Sunday, August 1, 2010

INGREDIENTS - Cashew Apple (Caju)

In a couple of recent posts here on Flavors of Brazil, the two-fold division of the fruit of the Brazilian cashew tree (cajueiro) has been discussed. Botanically speaking there is the fruit itself, which is what most non-Brazilians know as the cashew nut (castanha de caju) and then there is the pseudo-fruit, which is called "cashew apple" in English and simply caju in Portuguese.

While the cashew nut is widely known and enjoyed in many parts of the world, it is primarily in Brazil where the virtues of the cashew apple are appreciated. Even in other countries, such as Vietnam, India, Nigeria and Mozambique, where there is widespread cultivation of the cashew tree for production of cashew nuts, the cashew apple is not widely consumed and usually left to rot. A situation which, to most Brazilians, would be a crime, and which from a nutritional standpoint certainly is. Cashew juice contains 200-220 mg of Vitamin C per 100 ml, plus a variety of other valuable micro-nutrients.

Brazilians indulge in the cashew apple in many forms, but by far the predominant use of this fruit is to make juice. Cashew apple juice (suco de caju) is one of the most popular and prevalent juices throughout Brazil. It is available in supermarkets everywhere, bottled or in Tetra-Paks, in the form of frozen pulp, or in the northeast of the country, freshly squeezed. The taste of cashew juice is like no other (in my experience and in the experience of many friends and acquaintances) and once tasted it becomes an iconic and uniquely Brazilian flavor. As with most unique tastes, describing the flavor of cashew juice isn't easy. However, there is one characteristic of the juice which immediately identifies it to the palate - the presence of a significant quantity of tannins - the astringent plant polyphenols which are responsible for the "woody" or "puckery" feel of black teas, red wines, and many unripe fruits. For me the presence of tannins, especially in excess, makes it feel like a have a mouthful of wooden teeth. However any individual perceives the presence of tannins, that person is likely to be able to identify their presence easily. Some people are averse to any hint of tannin, and for those people cashew juice is not a recommended waker-upper in the morning. Those who enjoy it are likely to appreciate the juice. Other than its tannic qualities, cashew juice is moderately sweet, and the taste carries a faint hint of cashew nut flavor. The texture is like a non-juicy apple.

Because the skin of the cashew apple is very thin, the fruit is not suitable for ong-distance transportation to markets outside its cultivation area. Consequently, even in Brazil, it's only in those regions where the cashew is grown that one is likely to see fresh cashew apples for sale.

Cashew apples are used to make conserves, preserves and sweets as well as juice, and the juice can be fermented and then distilled to make spirits. The largest cachaça distiller in Ceará, Ypioca, makes a distilled cashew apple spirit called Acayú.

Because of the fragility of the fruit, if you are desirous to know what a fresh cashew apple tastes like, you will probably have to come to northeast Brazil to try it. You may or may not like it when first sampling it - cashew apples and cashew apple juice are often an acquired taste - but whether you do or not, you'll definitely love this part of Brazil, so the whole trip will not be for naught.

4 comments:

  1. I have cashews ripe now in Belize, and as I am originally from the Uk I am just learning how to use this fruit. How do you make the juice? A freind here gave me papaya and cashew juice which was lovely. I am stewing some right now!

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    Replies
    1. Hi Sue - The way I make caju juice is simple. I'd go so far as to say simplicity itself. First I wash the fruits thoroughly, then cut off the top quarter inch or so, including the kidney-shaped fruit (the cashew nut). I then cut the remainder, which is technically known as the pseudo fruit, into large chunks, skin and all and put them in the blender. I blend them at high speed for a few minutes, then pour the resulting juice through a sieve into a container and refrigerate. Ready to go and delicious!
      JAMES

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