The problem with cashews and what to look out for

Let's talk about cashews! Because: the nuts are just delicious, don't you think? In addition, they are a real blessing for fans of plant-based cuisine, because they can be used to make vegan alternatives to milk, yogurt or even cream. But although cashews and cashew products are no longer uncommon in our pantries, we, as consumers, don't know that much about the fine nut. At least that's how I feel. Reason enough to take a closer look at the topic. Because: when it comes to cashew production, not everything goes as we would like it to. Why this is so and what IceDate is specifically looking for - I'll tell you.

Criticism of cashew production
A large part of the cashew nuts (56%) that land on the market worldwide are grown and harvested in Africa. However, only a fraction is processed there. Around 95% of the harvest is transported to the Far East, particularly Vietnam, and processed there. The reason: since 1995 an immense industry has been built there for this very purpose. It left many African producers with severe financial and economic losses. The industry in Vietnam is now so highly automated and subsidized that further processing there is significantly cheaper than in Africa itself. That is why around half of all cashew nuts that we sell over the counter are processed there. However, only a quarter of it comes from Vietnam itself, the rest is imported.

When they arrive in the Far East, the nuts are dried, roasted and the poisonous nutshell is removed from the core by heating in a water bath. This is often done under poor working conditions and with a lack of safety standards: on the one hand, the corrosive substances in the shell, if cracked, can get into the hands of the workers and cause injuries, on the other hand the poisonous vapor can be inhaled and lead to inflammation of the mucous membranes .

Bad working conditions, economic concentration & enormous CO2 emissions
But not only the poor working conditions are a criticism of the cashew production. The economic focus on the Far East is also criticized. The further processing of the cashews in the growing country itself would not only create jobs there, but also boost the economy. Due to the huge Vietnamese processing industry, however, large (financial) hurdles have been placed to achieve this.

The environmental aspect cannot be denied either. Since the cashews are transported unprocessed, together with their shell, from Africa to Vietnam, the sensitive CO2 emissions are enormous. Because: in this form the nuts are around 5 times heavier than when they are finished - that means they need significantly more energy to cover this distance.

The nuts are then often transported from Vietnam to Switzerland, where they are packaged, sold and distributed to our supermarkets. The overall transport route to us, as the end consumer, is not exactly a short one.

Even fair trade and organic seals are no guarantee
Unfortunately, even the Fairtrade and organic seals are no guarantee that the nut was produced under optimal and sustainable conditions. The award of the seal, as well as the control of the producers, is often criticized as too lax. Environmental organizations, for example, criticize the fact that even Fairtrade nuts are given false indications of origin and that producers are included who are partly responsible for environmental scandals.

Cashews at IceDate
At IceDate, too, cashews are sometimes used to make the delicious ice cream. Since IceDate clearly positions itself for more environmental friendliness, as well as fair and social trade, particular care is taken when choosing cashews.

The IceDate cashews are sourced from the Nuts2 company, are marked with the Fairtrade seal and all come from Burkina Faso. But not only that: they are also 100% processed and packaged there. The entire manufacturing process remains within the national borders, creates jobs there, contributes to the flourishing economy and saves the detours via Vietnam and Switzerland (and thus a lot of CO2 emissions). The company is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs and also supports the expansion of schools and other social institutions on the continent.

Nuts2 is committed to fairness, security and social aspects
Through fair wages for the farmers as well as training programs and a safe workflow in their own processing facilities, Nuts2 wants to use the nuts as an opportunity to fight against poverty and social instability in Africa. In 2018, Nuts2 already had 1,540 workers in their factories in Africa who can support their families through their employment. Since Nuts2 is also campaigning for women's rights, around 80% of employees are female.

If you want to see how Nuts2 works and how cashews are cracked, just watch this video:

What you can do
Are you wondering what you can do better with cashew nibbling in the future? Very simple - do it like IceDate: look out for the organic and Fairtrade seal, but before you buy, find out exactly where the nuts come from, where and how they are processed and how the company you buy them from, basically works. Of course, you then have to dig a little deeper into your pockets for your nuts than for conventional goods, but you are also doing a lot of good for the environment, as well as for fair and social trade.

Even more exciting things about the cashew nut
I hope that you, just like me, learned a little bit from the article. By the way, while researching I came across some other exciting facts about cashew nuts. Since you might also be interested in the whole thing, I don't want to withhold this information from you.

Did you know already…

... that the cashew nut is not a nut at all? It grows on the up to 15 meter high cashew tree and forms the core of the fruit growing on it - a thick, reddish cashew apple. In contrast to all other fruits in the world, the seed does not grow inside the fruit, but outwards at the lower end. From a botanical point of view, the cashew nut, which in turn contains the cashew kernel (what we like to snack on), belongs to stone fruit - like apricots, cherries or plums.

cashew apple red

... that cashews are super healthy? They contain lots of high-quality vegetable protein, B vitamins and (poly) unsaturated fatty acids. They also contain large amounts of magnesium and phosphorus, which are important for our muscles, nerves and bones, for example. From the tryptophan contained in the chashewn nut, our body also forms the happiness hormone serotonin - so the little nut also ensures our good mood.

... where do cashews grow? We find cashew trees all over the world. Especially in Africa (e.g. on the Ivory Coast, Benin, Guinea-Bissau or Burkina Faso) and Asia (e.g. India, Vietnam, Indonesia) but also on the South American continent, e.g. in Brazil.

... where is the largest cashew tree in the world? It's in the city of Parnamirim in the state of Rio Grande do Norte in Brazil. Due to a genetic anomaly, this cashew tree does not grow upwards, but to the side and thus repeatedly forms new trunks from its branches. The tree now has a circumference of 500 meters and is estimated to be around 110-115 years old.

Author: Christine Hierer
Christine Hierer
Christine lives in Berlin and works as a freelance writer. She prefers to write about sustainability, vegan food, minimalism and the good life.