Cashew nuts are great snacks for the health conscious. Packed with nutrients, they are beneficial to your heart – and your blood sugar too. While they’re good enough to eat on their own, they make for great additions to cashew nut recipes too. They can be used for vegan, gluten-free delicacies, such as cashew cheeses to cashew butter. Nutritious and certainly delicious, the cashew nut is truly one of the best edible gifts from Mother Nature.
Where Do Cashew Nuts Come From?
Cashews – while called so – are technically drupes. The nuts are found at the end of the cashew apple and are known to take the shape of a boxing glove. With that being said, the nut that most people love is technically a single seed found within this ‘true fruit’.
Cashew nuts are obtained from the cashew nut tree, which is scientifically known as the Anacardium occidentale. A native of South America and the Caribbean, the Cashew tree can grow anywhere from 20 feet (dwarf variety) to 46 feet. From Brazil, the Portuguese imported the tree to Goa, India, which then spread towards the rest of Asia and Africa. Due to this movement, the top producers of cashew nuts nowadays are Vietnam, India, and Côte d’Ivoire.
The Many Uses of the Cashew Tree Fruit
The name cashew was derived from the Portuguese ‘caju,’ which means ‘nut that produces itself.’ This is indeed an appropriate name, as the cashew nuts on the tree can be used to make a variety of things. For one, they are pressed to make cashew oils, butter, and cheeses, among many others.
As for its yellowish/reddish cashew apple, it can be eaten fresh or added to a cashew nut recipe. It is oftentimes fermented to make vinegar and is even used to make a beverage known as feni/fenny. In India and Brazil, cashew apples are also used to make chutneys, jams, and preserves.
The cashew shell, despite its skin-irritating properties, can be just as useful. It is often used in making lubricants, paints, and waterproofing materials. It was even used to produce armaments during the height of World War II.
Cashew Nuts Nutrition Facts
Eating an ounce of raw cashew nuts will give you the following nutrients:
- Cashew nut calories: 157 kcal
- Protein: 5.16 g
- Total lipid (fat): 12.4 g
- Monounsaturated fats: 6.7 g
- Polyunsaturated fats: 2.22 g
- Carbohydrates: 8.56 g
- Dietary fibre: 0.936 g
- Vitamin C: 0.142 mg
- Thiamine: 0.12 mg
- Riboflavin: 0.016 mg
- Niacin: 0.301 mg
- Pantothenic acid: 0.245 mg
- Vitamin B6: 0.118 mg
- Folate: 7.09 mcg
- Vitamin E: 0.255 mg
- Vitamin K: 9.67 mcg
- Calcium: 10.5 mg
- Iron: 1.89 mg
- Magnesium: 82.8 mg
- Phosphorous: 168 mg
- Potassium: 187 mg
- Sodium: 3.4 mg
- Zinc: 1.64 mg
- Copper: 0.622 mg
- Manganese: 0.469 mg
- Selenium: 5.64 mcg
- Lutein + Zeaxanthin: 6.24 mcg
What Are the Health Benefits of Cashew Nuts?
As mentioned, an ounce of cashew nuts can give you loads of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. With the help of these nutrients, you can enjoy these cashew nut health benefits:
1. Rich in Vitamins
You get virtually all the vitamins you need for the day – with an ounce of cashew nuts.
An ounce of cashews contains 9.67 mcg of Vitamin K. This is equal to 12% of your recommended daily value (RDV). Vitamin K is a fat-soluble compound essential for proper blood clotting. Without it, you may bleed to death even after a simple injury.
At 0.12 mcg, cashews provide 8% of the Thiamine RDV. Also known as Vitamin B1, this nutrient is often used to address the following conditions:
- Cerebellar syndrome
- Heart disease/failure
- Diabetic pain
- Canker sores
- Cataract and glaucoma
- Motion sickness
- AIDS and other immune system disorders
Apart from these, thiamine also provides the many benefits of cashew nuts for the brain. According to the US National Library of Medicine, thiamine may help you fight stress and maintain a positive mental attitude. It could also help improve learning, fight memory loss, and even treat depression or Alzheimer’s disease.
2. Rich in Minerals
The cashew nut’s health benefits are drawn from their high mineral content.
