This Brazilian fruit, taken around the world by the Portuguese centuries ago, was part of Avurudu traditions not so long ago, but today, some young people have not seen or tasted it. - Malaka Rodrigo reports (April 11, 2010)
He recalls a traditional Avurudu game played using shelled cashew nuts known as Vala kaju gaseema. A small hollow is made in the sand and a player has to try to put his cashews in it or hit others afterward. “These traditional games are fast disappearing. So are the trees bearing the fruit,” he says.
Dr. Wijesundara has a scientific explanation for the odd shape of the cashew fruit. “In fact, the puhulama or the cashew apple is a false fruit that is known as a pseudocarp or an accessory fruit. It is a modified fruit stalk (fruit pedicel).
“The real fruit of the cashew is the kidney shaped drupe hanging below the puhulama which has a single seed enclosed in a hard layer. You can clearly see this difference in a week-old cashew fruit with a large nut with accessory fruit only as a thin twig. But this stem gets fleshy and becomes very large when the fruit matures.”
The ripe cashew apple can grow to about six cm. It is juicy and tastes sweet. While eating the fruit, one should be careful not to let the juice fall on the clothes. The fruit also attracts birds, squirrels and bats, which help to disperse the seeds around. Dr. Wijesundara says the cashew apple is rich in vitamin A and C — about 150-400 mg per 100 gram of fresh fruit. “This is about five times that in orange juice.”
Though the cashew apple is rare in the market, the cashew nut is still popular largely because of its culinary value. The seed is enclosed by a strong double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin and anacardic acid. It also has a skin irritant that should be removed carefully.
Some experts point out that the main threat for the tree comes from two main pests — tea mosquito bug and stem borer, for which the Wayamba University’s Agriculture and Plantation Management faculty has discovered methods of biological control.
“Red-ants commonly known as dimiya can be used to fight these bugs. Red ants feed on these bugs, and keep the cashew trees clean,” says Prof. S.J.B.A. Jayasekera who carried out a study on the use of red ants as an eco-friendly pest controlling mechanism. He recommends this method to people who want to keep their cashew trees healthy.
The Sri Lanka Cashew Corporation has plans to popularize the cashew as an economic crop. Commercial cashew plantations in Sri Lanka cover about 100,000 acres with the Cashew Corporation accounting for more than 20,000 acres. The Corporation’s Plantation Manager, G.D. Surendra, says more cashew plantations will be set up in the North and East because the soil and the climate suits the crop.
He says the corporation together with the Wayamba University is introducing high-yield varieties to encourage cashew growers.
“We have introduced six cashew varieties based on our common research,” says Prof. Jayasekera who advises people to plant grafted or budded cashew plants as they will have the same characteristics as the mother plants. The university with the corporation has set up six seed gardens to meet the demand in a few years.
Prof. Jayasekera also says many useful parts of the cashew are wasted or underutilized. “Cashew oil can be extracted from the shell, which is usually thrown away. The oil is used in countries like China to reduce brake fade and brake lining wear. It is also used as wood preservation substance to prevent termite attacks.
Can’t the cashew apple be used more productively? As an experiment, the Cashew Corporation has begun brewing wine from cashew apples. Nicely packaged, this product is available only at the Cashew Corporation outlet in Kollupititya.