The cashew nut is the seed nestled inside a shell that grows on the fruit of the cashew tree. The shell is toxic, so the nut has to be removed before it can be eaten. This is typically done by roasting the nut in the shell; the shells are then removed by hand. Raw cashews, therefore, are not really raw; they have already been roasted to remove the shell. Cashews marketed as roasted have been roasted a second time, after they have been removed from the shell.
When you buy raw cashews from the store, you are buying the nut that has not been altered since it was removed from its shell. When you buy roasted cashews, these nuts have been roasted once more, usually sprinkled with salt or other seasonings. Raw and roasted cashews have the same amount of nutrition, according to the American Institute for Cancer Research. Heating the cashew has no affect on fat composition nor nutritional value. If the roasted cashews are seasoned with ingredients such as salt, honey or other flavors, the additional ingredients will alter the nutrients and calories.
Raw cashews have a mild, buttery flavor that can easily be overpowered by other foods. The light, natural taste of the nut is enhanced when it is roasted. Lightly roasting cashews brings out the sweet, buttery flavor of the nut, especially when eaten warm. Eating cashews raw or roasted comes down to personal preference and whether or not you are looking for an understated or more robust flavor profile.
Since raw cashews have a more mild flavor than the roasted variety, the raw nut has more versatility than the roasted nut. Raw cashews can be added to a number of recipes without worrying that additional flavors might ruin the taste of the food. Blending the raw cashew nut creates a creamy base for soups, stews, chowders or dips. Add water to the blended cashew nut and you have created homemade cashew milk. Purchasing raw cashews also allows you the opportunity to roast and season them to your own tastes.
Nuts tend to have a short shelf life due to the high content of fat. Raw cashews will not turn rancid as quickly as roasted cashews because of the oil typically used to roast the nut. For a longer life, store both raw and roasted cashews in an airtight container. They can be refrigerated or frozen to help further extend the expiration date.