raw cashews with water and allow to soak for at least one hour (more is better, if you can wait a bit a longer!). Drain and rinse.
Place soaked cashews and 2 cups water into a blender or food processor and process until smooth, at least one full minute. Add a dash of raw sweetener, such as agave nectar to taste.
You can use more or less water to vary the thickness of your raw cashew milk, depending on your personal preference, but in general, you want a 1:4 ratio of cashews to water.
You may also choose to strain your raw cashew milk using a nut milk bag, depending on personal preference.
Wikipedia.com, “Cashews” read here.
SmartKitchen.com, “Cashews” read here.