The Secret Life of Cashews

As the cashew waited patiently inside the cashew apple, it grew lonely. It could hear the sounds of the outside world, which it desperately wanted to explore. So, it prayed and prayed, until God appeared one day, and said, ‘I grant you your wish. You can now remain outside the apple, and watch the world go by, as you wanted’. – Legend of The Cashewnut

The Cashew Fruit – Ready for Harvest

Whether you choose to believe the above story or not, in actuality, the cashewnut is a seed, and the source of a variety of products and by-products. The cashew was brought to the Indian shores of Goa by the Portuguese in the late 16th Century, and we Indians have since, discovered the secret life that a Cashewnut leads! We were a part of The Cashew Trail this year, an annual event organized by the Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa, tracing the journey of the Cashew, from fruit to its many derivatives. Here are the different stages of the Cashew Lifecycle:

Birth of a ‘Nut’

Hues of reds, yellows and greens, welcomed us at the cashew farm and this was the first time that I saw where the cashew actually comes from, and it looked a bit comical to me. The cashewnut was literally hanging onto the fruit for dear life, it seemed to me. As it was later explained to us, the cashewnut is ready for harvest when the color of the cashew fruit changes from green, to any of the other colours.

The Fruit – The Cashew Apple

Urak Sorbet

Once ripe, the cashewnuts are manually separated from the fruit and further processed. The fruit of the cashew tree is identical in looks to an apple, but it has a chalky texture , a slightly sweet taste and a pungent aftertaste. Sprinkle it with some rock salt, and it does taste better, but I don’t see myself chomping down on cashew apples, just for the pleasure of it.

However, the juice of the fruit makes for a very pleasant and refreshing summer drink. Add a dash of lime, club soda, crushed ice, and a pinch of sugar. Top it off with a few mint leaves, and what have you, a Virgin ‘Cashew-Apple’ Mojito!

Urak and Feni – Fermentation of the Cashew Fruit Juice

Stomping of the Cashew Fruit

Once the nuts are separated from the fruit, the fruits are then compressed either by machines or by stomping on them, to extract the juice. The juice is then diluted with water and collected in earthen pots, buried underground. This juice is left there for nearly 3 days, where the heat of the earth and naturally occurring yeast ferments the juice, converting the sugars into alcohol, and covering the ‘Cashew Wine’ with a thick layer of scum which is removed before the next step.

Distillation of the Fermented Cashew Fruit Juice

After fermentation, the product is then distilled in large, sealed earthen vats at high temperatures, to produce Urak. Urak is a colourless and slightly cloudy derivative, containing around 12-14% of Alcohol. Urak is the younger cousin of Feni, has a nice and fresh-cashew fruit odour, and mixed with Limca, is ideal to beat away all your summer blues.

The End Product- Urak getting collected

A couple of distillations later, the end product is Feni, a potent drink, containing nearly 40-42% of Alcohol. The odour is now more pronounced, but the colour is still clear.

The Cashew’s Nightlife! (Appreciating Feni)

The range of Feni and Urak at the Feni Appreciation Event @Park Hyatt Goa

When you want to appreciate Feni, the Goan way, you need some song and dance. And we got a bit of both as we were entertained and educated by a lively host on the intricacies of Feni and Urak. The surprising takeaway from this session was that we discovered that Feni ages really well, and we tasted several varieties of Oak Barrel-Aged Feni.

A bit like wine, Feni is definitely an acquired taste, and once you get over the initial shock of the strong fragrance, it actually is a decent drink. The 3 year and 5 year old aged Fenis were the standout here, and I was distinctly reminded of fine Kentucky Bourbon, with the latter one. Smooth, luxurious and potent is how I would describe it.

‘Roasted’ Cashew-Nuts

The actual cashew-nut that we eat is the kernel of the cashew seed, and is embedded within it. The extraction is actually a dangerous process, if you decide to do it indoors. The sun-dried cashewnuts are roasted in a large vessel which has several holes at the bottom. The reason for these perforations are two-fold: One, the Cashew Shell contains a poisonous dark coloured ‘oil’ which is inflammable, and it can percolate out through these holes. Two, the heat is evenly distributed, allowing for proper roasting of the nuts.

As the roasting begins, after a few minutes, the cashews burst into flame, due to the oil seeping out from the cashew shells, and gradually, the fire dies down, leaving behind charred cashew nuts. They are allowed to cool for a bit, and the kernel is now extracted by cracking open the shells with either hammers, or stones, anything that is handy. Out pop the pearly white cashew nuts, toasted and ready to consume(with a thin shell still remaining, which can be brushed off by hand).  And thus, we have Cashewnuts!

And the Cashew Life Cycle continues:

The Cashew Lifecycle in an edible format at the Park Hyatt Goa

And these are the significant(and secret!) events in the life of the Cashewnut. It must be noted that the Cashew and Coconut tree form the backbone of the trade and exports in Goa, and both of these trees hold a special significance in the Goan Culture. While the cashewnut seems like such an innocuous product, hopefully, you would have gained an insight into the diverse applications that this seed can be put to.

The Cashew Trail and Park Hyatt Goa

Pic Courtesy: Park Hyatt Goa

Cashew Trail is an annual event that was conceptualized by Park Hyatt Goa Resort and Spa in association with Madame Rosa Distillery in 2012. This event was curated to showcase the legacy of the fruit of Goa – the cashew in its many forms and manifestations to the global audience so as to create another rare and unique Park Hyatt experience. April is the ideal time for this unique celebration being the perfect harvest season for cashews, showcasing the fruit in its true glory. Edition 2017 was hosted in collaboration with Goa Tourism Development Corporation, Carpe Diem Art Gallery, Madame Rosa Distillery and  Goan Culinary Club.

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