A Moment of Science

Why Cashews Aren’t Sold In The Shell

If you misplaced your nutcracker, cashews are the way to go. Ever wonder why they are never sold with a shell?

shelled and salted cashews

Photo: Donna Higgins

Some nuts, like cashews, are almost always sold shelled and roasted.

Part of the fun of eating almonds or pecans is cracking the shell and getting the nut. However, some nuts, like cashews, are almost always sold shelled and roasted. Why aren’t cashews sold in the shell?

Cashews are in the same family as poison ivy and poison sumac. Like the others in this family, the cashew plant contains powerful chemical irritants, so handling and eating raw cashews will cause the familiar itchy skin reaction in people sensitive to the chemicals. People who are sensitive to one plant in the family, for example poison ivy, are likely to be sensitive to others.

Why don’t we get a reaction when we eat cashew nuts, then? The irritants are found in the shell oil, but not in the nuts themselves. Handling the shell or eating a nut with shell oil on it can cause the reaction.

This is why they’re sold shelled, but why are they roasted? Roasting at high temperature destroys the shell oil, so commercially sold nuts will not trigger a reaction. Cashew nuts that are still in the shell or that are shelled and roasted at home at lower temperatures may be contaminated with the oil, so, shelling raw cashews is about as much fun as handling poison ivy.

  • Celso Frazao

    This article contains a lot of BS.  Cashews aren’t sold shelled because they HAVE NO SHELL!  Cashew is a FRUIT.  The cashew nut grows on the outside of the fruit.  Check out the photos in http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cashew

  • Alistair Murphy

    Celso, there is more to wikipedia than just photo’s. If you actually read the information you may feel enlightened, here is a quote from the link ”
    Although a nut in the culinary sense, in the botanical sense the nut of the cashew is a seed. The seed is surrounded by a double shell containing an allergenic phenolic resin, anacardic acid, a potent skin irritantchemically related to the more well known allergenic oil urushiol which is also a toxin found in the related poison ivy. Properly roasting cashews destroys the toxin” 

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