26 Apr2010

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Never quibble about the price of your cashew nuts. NEVER. If you only knew how much time and effort is required to process these delicious morsels, you wouldn’t be so quick to drive a hard bargain, feeling smug that you had managed to claw back some 10 or 20 pesos from the vendor’s asking price. Abundant in Vietnam, India and other parts of the world, cashew nuts grown and processed in the Philippines are a dying industry. The season is short, the work to gather the nuts tedious, and the processing, as I describe in this post, is extremely labor-intensive. The more I learn about the food that I eat, the more I am in awe of the many folks who toil to produce it.

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The cashew fruit season in Palawan had just reached its peak a week or two before we arrived in Coron. If you are curious about cashew fruit, check out this previous post. Once the cashew apple or fruit is removed, the greyish brown nuts are dried in the hot sun for a couple of days (photo above), partially to remove the effects of the painful acid that is contained in the fruit or nut casing. The cashew nuts for sale in Coron should have been amongst the freshest for sale in the Philippines, and we intended to bring home several kilos worth. So off to find one of the largest retailers in town, Lita Escarda’s store “Coron Harvest” on the main road, towards the large passenger pier. The store was relatively large, but stocks on display were limited and I think they were a bit surprised that we wanted to buy by the kilo, rather than the typical small 100g or so “snack packs”. After some pleasant conversation, Mrs. Marketman somehow obtained an invitation to the “back of the house” or the store’s factory, to see exactly how the nuts were processed. We were thrilled. Ms. Escarda explained that the last group she had allowed into the inner sanctum was a Taiwanese film crew a few years back. We felt privileged to be accorded the opportunity to observe…

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The sun toasted nuts are split in half by hand, using this special contraption…

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…notice how this lady does not wear gloves, and the sticky sap/tar/fluids from the fresh nuts stains her fingertips.

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Each nut is carefully placed under the “knife” and quickly split…

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…the two halves flying on either side of the knife…

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…dropping below into a large can…

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…as the lady reaches for another nut to begin the process all over again. An expert splitter, this lady was doing one nut every 3 or 4 seconds!

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The nuts are then spread out on spacious tables and the nut meats are carefully extracted from the shells. This is a DELICATE process, as a premium is place on perfect half moons or half nuts. Damaged nuts fall into a less desirable nutty category.

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This specialized tool is used to pry the half nuts out of the shells. And workers are paid PHP15 per KILO of peeled nuts. OMG, in one whole day, I do NOT think I would be able to extract one kilo of perfect half nuts.

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And notice how their fingers are wrapped in bandages so that the acids in the nut shells don’t burn their fingers while they are extracting the cashews!

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The cleaned nut meats are then sorted by size and perfection, and dried in shallow baskets under the intense summer sun. That’s Mrs. Escarda herself, showing us her wares.

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The drying process removes some of the “itchiness” that some folks experience when eating cashew nuts, a result of residual acids from the shells. The dried nuts are then portioned by weight/volume in these nice woven baskets, ready to be fried in hot fat.

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A huge kawali or pan sits over a raging wooden fire, and the nuts are deep fried for several minutes…

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…constantly being stirred by a young man who watches carefully for any signs of overcooking the nuts. Sometimes the nuts are flavored with garlic and later salt, other times the fried nuts are treated to a coating of caramelized sugar…

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Asked how long the cooking process took… they answered “until it looked right”. Don’t you love it?

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The guy dons some gloves, effortlessly lifts the massive pan off the intense flames and strains the freshly cooked nuts through a special screen sieve. The fat is re-used for frying another batch of cashews.

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The gleaming nuts are allowed to cool and sent to the front of the house to be weighed and packed.

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Here, a batch of caramel coated cashews (the bits and pieces included) are carefully apportioned and weighed.

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Ready for sale to all and sundry that drop by. We purchased several packs of adobo flavored nuts, garlic nuts, caramelized nuts and since I wanted several kilos of unflavored and unfried nuts, Mrs. Escarda asked us to return later that day while she set aside two kilos of simply sun-dried nuts. I wanted them in this form for baked goods. We picked up two kilos for PHP1,000 later the same day. Their normal asking price is PHP600 a kilo for fried and salted nuts. And now that you know what went into preparing them, don’t bargain. An amazing hour spent with a real gem of a person involved in food production.

