Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Product Review: marañón

We're all familiar with the cashew nut. But until recently (i.e. within the last few years) I didn't know that the cashew nut grows at the end of a fruit—the marañón or cashew apple. You only get one cashew per marañón, which is part of why it's more expensive than other nuts. The cashew tree is related to the mango, but because the marañón has a delicate skin it's mostly unsuitable for international trade (I had to buy them frozen).[1] The marañón can be yellow (like the ones I bought) or red.

We didn't feel like trying to extract and roast our own cashew nuts. At the end of the marañón is a greenish-grey kidney-shaped drupe which botanists consider the true fruit of the cashew tree. Inside the drupe is the cashew nut, surrounded by a double shell. The shells contain high levels of anacardic acid (see image above [2]), a chemical similar to urishiol, which is found in poison ivy. And like poison ivy, anacardic acid causes allergic contact dermatitis.[3] The only way to completely remove the anacardic acid from the cashew nut is to roast the shell. But this must be done outside, otherwise you'll breathe in the anacardic acid and have an allergic reaction inside your lungs.[4] Suffice it to say that sounded like more trouble than it was worth.

My verdict: The flavor was fruity and good. It was really juicy—every bite I took sent streams of juice down my face and onto my plate. The texture was ropy. Once the juice was gone, you were left with an unpleasant pulp. I suspect that this is because the fruit was frozen and that if I ever tried them fresh that the flesh would be more supple. In fact, I would only eat these again if they were fresh.


[1] See apple#Habitat and growth.

[2] The R in the chemical structure for anacardic acid stands for an alkyl group which can be 15 or 17 carbons long and which can be saturated or unsaturated.

[3] See contact dermatitis.

[4] See Wikipedia, loc. cit.

Image attributions:

Anacardic acid structure is by Fvasconcellos, available at acid general.svg.

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