For a lot of nuts, the process of de-shelling before indulging is part of the fun, the effort can make the eventual bite all the more worth it. However, have you ever wondered why cashews are never sold to consumers in their shells?
Grocery stores usually have the option to buy nuts with or without their shell, from ready to crack open nuts like pistachios to the more difficult ones to break like walnuts. However, cashews are only ever sold de-shelled and though some may be labelled as “raw,” they are never actually raw.
The reason cashews can never really be sold raw is because the nut could have a potentially deadly consequence. Cashews are in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac, which means the cashew plant contains powerful chemical irritants.
The cashew seed we all know and love is initially surrounded by a double shell that contains a potent skin irritant, which is chemically related to the allergenic oil, urushiol. This means that the process of de-shelling cashews has to be done properly and not by consumers.
The urushiol is only found in the shell oil and not in the actual cashew nuts themselves, but still handling the shell or eating a nut with the shell oil on it can cause a reaction. Consuming a true raw and unprocessed cashew seed would still result in ingesting urushiol, which could be potentially deadly.
So how is this hazardous shell oil removed from the cashew seed? Cashews are roasted at high enough temperatures that the oil is destroyed and those that are marketed as “raw” are boiled and steamed to the same effect. This processing makes the cashew safe to handle and eat for the consumer.
While cracking open the shell might be part of the fun for nuts like pistachios or pecans, cashew shells are definitely something you do not want to have to deal with. Handling raw cashew shells would be just as painful as handling poison ivy.