Cashew Industry

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Cashew Industry

Before the arrival of the Portuguese, the Tupi Indians used the ripened fruit of the cashew (acajou) to mark the passage of time. Portuguese explorers soon discovered this fruit, which they called cajú, and by the 1550s, they were exporting its nuts to other parts of their empire. Ranging in color from off-white to red, the fruit is shaped like an upside-down, shiny-skinned pear with a nut growing from its top. Brazilians now value the cajú more for its fruit than the cashew nut, which they export. Although cashew trees can be found throughout Brazil, they are most prevalent in the Amazonian rain forest.

Cajús ripen in November, when the Brazilians use the fruit to make pies and jellies and its juice for alcoholic liqueurs, or suco de cajú. The nut can only be eaten after roasting it to eliminate the poisonous oil found between the nut's inner and outer shells. Starting in World War II, the oil from the shell, which contains insulating and protective properties, was essential in arms production. Since that time, the cashew industry uses 600,000 tons of nuts annually in wood preservation, waterproofing paper, plastics, varnishes, paints, printing ink, and candy. Realizing the growth potential of the cashew market, the Brazilian government encouraged settlers participating in the Polonoroeste development plan of the 1970s to plant cashew trees, and has continued to press for mass production of cajú products since that time. As of 2004, Brazil was among the largest exporters of cashews in the world and small producers were responsible for 80 percent of Brazil's production.

See alsoForests .


Clara Inés Olaya, "Cajú/Maranón/Merey/Acaiu/Cashew Nut," in Americas 42, no. 3 (1990): 52-53.

Additional Bibliography

Moreira, Agio Augusto. O cajueiro: Vida, uso e estórias. Fortaleza, Ceará, Brazil: A. A. Moreira, 2002.

                                     Carolyn Jostock