Cashews are the third most-produced nut in the world. But did you know that they’re not actually nuts? They are the seeds from the fruit of the cashew tree. The tree produces a soft, shiny, juicy fruit known as the cashew apple, which bears a single-seeded nut covered with a hard gray shell. The cashew tree is native to equatorial South America, and most of the global production comes from India, Vietnam, Indonesia, Brazil, Mozambique, and Tanzania.
Cashews are relatively low in vitamins, but they contain high levels of some minerals including copper, magnesium, phosphorus, zinc, and iron. Cashews contain more magnesium than almonds, and according to the Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide, higher magnesium intake is associated with better mental health. This is especially true when considering lower rates of depression versus anxiety.
Cashews are abundant in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fatty acids. A third of their fats are stearic acid, a saturated fat. However, this type of saturated fat doesn’t seem to be harmful. A recent study published by the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition found that when cashews are incorporated into typical American diets in place of high-carbohydrate snacks, there is a decrease in total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol. This simple dietary strategy may help manage total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.
Other studies found that adding cashews to the diet can reduce the risk of atherosclerosis and other cardiovascular diseases. This is especially true for people with metabolic syndrome.
Cashew nuts are rich in phytonutrients with antioxidant properties (squalenes, phytosterols, lutein, and zeaxanthin). This can help to reduce inflammation and prevent chronic eye diseases, including age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.
You can find cashews year-round. They are always sold shelled, as their shell causes skin irritation. You can buy cashews raw, salted, sweetened, candied or covered with chocolate. When buying cashews, choose ones that are bright cream-white, compact, uniform and feel heavy in your hand. They should be free from cracks, mold, and spots. Store cashew kernels inside an airtight container and keep in the refrigerator to keep them fresh longer. Under ideal conditions, cashews should last for 3 to 6 months.
The Recipe of the Week: Slow Cooker Cashew Chicken via the Recipe Critic
2 lbs. boneless skinless chicken breasts (about 4 pieces), cut into 1-inch pieces
3 tbsp cornstarch
½ tsp black pepper
1 tbsp canola oil
¼ or ½ cup low sodium soy sauce
4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
4 tbsp ketchup
2 tbsp sweet chili sauce
2 tbsp brown sugar
2 garlic cloves, minced
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
¼ tsp red pepper flakes
1 cup cashews
1. Combine cornstarch and pepper in a resealable food storage bag. Add chicken. Shake to coat with cornstarch mixture.
2. Heat oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. Brown chicken about 2 minutes on each side. Place chicken in a slow cooker.
3. Combine soy sauce, vinegar, ketchup, sweet chili sauce sugar, garlic, ginger, pepper flakes, and cashews in small bowl; pour over chicken. Adding the cashews during the cooking process makes them softer. For more of a crunch, add them right before serving.
4.Cook on LOW for 3 to 4 hours.
Karen Alexander, MS, RDN, LD/N