HEALTH: Rediscovering cashew, “nature’s vitamin pill”

Recent studies have shown that eating nuts is a healthy habit as it can foster the overall well-being of a person. They may be considered as something trivial yet nuts have redefined themselves in a new and positive way with many health benefits being associated with them. Though it is true that they may be high in fat and calories, eating them in moderate quantities can help in the enhancement of one’s health.

One such nut that Filipinos should eat is cashew. Unfortunately, the fruit is considered of no importance and of no value. Perhaps, only the people from Brazil fully appreciate the importance of cashew. Father J.S. Tavares, who studied Brazilian fruits, wrote of the tree: “It furnishes food and household remedies to the poor, a refreshing beverage to the sick, a sweetmeat for tables richly served, and resin and good timber for industrial uses.”

The uses of cashew fruits are varied. Although acrid in taste, the fruit is juicy and contains substantial amounts of important vitamins and minerals. It can be eaten raw or processed into jams, syrups, and candies.

The juice, after its astringent and acrid substances are removed, have been found suitable for production of several beverages like classified juice, cloudy juice, juice blends with lime, pineapple, orange, grape and apple juice, juice concentrates, and spiced juice. The juice can also be brewed into wine for local consumption and for export.

The fruit’s kernel, called “dessert nut,” is second only to almond in value. Sixty percent of cashew kernels are consumed in the form of snacks while the remaining 40% are included in confectionery. In the Philippines, local processors use only the roasted and dried kernel in the manufacture of ice cream, confectionaries, and hardener for chocolate and pastries.

In recent years, more and more people are eating cashew nuts. The reason: health experts and nutritionists considered it as “nature’s vitamin pill.”

Cashew nuts has various health advantages as they are significant sources of iron (essential for red blood cell function and enzyme activity), magnesium (promotes energy release and bone growth), phosphorus (builds bones and teeth), zinc (essential to digestion and metabolism) and selenium (has important antioxidant properties, thus protecting the body from cancer). These nuts are also good sources of protein.

Cashew nuts do have a relatively high fat content, but it is considered “good fat.” This is due to the agreeable fat ratio in the nut, 1:2:1 for saturated, monounsaturated, and polyunsaturated, respectively, which scientists say is the ideal ratio for optimal health.

Too much of everything is bad, so goes a saying. So, don’t eat too many cashew nuts. As one health expert puts it: “Recommendations vary for cashew nut consumption in diet and weight loss. Cashew nuts have a high energy density and high amount of dietary fiber, both which have been attributed to a beneficial effect on weight management, but only when eaten in moderation.”

Another good thing about cashew nuts: They contain significant amounts of phytochemicals with antioxidant properties that protect the body from cancer and heart disease.

Clinical trials in the United States have shown that cashews and other nuts work with a person’s lipid profile to have a beneficial effect on those with diabetes or at risk for diabetes. With 37.7% of the daily recommended value of monounsaturated fats, cashews can reduce triglyceride levels in diabetics, protecting them from further complications.

Research has also shown that chemicals in cashew nuts kill gram positive bacteria, a pervasive mouth affliction that causes tooth decay, acne, and tuberculosis. Eating cashew nuts at moderate levels, some say, can eliminate abscessed teeth, though this has not been proven yet by proper clinical trials.

With this recent development, it’s high time for Filipino farmers to plant cashews in their farms. One cashew tree, studies show, produces between 200 and 300 cashew nuts in a year.

But many Filipino farmers may not immediately plant cashew because of their past experiences. Growing cashews is not profitable enough.

“Philippine cashew farmers are burdened with a low return on capital for their work. (We) partly attribute this to the underutilization of the components of the cashew fruit,” said Secretary Renato Solidum Jr. of the Department of Science and Technology (DOST) in his message at the recent conference themed “Advancing Cashew Industry through Green Technology.”

Not too many Filipino farmers are aware of the other products that can be produced from cashew. Most of them focused only on nuts. Such was the case in Palawan, the leading cashew-producing province, where cashew is the “One Town, One Product” (OTOP).

A study conducted by the Southeast Asian Regional Center for Graduate Study and Research in Agriculture (SEARCA), with fundings from the Department of Agriculture’s Bureau of Agricultural Research (DA-BAR), showed cashew farmers in Palawan have struggled with low returns on their investments.

This issue is partially linked to the underutilization of the cashew apple’s flesh, which constitutes a substantial 90% of the fruit. The primary reason for this underutilization is a lack of awareness about the cashew fruit’s processing potential.

“The study further suggests that this may be addressed by exploration of the fruit’s potential in processing or manufacturing,” Solidum said during the conference which was convened by the DOST-Industrial Technology Development Institute (ITDI).

“To address this challenge and boost cashew farmers’ income, the Western Philippines University initiated product development for cashew apples,” said Dr. Glenn Gregorio, the director of SEARCA.

The SEARCA study, titled “Technology and Investment Profile of Cashew Products,” listed products such as cashew wine, cashew prunes, cashew jelly, cashew jam, and salted cashew nuts, which offer different ways to maximize the utility of the cashew fruit using various technologies.

Meanwhile, the BAR in tandem with the Palawan Research and Experiment Station (PRES) searched for further improvements in cashew nut and apple products. The research project, titled “Cashew Products Processing, Packaging, and Labeling,” focused on processing cashew apples and introduced modern packaging materials.

“Cashew apple, once undervalued, has gained economic value surpassing four times that of cashew nuts,” Gregorio noted.

Another valuable use that must be given to further studies is the extraction of oil from cashews and application of the oil to various food, pharmaceutical, and cosmetic products.

Another possible source of income is the shell of the nut, which is a good source of an important liquid called CNSL (cashew nut shell liquid). CNSL is one of the few natural resins that is highly heat resistant and is used in braking systems and in paint manufacture. It contains a substance called phenol, which is used in the preparation of plastics.

Some important derivatives of CNSL, like hydrogenated oils and ethyl ether, are used in the manufacture of some industrial, chemical, and pharmaceutical products. The main markets for CNSL are the United States, the European Union (mainly the United Kingdom), Japan and the Republic of Korea.

“If industrially exploited, the cashew tree can help alleviate many of our socio-economic problems by offering employment to the many unemployed,” said the forestry department of the University of the Philippines at Los Baños (UPLB). “A cashew cottage industry can easily absorb idle manpower in the rural areas since only the normal skills of the workers are required in processing many cashew products.”

More importantly, growing cashew is environment-friendly. As the UPLB forestry department puts it: “Planting cashew trees in idle lands may be the best solution to our land conservation problem. As an agricultural crop, cashew trees provide vegetative cover to barren lands and help minimize soil erosion.”


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