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Simply Nutritious, Quick and Delicious

Cracking the 'nut': Are cashews nuts, fruits, or drupes?

Bowl of cashews

Call me a nut, but I’m always interested in how my food is grown. Did you know that cashews are grown on a tree? Ok, maybe you did, but did you know that the tree produces fruit, known as a cashew apple, and below the apple hangs a drupe, which is a hard shell that surrounds the cashew? I didn’t! But as a lifelong learner, I was fascinated when looking at pictures and videos of this peculiar nut (or should I say fruit…or drupe?)

Once harvested, the shells are heated and dried. But what’s even more fascinating is the dangerous process of extracting the cashew from the shell. Inside is a reddish-brown liquid made of various phenols that can cause skin irritation, blisters and burns. Once the cashew is properly roasted, however, the toxin is destroyed. Mechanical shelling doesn’t always do a good job as it can easily break the nut, so most workers do it by hand, shelling one nut at a time. This hazardous and extremely labor-intensive process gives me a whole new appreciation for cashews; it’s no wonder this is an expensive nut!

Like all nuts, cashews are quite nutritious. A one-ounce portion (about 18 whole cashews) has 157 calories, 5 grams protein and 12 grams fat, but most of the fat is the heart-healthy unsaturated fat. When buying cashews, look for those that say, “lightly salted” or labeled “raw”, which means they are still heated enough to be safe; they just don’t have any added salts or flavorings. Add cashews to stir-fries and curries, crush cashews and use as a breading for chicken or fish, grind it into nut butter or mix into a trail mix. The rich, buttery taste of cashews make them irresistible!


Geiger, M. (2021). Cashews, not really a nut. Iowa State University Extension and Outreach.
USDA. Food Data Central. Raw cashew nuts.

About the Author


Jenna Smith is a Nutrition and Wellness Educator with University of Illinois Extension, serving Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties. Smith uses her experience as a registered dietitian nutritionist to deliver impactful information and cutting-edge programs to Livingston, McLean, and Woodford Counties and beyond.