7weeks in India – Meeting the cashew nut maker

Cashew nut and family business
Cashew nut and family business

Cashew nuts are a popular snack – probably all over the world – and a healthy food source, full of energy, antioxidants and minerals.

Have you ever seen where they grow and how the processing from the tree to the final nice eatable nut works?

We visit a rural region in the surroundings of  Pondicherry, in the South of India). This is one of the areas in India where – due to its tropical climate – a lot of cashew nut trees grow. The tree is an evergreen that produces the cash apple and the nut. It grows up to 14 meters. The cashew apple is a fruit whose pulp can be processed into a sweet juice. Other parts of the tree are still used as remedies against snake bites, anti-fungal activity and other folk remedies.

What about the nuts? They are attached to these big apples, but for getting the final cashew nut as we all know it some additional processing steps are necessary.

 The cashew nut business

That’s why a real cashew nut business has been developed over the years. Here in Pondicherry, it is one of those businesses where poor and illiterate people engage; some of them even professionalized the processing and gain some more money that helps them to have a better life…

When we visit some of the cashew nut maker, we talk to a woman that recently has opened her own cashew nut shelter. “Only a few months ago we –  my mother, myself and my daughter –  did all manually. We got the cashews boiled and roasted, but the hardest is to peel them out of the hard shell”, she explains. ”We used stones, but it is important that the nuts do not crash, otherwise the quality gets less. Now, with the shell cutting machine we can process much more. I could get a loan and now things are getting better. If possible, I will repay the loan as soon as possible and even buy two, three additional ones.”

Quickly, she takes a nut closed in its shell and put it amongst two iron parts. Like a pair of nippers, fixed on a rack. She works standing in front of it and meanwhile she holds the nut in between with the other hand she moves the nippers: Crush, the shell opens. I wonder how often she might hurt her fingers… but she just smiles and says that after some initial “problems” this does not happen anymore.

Video: http://youtu.be/A7OSJZJ6exY

Partly the shells drop down into a container, partly she throws the cracked shell with the nut into the container that is put in front of the rack. A hundred, thousands of nuts she cracks in such a way, every day. The cracked shells and nuts in the container are taken by her mother and daughter and outside they start to separate the shells from the single nuts – manually. Neat and clean, hours and hours sitting there on the ground.

In another village the business is already advanced. Ten women from a village are working here under a roof, sometimes also in shifts. They have set up their business as a group. Their husbands are helping them sometimes, when possible. Meanwhile six of the women crack the nuts in front of the machines, four women sit and sort the nuts and shells. Huge bags of freshly harvested cashew nuts are stored in one corner. It seems that there is a lot to do…

The next time when I will buy some cashew nuts in the supermarket I will remember them – for sure.

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