Sometimes I get a real smile and a positive buzz from one of my posts and the reactions it gets from readers. When I put the first post on the kasoy (cashew) fruit out, I knew I was going to do a second post to wrap it all upâ€¦ you didnâ€™t really think I was going to search high and low for this spectacular fruit/nut and just leave it at with an elaborate description, did you? But what really amazed me were the amount of comments that were left on that post in just a few hoursâ€¦ and all of them informative, interesting, and sometimes partially alluding to more information that maybe some of you would like to learn more about. Also, the number of people who have come across fresh kasoy before surprised me, maybe because I had never seen it myself prior to this Palawan trip! Your comments were terrific in that they suggested kasoy fruit as a chopped snack with salt and or nipa vinegar, as a topping for pancit, as a salad, a flavor and texture agent for sinigang, and even cooking of the young leaves of the tree. I learned its other local name, balubad (and apparently, Batuban, Balogo, Kasul, Kosing as well), and frankly, sniggered a bit at all the references/allusions to warts, chicken pox, itchy skin, toxic sap, shell nightmares, etc. So let me set the story a little straighter, and please feel free to correct any misconceptions I might have, as, after all, I often learn more from you, the readers than you do from Marketmanilaâ€¦
According to Doreen Fernandez, in her book on Philippine Fruits, the local name kasuy or kasoy is derived from the Portuguese acaju, acajuiba or cajueiro which in turn comes from Tupi Indian words acaju or acajou. The Portuguese found these nuts in Brazil and took it with them to other tropical parts of the globe, including India and Southeast Asia. In the Philippines, the Spaniards are believed to have introduced the plant by way of Mexico and it thrives near sea shores and is excellent at preventing soil erosion. The tree is medium size in height and frankly, nice to look at and could be an ornamental in your backyard gardenâ€¦ It turns out the wood is useful and the sap is used to make varnishes and adhesives. Finally, Ms. Fernandez writes that tannins from the bark can even be used for tanning leather! But most of the attention is really placed on the fruit/nut that appears to be so blatantly naked and exposed at the base of a pulpy, juicy and attractive â€œapple.â€
My previous post talked about the cashew apple being edible, and your comments do suggest many of you have tasted it; but in reality, with some 600-700 fruits needed for a single kilo of shelled nuts, there must be a bloody lot of cashew apple out there and I did wonder who was consuming all of it. Some enquiries in Palawan got me this answer: â€œSwine, you fool!â€ or roughly translatedâ€¦ the cashew fruit is predominantly fed to the pigs! Hahaha! I would never have guessed! I have also read that the fruit can be made into jelly but I have never tried and if I had enough fruit and a decent recipe to guide me, I would do it, you know I would! But enough of the cashew apple, already, letâ€™s shift focus to the nut itselfâ€¦ So you think you have this figure out, the apple is the fruit, the curved hard thingee is the nut. You are wrong. The nut is INSIDE the curved hard thingee that is in fact called the â€œreceptacle of the nut,â€ according to Alan Davidson. Why donâ€™t they just call it the nutshell? Hmmmmâ€¦.
The kasoy nut, according to Davidson, is contained within a hard double walled receptacle or shell and between the two walls is a substance that causes several of wart/burn/death comments in the original post. The â€œpain on the skinâ€ substance is actually made up of cardol and anacardic acid. In laymanâ€™s terms, IT BURNS YOUR SKIN. Natives of Culion said that, as kids, you could crack a fresh shell, chase after your childhood buddy and if you pinned them down long enough for you to smush the cashew shell/liquid against their skin, they would have a â€œtattooâ€ for life. Yipes, nice way to amuse yourself on a summer dayâ€¦ can you imagine if you intentionally burned cashew shell shapes all over you body with some panache? You would look like an island warrior or perhaps a walking human wallpaper sample from an avant garde European manufacturerâ€¦
At any rate, the caustic substance is what burns the hands if you donâ€™t know how to open the shells properly. It is also the substance used to burn off warts, though some sources say they cause warts instead. Fernandez says the burning substance causes chickens to â€œcatch a cold,â€ though one of my commenters says it causes chicken poxâ€¦ another outrageous and amusing visual for me as chickens running around the range with chicken pox marks borders on the totally hilarious. At any rate, dealing with the poison makes extraction of the precious and delicious nuts all the more alluring and worthwhileâ€¦ So how do they actually extract the nuts despite the perils involved? According to my sources in Palawan, the nuts are gathered from under the trees, the apples are discarded or fed to Porky and the hard grayish shells are first left out in the hot summer sun for 3-4 days, presumably to dry off or dissipate the acid like poisons. The hard nuts can then be roasted carefully, taking care not to cause a neighborhood chicken pox on chickens epidemic (I am jiving you) or carefully opened to extract the actual cashew nut inside and this again is either sun-dried or roasted carefully.
Extracting the nut is a pain in the rear, no matter how you figure it. The process was clearly described to me, though I have to admit I didnâ€™t actually observe it. The hard shell is placed on a piece of wood with a curved well etched into it. Then a sharp knife, also with a curved blade, to mimic the shape of the shell, is lowered as you would a paper cutter blade until you cut the shell and the whole nut pops out. This is labor intensive, time-consuming and dangerous if you are not aware of the proper way to do it. The nuts are then roasted dry or fried with oil and flavored with garlic, salt or cooked with sugar. The best I could figure (unless my memory fails me, and it does), I counted roughly 700-750 whole nuts in a kilo (actually I only counted 100 grams and extrapolated) which sold in Coron for PHP400. It sounds like a lot, but when you realize you need 750+ fruits, 750+ individual cuts with a funky knife, the risk of unwanted tattoos and warts removed where there were none, and the roasting, this is an incredible bargain if you ask me!
And how do our native nuts compare with the nuts from India, which is the current world leader in cashew production? My â€œIndianâ€ sample were the premium salted cashews they sell in 1 kilo tubs at S&R and which are a staple snack on my never ending diet. The Indian cashews are plumper, bigger and saltier because of the added dust fine salt (pile of nuts on the right in photo). They were about 400-450 whole pieces to a kilo and therefore about 40% bigger on average. I like these nuts but they can taste â€œcommercialâ€ and blander, lacking â€œsoul,â€ almost as though they were blanched or processed to improve looks, texture and uniformity. The local cashew nuts, on the other hand have serious â€œcharacterâ€. They are smaller (about 700 a kilo, left pile of nuts in photo), their flavor is more intense. They are almost always sold split, which baffles me a bit. I would take a kilo of local nuts over the Indian ones any dayâ€¦ but I want mine totally fresh from the sourceâ€¦ Our native nuts were also about 40% cheaper than the fancy packaged ones from India. Other sources of nuts such as Vietnam also suffer in that they are a bit older so as usual, fresh and near the source wins, in my opinionâ€¦. I also got to try some cashew nut brittle which I thought was interesting but not terrific, I found it a bit soft and the brittle was undercooked and didn’t hit that candy stage…at any rate, I loved the cashews in Palawan, and came home with several kilos worth!