If I were brought from my native place and rooted in a new setting…believe me I wouldn’t be happy. But it seems to be a different case with cashew nuts. They came to India with the Portuguese and mingled in the Indian culture so well that they are now considered a native crop of India.
The cashew loved their new abode so much that they went on to make India not only the largest producer, but also the processors of cashew nut. The fact might be boggling, but it’s true that about 60 percent of the cashews consumed globally are processed in India. With a sweet alluring taste, crisp crunch and tempting aftertaste – it is also easy to understand why this nut is the third largest consumed tree nut in the world.
The quest for cashew took me to the eastern and western coastal stretch of India, lined abundantly with cashew plantations. It was a little easy for me to understand India’s cashew processing industry, since our company has their very own cashew processing facility at Kollam, Kerala.
The 0.97 million hectors of land dedicated solely to cashew cultivations isn’t enough. To meet an insatiable demand of processed nut, India has to additionally import raw cashew nuts mostly from Eastern and Western Africa.
These imported nuts are processed and exported further to EU and United States where they are adapted according to the taste requirements of the market. The other major buyers of Indian cashew include Japan, UAE, Canada, Saudi Arabia, Singapore and Israel.
I was told that in India, all cashew business happens from Kollam which is a government approved ‘centre of cashew industry’. And it is truly the heart of cashew industry in India with over 80 percent of the total cashew processing and export in India takes place from here.
Honestly, the real joy for me during this entire journey was to see raw cashew get converted into a premium delicacy. Once converted into edible form, cashew becomes really delicious and expensive too. For cashew to reach its edible state it requires more-or-less 20 to 21 days. It’s a big process, labour intensive and involves many stages – the reason why cashews are expensive.
Post-harvest, the nuts are collected and sun dried for couple of days. The cashews are then steamed and shelled using cutting machines to extract kernels which are sorted according to quality. After this the kernels are passed through Borma dryers to remove moisture. The husk is removed from dried kernels which are then sent for peeling – this step defines the quality of cashew.
The kernels are then sorted and separated as per AFI (American Food Industry) standards into various kernel count, size and grades. Thereafter the kernels are sent for inspection once before passing through metal detectors, after which they are packed in cartons.
Food processing segment is the highest consumer of cashew nuts using them in the bakery, confectionary, ice-cream and chocolate industry. Better quality cashews means you get better prices in the international market. And the quality of cashew kernels in turn begins with the quality of raw nut.