Lita Escarda
Coron Harvest
National Road, Coron
Near the Passenger Ship Port
Cellphone 09072978507

 

COMMENTS:

  1. dragon says:

    MM, “adobod”…yum…

    Apr 26, 2010 | 3:26 pm

     
  2. kittel says:

    i used to go on trips to palawan, and the cashews there are really yummy….i miss those days..be careful on eating too much though…

    Apr 26, 2010 | 3:38 pm

     
  3. Cris Jose says:

    sarap!!! sometimes I feel I could finish off a 1/4 kg pack in one sitting… if it wasn’t for that darned uric acid thing…. :(

    Apr 26, 2010 | 3:43 pm

     
  4. Ken Lovell says:

    It’s interesting that the process deliberately splits the nuts. Most cashews I’ve seen for sale are whole, with halves and fragments presumably avoided as much as possible (although some are usually in the mix).

    Apr 26, 2010 | 3:44 pm

     
  5. giancarlo says:

    Didn’t understand how tedious a process cashew nuts go through. Makes me wonder whether they have other/better ways of processing it in Vietnam or India.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 3:54 pm

     
  6. diday says:

    Mesmerized by the cashew nuts from my neighbour’s tree, I foolishly picked a ripe nut and used my teeth to open the fresh nut shell…..oh yeah MM….very painful (acid) burning sensation is an apt description.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 4:00 pm

     
  7. junb says:

    Sad but true….Once a upon a time pinas has the best agricultural product in asia….nakakahinayang di ba :(

    Apr 26, 2010 | 4:17 pm

     
  8. Mom-Friday says:

    What a bargain at P1K for 2 Kilos!

    Apr 26, 2010 | 4:40 pm

     
  9. Jake Speed says:

    i always think about why cashews are so expensive and thanks to Marketman, i was enlightened at how tedious the processing is, hence the premium price. is there an automated way to do the process?

    Apr 26, 2010 | 5:17 pm

     
  10. Jake Speed says:

    nice photos by the way. :)

    Apr 26, 2010 | 5:26 pm

     
  11. Marketman says:

    I have a funny feeling the whole cashews are opened in a more automated process, possibly roasting whole nuts first then somehow peeling them open, hopefully without chemical baths or whatnot. Ever wonder how those tiny little canned mandarin oranges from China are peeled? :)

    Apr 26, 2010 | 5:35 pm

     
  12. rhea says:

    i’ll take cashew nuts over peanuts anytime, and will never complain about the price anymore… thanks MM.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 5:47 pm

     
  13. GayeN says:

    I was fortunate enough to witness the same process(though not at Mrs. Escarda’s) when we visited Coron last year. The shop we visited was also owned by a lady. She was very gracious that she allowed us to take photos while they are cooking cashews. She even gave us “samples”(which if you add all the samples she gave will be at least a kilo!) while they were packing the freshly cooked cashews. Unfortunately, I can’t remember the shop’s name. :(

    Apr 26, 2010 | 6:07 pm

     
  14. Bel says:

    Is there any difference between Antipolo, Bataan, Palawan and Guimaras cashew nuts? I wonder if they’re harvested at around the same time.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 7:22 pm

     
  15. Connie C says:

    A lot of people go nuts with the nuts, but have you ever had kasuy flesh, sliced in cubes and shaken with salt in a container like duhat? My hubby’s cousin thinks it is the best, or is he simply reliving his childhood taste? I go for the dry roasted nuts. I never know how much oil recycling the fried ones went thru.

    Yes MM, it is nice to be able to appreciate what goes on with food production and how it gets to our table. Now if only the poor people who labor are better compensated for their efforts.

    And only recently have I realized how much food transport contributes to global warming, the distance the food travels and the fuel needs for the transport especially here in the northern hemisphere , a good reason to patronize local food production and farmer’s markets.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:02 pm

     
  16. Lydia P says:

    Thank you for enlightening me/us on cashew nuts. I wonder though, what do they do with the fruit? While visiting Rio de Janeiro many moons ago, I was pleasantly surprised to see cashew fruit juice as a beverage choice for the breakfast buffet. I remember the juice was smooth and quite pleasant and not having that acrid taste and ‘smell’ that I associate when eating the fresh fruit from our tree. Would cashew fruit be used as livestock feed perhaps? Just curious . . .

