Indigenous to Brazil, the cashew nut spread to other equatorial regions including Africa and India, and now is the most widely produced nut in the world. The popularity of cashews is attributed to not only its flavor, whether roasted, salted or covered in chocolate, but also to its nutritional value.
Originally found growing wild in Brazil, Portuguese settlers spread cashew seeds to the east coast of Africa where the plants immediately took to the land, eventually crossing from Mozambique to Kenya and Tanzania. Natives would gather fruits that fell from the trees and sell them back to the Portuguese traders and eventually the seeds made their way to India, now the largest producer of cashews in the world, with Brazil second and Africa a distant third.
Unlike other nuts and seeds the cashew does not grow within the fruit but instead on the outside of it, hanging from the base of a crab apple, called a "cashew apple." The apple itself spoils too quickly for distribution but is enjoyed locally. The apple and the outer shell of nut are separated. Inside of the outer shell the cashew nut is contained within a hard skin which is removed during processing, and a toxic oil related to poison ivy that causes similar skin irritation. The outer shell is roasted off, also burning off the oil. The inner shell containing the nut is then roasted again or boiled until the tough skin cracks open and the nut is removed.
Cashew nuts contain 5 g of protein for every ounce, as well as 82.5 mg (21 percent of daily intake) of magnesium, which protects against high blood pressure and works with calcium to promote strong bone structure. The nuts have no cholesterol, excellent for people with heart concerns, and contain high levels of healthy, monounsaturated fats which help produce good cholesterol and promote circulatory health. While high in fat, cashews actually contain less fat than other mass-produced nuts, such as almond and walnuts, and the amount of dietary fiber contained make them a good food for weight loss when eaten in moderation (consuming too many cashews can cause weight gain). The high amount of monounsaturated fats in raw cashews helps lower the risk of type 2 diabetes. Studies have also shown that an ounce of cashews a week can lower the chance of developing gall stones by 25 percent.