Cashew nuts contain 0.622 mg of copper, which is 31% of the RDV. As the best copper source of all the nuts, cashew nuts may help prevent anaemia. After all, copper facilitates iron absorption in the intestines – and the release of stores as needed.
At the same time, adequate copper intake may help improve your immunity as well. That’s because copper is essential for the proper functioning of T lymphocytes, which help kill infected cells in the body.
An ounce of cashew nuts meets 23.45% of the RDV for manganese. This trace mineral is necessary to make Mn superoxide dismutase (MnSOD), which is an enzyme that scavenges harmful free radicals. Several studies have shown that MnSOD is protective against diabetic complications affecting the heart, eyes, and nerves.
In men, a higher intake of manganese can help reduce the risk of metabolic syndrome. This cluster of conditions can lead to an increased chance of developing type 2 diabetes, stroke, and heart disease.
With cashew nuts containing 82.8 mg of magnesium per ounce, it provides 20.7% of the RDV. With that being said, cashew intake may help curb magnesium deficiency, which affects 2/3 of the Western hemisphere.
Magnesium is essential for the body as it helps convert Vitamin D into its active form. This vitamin, which you could also get from sun exposure, is necessary for calcium absorption, metabolism, and parathyroid function. Because of these effects, magnesium can help maintain a high bone mass density, which is useful in minimizing the risk for fractures. Additionally, it may help reduce muscle cramps as well.
Like manganese, magnesium may also help prevent the onset of metabolic syndrome – and the lifestyle diseases it could bring.
Magnesium intake may also help reduce the frequency and intensity of migraine headaches by as much as 41%. As it can help convert tryptophan to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that affects mood, magnesium may help reduce depressive and anxiety symptoms too.
As for pregnant women, eating magnesium-rich cashew nuts may lead to a better foetal outcome as well. According to a study, it may help lower the frequency of preterm births. At the same time, it may help address the problem of low birth weight in infants.
With 168 milligrams of Phosphorous per ounce, cashew nuts provide 16.8% of this mineral’s RDV. While it mainly contributes to bone and dental health, phosphorous can also help maintain the following: normal heartbeats, muscle contractions, kidney function, and nerve signalling.
3. Rich in Healthy Fats
Cashew nuts benefits are made possible by its heart-healthy monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats.
Monounsaturated fats protect your heart by reducing the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in the blood. It may also help lower blood pressure, which is another crucial factor behind heart attack and stroke.
Polyunsaturated fat is another type of good fat found in cashew nuts. It includes omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, both of which are necessary for brain function and proper growth.
Omega-3 fatty acids, like monounsaturated fatty acids, are good for the heart. They work by reducing triglyceride levels and lowering your blood pressure. They prevent arterial plaque build-up as well, which could lead to blockages in the vessels. Furthermore, omega-3 fatty acids may help minimize your chances of developing an abnormal heart rhythm (arrhythmia) as well.
As for omega-6 fatty acids, they can help control your blood pressure – as well as your blood sugar. As such, cashew nuts may help reduce your risk of type 2 diabetes.
4. Rich in Eye Vitamins
Lutein and Zeaxanthin are carotenoids or antioxidants that fight damaging free radicals. Popularly known as eye vitamins, they work by filtering the sunlight, and as such could protect the eyes from subsequent damage. Lutein and zeaxanthin may also help improve vision, especially in dim or high-glare areas.
Are Cashews Good for Weight Loss?
Yes. For one, it is rich in protein – with every ounce containing 5.16 grams. Proteins are not only good for muscle building as they can help you achieve a favourable weight as well. For one, proteins can help increase the levels of hormones that promote satiety: cholecystokinin, peptide YY, and GLP-1. At the same time, protein helps reduce the levels of ghrelin, a hormone that makes you feel hungry.
As these can lead to lesser cravings and a reduced desire for unhealthy snacking, those who consume 30% of calories as protein end up eating fewer calories. According to a study, this can lead help cut your intake by as much as 441 calories per day.
The protein in cashew also has a higher thermic effect (TEF), which is the energy needed to digest and absorb nutrients. Protein’s TEF is 30%, meaning that for every 100 cashew nut calories, only 70 is used. This is far better compared to carbs at 5-10% and fat at 3%.