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:05 pm

     
  17. marilen says:

    MM, another winning post!! thank you.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:06 pm

     
  18. atbnorge says:

    Hi Marketman, thank you for posting this.
    I did the extracting job when I was a teenager
    then as ambulant seller near Antipolo Church.
    Lots of memories flooding back with this post.
    Two thumbs up!

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:19 pm

     
  19. Lava Bien says:

    I remember just roasting them on an open fire when I was a kid with my cousins in Cavite. Wow!

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:20 pm

     
  20. Divina says:

    What a tedious process. Now I know why cashews are expensive. This is a great educational food tour to be exposed to.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 8:25 pm

     
  21. Teresa says:

    Luuuvvv cashew nuts MM!!! Thanks for this post. I get them for about 400 per kilo in Antipolo. No, not near the church coz its about 500 per kilo there. When overseas, I also buy cashew nuts. I really wonder how come the nuts bought overseas, are peeled and kept whole. Like the salt and pepper flavor.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 9:02 pm

     
  22. Connie C says:

    Oh the Taiwanese film crew! I hope they were not there to steal” trade secrets”. We are so open and trusting and do not take care of our intellectual property rights or production advantage, if we have any left. Taiwan and Thailand and the Chinese have taken our nata de coco to greater heights incorporating it in jellied fruit snacks and imbedding it in the miniature young coconut snacks ( a Thai export) so popular here in the US and elsewhere.

    Nevermind that we do not get credit for the original product but I think we lost here in competitive advantage, being first but not having the idea or technology to take it further.

    So sorry,MM but can’t help being protective and paranoid with the dwindling of our industries.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 9:06 pm

     
  23. Rona Y says:

    In order to take full advantage of prime cashew season, would the end of March/beginning of April be the best time to visit Palawan?

    We missed the cashew harvesting in Antipolo a couple of years ago, and I was very disappointed. Palawan is on my list of places to visit during the next trip, so perhaps I’ll plan my trip around cashew season!

    Apr 26, 2010 | 9:12 pm

     
  24. millet says:

    i think i mentioned in one cashew-related post here a long time ago that somebody once gifted us with a whole sack (about 30 kilos!) of cashews in the shell. we were thrilled to bits, but not for long, because we soon realized all the hard work and pain and burnt hands that it took to produce a saucer-full of nuts. the rest of the nuts were left in the sack, never again heard of. and after that, we weren’t sure if it was really a gift or a punishment :-)

    Apr 26, 2010 | 10:10 pm

     
  25. Melanie says:

    You’re right, MM. After seeing how the kasuy nuts we love are prepared for our eating pleasure, how can we have the heart to bargain pa? Thanks for enlightening us!

    Apr 26, 2010 | 10:25 pm

     
  26. farida says:

    Thanks for this post, MM. As Divina said, very educational. I learned a lot about produce, products and cooking from your blog. It really is enlightening to know the stories behind the processing of these goodies we take for granted.
    BTW, my sis followed your recipe for the brine solution for the paho. Paho tree this year is just full. Thank you.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 10:32 pm

     
  27. mei kwei says:

    Philippines is so blessed to have these cashews at a cheap price. Here in the states- it is very expensive. thats why i rarely bake my cashew caramel tart instead i just use pecans or walnuts. Thanks MM for this enlightenment and even before you posted this- i have high respect for the cashew. it is like gold in the pastry world – at par with the other expensive nut- the macadamia.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 10:39 pm

     
  28. el_jefe says:

    I LOVE CASHEWS! sarap!!! napaka ganda ng pag-kakadokumeto mo ng proceso ng kasuy…so alam na nila ngayon kung baket mahal ang kasuy…hehe! MM…masarap ang giniling na kasuy sa tsokolate o tablea…o kaya ihalo sa sea food kare-kare pamalit sa mani!!!(“,)

    Apr 26, 2010 | 10:53 pm

     
  29. eej says:

    How fascinating! Never knew how tedious it is to prepare cashews. My family love cashews, almonds and anything nutty so we always have them around the house for a quick snack. Now, before casually popping a handful in to my mouth, I will think of those who worked so hard to bring them in to nicely packaged tins.

