Native to Brazil but also found growing in Africa, India, and parts of Asia the cashew is a lucrative crop for many farmers. Even though the USA consumes over 90% of the world’s cashews it is rarely grown in the country.
A monthly mean of 77 Fahrenheit and annual rainfall of 1500 to 2000 mm is optimal, which means there are very few areas in the USA that are conducive to cashew farming. Planting is limited to Hawaii, Florida, Texas, and Puerto Rico.
Different parts of the cashew crop can be used for different purposes, but it’s particularly important to differentiate between cashew oil and cashew shell oil.
Pressed from cashew nuts cashew oil is a dark yellow color. The oil is primarily used for cooking or as a salad dressing. It is very high in vitamins A, D, and E, as well as in fatty acids and protein. It is also suitable for livestock feeding.
Cashew shell oil, on the other hand, which has a composition of 70% anacardic acids, 18% cardol, and 5% cardanol (though this can vary depending on how it is processed), is toxic to humans and can burn and damage the skin if protective measures aren’t taken.
It is more versatile than cashew oil in its range of use and purposes, and can play an important role in the development of drugs, fungicides, antioxidants, and biomaterials. It currently has over 200 patents on its industrial applications alone.
In recent years in particular cashew shell oil is being investigated for its potential for fighting aggressive diseases, which has inevitably and will continue to increase its value.
Cashew shell oil proves particularly useful for medicinal purposes due to its high anacardic acid content. This doesn’t just attack bacteria but also works with the immune system to eradicate infection. This is why the oil is of such interest.
Considering most of the extraction process to obtain the oil from the cashews is done by hand this can be a slow process. This first involves removing the nuts from the bottom of the fruit, and drying or roasting them in an oven to remove some of the shell oil and make them easy to open. This is important because the shells and skins must be removed to make cashew oil.
Once the shell is removed, the cashew nut is roasted again to dry the skin surrounding the nut, making it easy to remove and extract the oil. A hydraulic or mechanical press is used to crush the nut to obtain the oil.
While cashew farming can be lucrative you can see that there is a certain level of expertise to it, especially if you are interested in – as any farmer interested in this crop should be – in obtaining the oil from the kernels and the shells. If you farm in an area suitable to cashew farming it may be worth starting on a small scale to come to grips with the process of growing cashews and the extraction of its properties.