India is one of the largest producers of cashew nut in the world accounting for more than 30 percent of the world production. The coastal states of India have been cultivating cashew trees for centuries. Cashew was first introduced in Goa by the Portuguese and then slowly found its way down the Konkan coast to Malabar and the rest of Kerala.
Approximately 6.5 lakh hectares of land is under cashew cultivation in India of which 1.5 lakh hectares is in Maharashtra. Maharashtra is recognized as the leading producer of cashew nut in the country with the Konkan area of Thane, Raigad, Ratnagiri and Sindhudurg districts largely into the cultivation of cashew.
Sindhudurg district has the largest area under cashew cultivation as it has the ideal climate to produce good-quality cashew. Cashew processing units found in Sindhudurg are more than hundred years old with the first plant established in Vengurla in 1920. The tehsils of Devgad, Dodamarg, Kankavli, Kudal, Malvan, Sawantwadi, Vaibhavwadi and Vengurla in Sindhudurg district form the all-important cashew cluster.
Vengurla tehsil in Sindhudurg district is known for its superior quality cashew apple and cashew nut. It has a typical tropical climate with good monsoon showers, hot and humid summers and cool winters. The laterite soil is rich in organic matter, iron and aluminium and cultivation of cashew not only restricts soil erosion but also helps to balance the ecosystem. This crop is widely grown by farmers as a cash crop in this belt. As cashew is a hardy and rainfed crop, farmers prefer using organic methods for its cultivation.
A Regional Fruit Research Station established in Vengurla in 1957 has developed 7 varieties of cashew in Vengurla namely V1 (Vengurla – 1) to V7 (Vengurla – 7). Harvesting commences from February and continues up till May. The fruits are collected every day and the nuts are separated and sun dried for 2 – 3 days before storing. The average yield per tree is estimated to be between 13 to 24 kg with the maximum yield produced by V1, V2 and V7 varieties.
Cashew nuts are generally dried 4 to 5 times in the sun to remove the moisture completely. The nuts are then cooled and packed in plastic bags and kept in gunny sacks. Cashews are normally processed in small-scale cashew factories. It is first roasted or steamed to remove the kernel from the shell. The raw nuts are put in boilers for 30 minutes at 1200 °C to ensure even drying and clean appearance.
The heat application makes the shell brittle and allows it to be cut by either hand or leg-operated cutters. The whole nuts and pieces are separated. It is then subjected to drying in conventional electric driers to remove the outer skin attached to the kernel. The nuts are then kept in a moisturizer for 12 hours to ensure they do not break while polishing. Kernels are polished and then dried. The outer skin is peeled off carefully and the cashews are graded according to size, colour, wholeness etc.
Vengurla cashew has a distinctive kidney-shaped kernel, is creamy-white in colour and delightfully sweet. The size and weight of the kernel increases from varieties V1 to V7. Vengurla cashew apple has an astringent taste and contains a high amount of Vitamin C. The cashew apple of V5 and V7 are known to have high juice content (86 percent which is almost 12 percent higher than the average of other cashew varieties in India).
V2 has the highest shell thickness (shelling percentage is 32 which leads to greater protection of the kernel) which increases the keeping quality of the kernel and cashew nut as well as prevents any damage due to environmental factors. There are no or minimal wrinkles seen on Vengurla cashews which is the main reason they are in great demand in both domestic and international markets.
All three parts of the cashew namely cashew nut, cashew apple and cashew nut shell are used. Kernel is used in confectionery, bakery products and as a paste. The most popular products made from Vengurla cashews are Kaju Barfi, Kaju Modak and Kaju Masala Curry.
Cashew apples are dried, canned as a preserve or eaten fresh. Cashew apple squash, cashew apple jam and cashew apple chutney are sold locally. The cashew nut shells are sold to CNSL (Cashew Nut Shell Liquid) manufacturers in Goa that have innumerable applications in polymer-based industries.
Vengurla cashew nut often called as the ‘wonder nut’ received the Geographical Indication Tag (GI) in 2016.
Written by Lakshmi Subramanian
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