    It’s nice to know where our food really comes from. We’re so used seeing to seeing our food hygenically packaged in tins and sealed plastic that we lose sight of the people behind the food we eat.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 11:13 pm

     
  30. socky says:

    7.99 per pound, in Toronto. They’re much bigger, but not as sweet as the cashew nuts I get at the Salcedo market. My favorite, over almonds and walnuts.

    Apr 26, 2010 | 11:26 pm

     
  31. jack says:

    i so love eating cashew nuts! thanks MM for sharing this with us at least now I know the whole process that it went through and I wouldnt even complain about the price…

    Apr 27, 2010 | 12:14 am

     
  32. chrisb says:

    MM, those canned mandarin sections must’ve gone through enzymatic peeling as described here:

    http://www.cookingissues.com/2010/03/23/enzymatic-peeling-hell-yes/

    and perhaps those perfectly peeled pomelo sections so common in supermarkets nowadays…

    Apr 27, 2010 | 2:08 am

     
  33. kim says:

    so loooveee kasuy !!!! my 2nd favorite next to pili nuts ! whenever my toddler says “i want nuts” – kasuy is what she gets : )

    hope MM will visit the bicol region someday & feature the foodies i so miss back home … 15 years … sighhhh :'(

    Apr 27, 2010 | 2:58 am

     
  34. EJ says:

    Here’s an interesting study on cashew nut processing:
    http://www.fao.org/AG/ags/agsi/Cashew/Cashew.htm

    Apr 27, 2010 | 5:28 am

     
  35. KUMAGCOW says:

    Now we all feel ashamed asking bargains for that LOL

    Apr 27, 2010 | 6:20 am

     
  36. Footloose says:

    It is a source of amusement and wonder for me to observe that in Brazil where cashews originated, the uses for cashew nuts seem to be very limited and have barely graduated from the usual roasting, frying and glazing. Traditional Filipino cooking appears more creative and offers more uses for cashew nuts. We make them into suspiros, turron, filling for boat tarts, mazapan and sans rival, etc.

    On the other hand, they seem to be more resolute in finding new uses for the fruit’s flesh and juice. As Lydia P mentioned above, you can now get cashew juice in cartons, pure or in impossible combination with other fruit juices. I am glad she found it refreshing because I though it was execrable. They make a fruit leather out of the fruit itself and lately they started selling extruded cashew paste that actually looked and tasted like sisal rope. There is a great potential for this of course, if they can just improve its elastic properties.

    Apr 27, 2010 | 7:29 am

     
  37. tamale8888 says:

    MM! We just got back from our Coron trip. We stayed in Club Paradise. The place is beautiful and our beachfront cottages were spacious, well-maintained and arconditioned. The only downside to the place was the jellyfish infestation along its shores. The hubby got stung on the leg on our first day there. The 14-year-old son of my friend also got hit on the cheek (ouch!).

    Boracay really pales in comparison to Palawan. We had a great Coron island Tour (Twin Lagoon, Kayangan Lake, Siete pecados and Maquinit Hot Springs….no jellyfish, thank heavens!) and part of it was a stop at a souvenir shop that also sold roasted and fried cashew nuts. They’re a little pricey (P500/kilo vs. the P300/kilo of Puerto Princesa). We got the roasted (which keeps longer and tastes better) and the fried. The roasted ones had some skin on, though it tasted much better that the fried. I was munching on the ones with some skin on (the peeling ain’t so hard, anyway) last night…sarap!

    It was late in the afternoon (4pm, after the Coron Island Tour) when we dropped by the Coron market. There really were lobsters selling for P400/kilo! Too bad I missed out on them. That day (April 23), 2 kilos came in and sold out fast. All I saw that afternoon were the small ones selling for P300/kilo (sayang. moan! groan!).

    I encourage everyone to tour Coron. Our country is so beautiful!

    Apr 27, 2010 | 9:35 am

     
  38. Harry Kunz says:

    Amazing!! and i always quickly throw them nuts into my garbage chutes!! I’ll remember this post my entire life since i eat them nuts frequently. From now on i will really savor and appreciate the nuts! Thanks for the post!

    Apr 27, 2010 | 11:39 am

     
  39. Quillene says:

    Wow! I love this post, MM! Cashews are my favorite. This post has made me appreciate them even more.

