From Tree to Tummy: a cashew’s journey

Ever wonder how that cashew in your mixed nuts got there? Ever walked through the grocery aisle and wondered why cashew nuts are so expensive? Well here’s the scoop on how one small nut goes from a tree in Ghana to your pantry.

Cashews grow on trees. Like so:
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The farmer then walks around his farm and picks up the nuts that have fallen on the ground. That’s how you know the nut is mature. The nut is attached to an apple which is removed. The farmer then takes his cashew and dries it on the ground.

After it has dried for at least a day, the farmer takes his cashew nuts to an agent. The agent weighs the bag of cashews and calculates the amount of money he will give him based on current prices.

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For example, this year the highest price per kilogram was about $0.55.
Consider a normal sized container of cashews, they are typically 225g (8oz.).
That means 225g = $0.13.

Okay, so now the farmer has been paid for his cashew. The agent collects cashew nuts at a buying station, until he has enough bags to load a truck. Now, the buyer (who has hired the agent) sends a truck to the buying station. Using a few very strong men, the truck is loaded. Each bag of cashew weighs about 85kg or 187lbs. Two men lift opposite sides of the bag and place it on another man’s head. That man walks the bag to the truck and slides it off to the guy packing the truck. Once the truck is full, it heads to the warehouse.

At the warehouse, the cashew is dumped onto a large tarp or slab of concrete. Here the cashew is dried again to ensure it will not spoil while being stored. The bags are refilled and stacked on wooden pallets for storage. When the buyer is ready to ship another truckload of cashews to a processor or a customer, he again loads a truck.

If the cashew is not being processed in Ghana, it is sent to the city of Tema, a large port. At the port, the bags of cashew are immediately off-loaded into shipping containers. The shipping containers are then loaded onto a vessel for transport to India, Vietnam, or Brazil. Once they reach dry land again, the containers are offloaded and the bags are transferred to a truck. The truck then hauls the cashew nuts to a processor.

The cashew kernel (the part you eat) is encased in a tough outer shell. Now that the cashew nuts are being stored at a processing plant, they go through quite a few more steps.

1. Roasting – cashews are roasted using steam to make the shell brittle and easier to crack.

2. Shelling – using a stick or a cracking machine, the outer shell is cut. Gloves or oil is placed on the hands during this process. Inside the shell is a liquid similar to poison ivy. When it touches your hands it starts to burn, so precautions must be taken. The kernel is removed from the outer shell during this process. Some companies do this by hand or use a machine that shakes the kernel out. Kernels that are whole and undamaged are worth considerably more than halves or split nuts.

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3. Drying – prior to this stage, the kernels may be sorted based on size. The kernels are then dried in a giant oven. This takes about 6-8 hours.

4. Tesla removal – just like peanuts have an outer papery shell, so does the cashew. This is removed by hand using a scrapping tool.

5. Grading – nuts are then sorted and separated based on their grade. Here are some grades:
180 (very large whole kernels) – the most expensive grade
210
240
320 (smaller whole kernels)
Halves
Splits
Butts
Pieces – one of the cheapest grades (Most jars of cashews you’ll find in the supermarket are halves and pieces mixed together.)

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6. Packaging – cashews are then vacuum sealed and placed into boxes for shipping. Each box weighs around 40-50lbs.

At this point, the cashews are again loaded onto trucks for transport to another customer. This time the customer is a roaster. The cashews are again offloaded into shipping containers and shipped to America for instance.

In America, the shipping containers are transported by truck or sometimes train to the roaster. The roaster receives the boxes of cashews and immediately freezes them. This ensures anything potentially living in any of those boxes (hopefully not, but this is America we triple check everything) dies. The boxes are then emptied into a giant container. The nuts then proceed down a canal of sorts. Air is blown against the nuts, to help separate any foreign materials from the nuts. They proceed down an assembly line of checks to make sure the cashew nuts are free from any bugs or other random objects.

The kernels are now ready to be roasted. This is done using giant vats of hot oil. Apparently, the kernels travel through a hot oil vortex! After the kernel is lightly roasted, flavorings are added. This can include salt, sugar, or perhaps chili powder. If the nuts are being added to a trail mix, they continue down a conveyor belt and meet up with the other ingredients. Nuts are then dropped into containers, sealed, and a lid is placed atop.

The packages of cashews are then again boxed, and ready for distribution to the next customer. This customer may include some big name stores, or a food distributor. They may be stored again in a warehouse. The jars of cashew are then delivered to a store, stocked, and lastly purchased by the final customer. You.

The final container of 225g of cashew might cost you $3.50, but after all the miles that cashew nut has logged, you should be grateful it isn’t sending you an expense report.

There you have it, the incredibly long journey a cashew takes from a farm in Ghana to your grocery store.

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