With its high TEF, the protein in cashew nuts may help you burn more calories in the long run. After all, a high protein intake – something that you get with cashews – may help you get rid of an additional 80 to 100 calories for the day.
To make things even better, cashews are also rich in magnesium. Apart from being beneficial to the brain, bones, and baby, it also plays a role in weight maintenance. With the help of magnesium, your body is better able to regulate its carbohydrate and fat metabolism.
How Many Cashews Can I Eat a Day?
According to Dr. Stacey Lockyer of the British Nutrition Foundation, the recommended intake is 30-35 grams or about 28 pieces of cashew nuts a day. This is a far cry from the usual intake in the UK, which is a measly 2 grams.
As for cashew butter or cheeses, it’s best to limit yourself to 1 tablespoon a day.
How to Eat Cashew Nuts
Apart from following the recommended quantity, Dr. Lockyer recommends eating plain, unsalted nuts. Not only are they rich in vitamins and minerals, but they have lower cashew nut calories as well.
With that being said, it’s best if you avoid salted, commercially roasted, or flavoured cashew nuts. While they may be more delicious, they are highly fattening.
As raw cashew nuts have a shorter shelf-life, you can extend this by roasting the nuts yourself. According to Professor Rachel Brown of the University of Otago, roasting will not strip the cashews of their nutrients. This is as long as you do this at a lower temperature – 140 degrees Celsius for 10 minutes. If you go beyond this, you may end up destroying the vitamins and minerals that make the benefits of eating cashew nuts possible.
How to Select and Store Cashew Nuts
The raw cashew nut is the best choice, but it’s not always available in the market. With that being said, the next best thing is a dry-roasted variant. This is roasted in lower temperatures, which help maintain its nutritional content. It has a lower fat content too, compared to salted/unsalted roasted cashew nuts.
When buying pre-packaged cashew nuts in a health food store, choose products that are kept in sealed plastic bags or craft pouch bags. These storage containers will help keep your cashews fresh for a long time.
Before you buy, remember to check the appearance of your cashew nuts (also known as cashew kernels). The package should be free of insects or moisture. The nuts should not be shrivelled as well. If they are, then they’re not that fresh anymore.
As for storage, always keep your cashew nuts in an airtight container. Store your drupes in a cool, dark spot to prevent rancidity. You can also refrigerate the kernels, which can make them last for 6 months. When frozen, the cashews can be good for a year.
Remember to smell your cashews every so often. Should your cashews have an ‘off’ taste or scent, this means that the polyunsaturated fats have oxidized already. Sadly, this means that it’s time to throw them away.
More than Just Cashew Nuts
Cashew nuts are good enough as they are, but there are other ways you can enjoy them as well.
1. Cashew Nut Milk
If you are lactose-intolerant, then this product is for you. This non-dairy is very easy to prepare too – and very delicious too.
All you need to do is soak a cup of cashew nuts in water overnight. Drain and rinse them afterward, before adding them to the blender. Pour in 4 cups of water and your choice of natural sweetener as needed. Blend it on high and voila – instant cashew nut milk! When refrigerated, you can use this for cashew nut milk recipes for 3 to 4 days.
2. Cashew Nut Butter
If you want to reap the cashew nut benefits – and satisfy your sweet tooth at the same time – then cashew nut butter is what you need. To make this, the ideal variant to use is the roasted ones. However, you can go for healthier raw cashew nuts too.
Start by adding these nuts to the processor. Pulse them accordingly. They will start crumbly, but they will clump up eventually. Pour in melted coconut oil as you process the mixture. Continue doing so until it becomes smooth and creamy. You can use this for crackers, bread, even veggie sticks!
3. Cashew Nut Cheese
This dairy-free, vegan option is perfect for cheese lovers who want to keep it healthy.
Start by soaking your 2 cups of raw cashew nuts overnight. Drain and rinse them before tossing them into the blender. Add ¾ cup of water, ½ cup of nutritional yeast, 3 tablespoons lemon/lime juice, 1-2 teaspoons of Himalayan salt, and 1 teaspoon garlic powder. Feel free to add other ingredients as you like as you blend the mixture well.