    I now think onthe Cashew Riddle : Isang Prinsesa, Nakaupo sa tasa… Your post has uncovered how fit for royalty the cashew is on the labor involved…

    Thank you for a wonderful post on a serendipitous encounter! :)

    Apr 27, 2010 | 12:56 pm

     
  40. jannah says:

    Thanks MM for the post. I also love cashew nuts and still remember buying “kasoy” when I was young and ihawin ang buto. My mom got angry because it will cause bulutong to her alagang manok.

    Here in Abu Dhabi you can buy a kilo of flavored (salted, chili) and unflavored cashew nuts for 27- 35 dhs. (P330-P430) per kilo which is cheaper than what we have in the Philippines.

    Apr 27, 2010 | 4:22 pm

     
  41. Kasseopeia says:

    Hi MM, I couldn’t help but laugh at your question on the tinned mini-mandarins. I’ve been wondering about that myself… I also used to wonder how french-fry companies can peel tons of potatoes all at once, until I saw the French Fry episode on Food Network’s Unwrapped.

    Back to kasuy, I love them when they’re adobo-style (with lots of crunchy garlic bits). I have an officemate who sells them at 120 pero 1/4 kilo bag – of course there are more broken pieces than whole ones. But who cares when they’re all destined to be crushed between my molars before being ground up in my stomach? Hehehehe… I can relate with you Cris Jose, in consuming 1/4 kilo in one sitting.

    Thank you, MM, on the enlightening post. It is so good that these posts inform people on how the food they eat is produced. I am hoping too, that this will make your readers (and those the readers talk to) more conscientious consumers. =)

    Apr 27, 2010 | 5:03 pm

     
  42. Pia Alonzo says:

    Thanks for this post. Will look them up when I go to Coron in May.

    Apr 27, 2010 | 5:34 pm

     
  43. i love sta.rosa says:

    sa bataan panahon na ulit ng cashew nuts, andun nga ngayon ang bilas ko, at panigurado puno ng paso ang mga kamay nya dahil sa dagta ng Kasuy… enrolment time na ulit, buti na lang ang panahon ng kasoy ay nasa panahon ng pag eenrol… at ay pang enrol sila ngayon dahil sa kasuy…..

    Apr 28, 2010 | 2:04 pm

     
  44. Clarissa says:

    I always wondered how they did open the nuts in Vietnam which were always sold whole, even in their wet markets. The nuts were also bigger :) come to think of it, most fruits tasted just a tad sweeter and always came in larger than ours, except for bananas.

    Apr 28, 2010 | 2:04 pm

     
  45. kaye says:

    Since I spent some of my growing years in Antipolo I was able to have my fair share of kasuy growing up, now it costs a lot to purchase a half kilo for cooking and munching.. but i still love kasuy!!

    I also remember my childhood days when we me and my cousins would open a kilo pack of butong pakwan ad try to open as much and pile the meat in the seed before we eat it.. i once saw a pack of peeled butong pakwan and I quickly thought, how did they open it without doing it one by one and not using their teeth… hehehe!

    Apr 28, 2010 | 7:41 pm

     
  46. scramoodles says:

    I have only read about how cashew nuts are processed once and managed to watch a short clip on how’s its processed. It entails a lot of hardwork. Imagine, it’s not only acid that you have to worry about, but if I remember correctly, also cyanide. I am a bit worried, these ladies should be wearing gloves.

    Apr 28, 2010 | 9:04 pm

     
  47. pusherwoman says:

    Ahhhh… No wonder cashew nuts are more expensive than peanuts. Thanks MM for the feature. I’ll never complain about the price again.

    Apr 30, 2010 | 5:39 pm

     
  48. Phillip Barroso says:

    So thats why its more expensive than peanuts. co’z it take a lot of time and effort in preparing those. Very informative. Thanks MM:-)

    Apr 7, 2011 | 9:07 pm

     
  49. Eileen says:

    Wow. I never realized how hard it is to process these nuts. Never, ever again am I going to bargain for them… esp. when in Palawan. Thanks MM for this blog post. Your archives are so full of interesting trivia that it makes me want to go back to the Ph ASAP.

    Nov 1, 2011 | 8:13 pm

     
  50. duwop says:

    Hmm…don’t feel like ever eating cashew nuts now…

    Apr 25, 2012 | 3:53 am

     
 

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