What’s great about this is that you can use it right away to make recipes with cashew nut butter. Should you have leftovers, you can store this in the fridge for 5-7 days. When kept in the freezer, this vegan cheese can last for a month.
4. Cashew Sour Cream
This condiment, which you could do easily at home, is one of the healthiest in the market. It’s vegan and free of gluten, refined sugar, soy, and grains.
Like the above-mentioned cashew nut recipes, the preparation starts with soaking 1 ½ cups of cashew nuts for at least 8 hours. Drain and rinse these drupes before transferring them to the blender. Pulse the nuts together with Himalayan salt, lemon, vinegar, and ¾ cup of water until smooth.
It may seem runny at first, but your cashew sour cream will eventually thicken in the fridge. Storing so will make it good for a week’s use. You can also freeze the sour cream, which can help extend its shelf-life to a month.
Spicy Roasted Cashew Nuts
As mentioned, roasting cashew nuts at your own home is one of the best ways to keep it healthy. If you’re looking for an easy way to do so, then make sure to follow this cashew nut recipe:
In terms of seasoning, salt is the simplest way to go. But if you want more flavour, you can use spices like cumin, curry, allspice, black pepper, and paprika. You can also make a natural sweeter variant by drizzling your nuts with maple syrup, honey, coconut sugar, cinnamon, cardamom, or nutmeg.
The great thing about this cashew nut recipe is that you can do it 2 ways. First, you can dry roast the nuts on low heat on a frying pan. As mentioned, this will help reduce the damage to the nutrients. Just remember to turn them every so often to prevent burning.
Another method is oven roasting, which is of course, more time-consuming than dry roasting. You need to start by preheating your oven to 140 degrees Celsius. Spread the nuts on a tray, and add a dash of spice/herbs as warranted. Roast the nuts for 10-15 minutes, stirring them twice in between. Let them cool for 15 minutes before consuming.
Cashew Nut and Chicken Recipes
With its sweet flavour, buttery texture, and loud crunch, it comes as no surprise why many people love cashew nut recipes. While it goes well with virtually anything, cashew nuts are best paired with chicken. Here are some of the best cashew nut and chicken recipes to try:
1. Cashew Nut Chicken
To make this dish of chicken with cashew nuts, start by oven-toasting the nuts for 5 minutes. As you wait for these, make a sauce with wheat flour, water, and soy sauce. Season the chicken with salt and pepper before stir-frying half of it for 3 minutes.
Add the remaining chicken, garlic, and scallions. Stir-fry them before adding the first batch of chicken. Throw in the rice vinegar and the sauce you have prepared earlier. Add scallions, sesame oil, and cashew nuts. Serve with rice pilaf.
2. Thai Cashew Chicken
The first step is to mix the sauce ingredients – light and dark soy sauce, oyster sauce, ground white pepper, salt, coconut sugar, and stock/water. Afterward, dice the chicken and coat the pieces with flour.
Roast the cashew nuts for about a few minutes and set them aside. Stir-fry the Thai dried chilies before frying the chicken for 5 minutes.
Next, stir-fry the garlic, green, and red chilies. Add the sauce, followed by the chicken, cashew nuts, and dried chilies. Throw in some green onions and serve with steamed rice.
Cashew nuts are delicious and healthy drupes that come from the Anacardium occidentale tree. It is found at the end of the cashew apple and is covered with a skin-irritating shell.
Like the other nuts, cashews are rich in vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. Its Vitamin K content helps promote blood clotting, while its Thiamine content brings about the benefits of cashew nuts for the brain.
Cashew nut’s high copper content helps prevent anaemia – and boosts immunity as well. Its manganese content, on the other hand, helps prevent diabetic complications. The magnesium in cashew helps promote better bone and brain health, as it helps ensure better foetal outcomes. Rich in phosphorous, cashew can help maintain normal heart, nerve, and muscle functions too.
Cashew nuts are also rich in mono and polyunsaturated fatty acids, both of which have protective effects on the heart.
With its lutein and zeaxanthin carotenoids, cashew nuts may help promote better vision. It may help reduce sight damage as well.
Cashew nuts are good for weight loss, as it is rich in protein and magnesium – both of which play major roles in weight management.
The recommended intake for cashew nuts is 30 to 35 grams, which is equivalent to 28 pieces a day.