Cashew (Anacardiumoccidentale) is an important industrial and export crop whose potential is yet to be fully exploited in Nigeria. Cashew has for many years been used for food and income generation.
The trees are usually grown for their kernels which when roasted have a very pleasant taste. Cashew is the common name for a tropical and subtropical evergreen tree, Anacardiumoccidentale L., in the flowering plant family Anacardiaceae.
It is also the name for the commercially important kidney-shaped, nut like seed of this plant, which is edible when roasted or cooked (New World Encyclopaedia, 2008). The plant is a native of Tropical Central and South America, notably North Eastern Brazil, from where the Portuguese explorers introduced it into Nigeria in the 15th/16th century.
Nigeria, having a total area of one hundred thousand (100,000) hectare of cashew plantations and an average annual production of eighty-five thousand (85,000) metric tons per annum contributes almost sixteen percent (16%) of the total production of the agro-ecological zone.
Its production is about five percent (5%) of the global situation. During the last three (3) years, Nigeria has been one of the leading suppliers of raw cashew nuts exported to India. Nearly eighteen thousand (18,000) to twenty-three thousand (23,000) metric tons of raw nuts per annum have been exported earning about N 23 billion annually.
The history of cashew in Nigeria dated back to 15th century. Then, it was mainly used in afforestation schemes for the control of erosion in the former Eastern Nigeria.
However, the commercial cashew plantations started in Nigeria in the early 1950s with the establishment of first commercial plantations at Oghe, Oji and Mbala by the defunct Eastern Nigeria Development Corporation (ENDC) and Iwo, Eruwa and Upper Ogun by the defunct Western Nigeria Development Corporation (WNDC).
From these locations, the planting of the crop spread to other parts of Nigeria particularly the Central and Northern States of Nigeria. Research on cashew production and its uses started at the Cocoa Research Institute of Nigeria (CRIN), Ibadan in 1971.
The introduction of Brazilian cashew biotype with improved and desirable nut and kernel quality characteristics by CRIN has further increased the crops spread and popularity in Nigeria.
The commodity of commercial importance is the nut, which contains forty-seven percent (47%) fat, twenty-one percent (21%) protein and twenty-two percent (22%) carbohydrate.
It also contains vitamins, especially thiamine. Cashew nut proteins are complete, having all the essential amino acids and a kilogramme of the nut yields about six thousand (6,000) calories compared to three thousand, six hundred (3,600) calories from cereals, one thousand, eight hundred (1,800) calories from meat and six hundred and fifty (650) calories from fresh citrus fruit.
Cashew milk is plant-based and non-dairy milk beverage obtained from the processing of cashew and water. The processing of cashew milk involves processes such as drying, soaking, washing, sieving, extraction, filtration, cooling, and storage of the end product. Earlier cashew has been used for producing cashew shell oil, alcohol, nut meal, cashew bagasse, and others, with the development in innovation and technology, the cashew milk became a commercial product.
The good quality of cashew milk has a creamy consistency and constitutes vitamins, minerals, healthy fats, carbohydrates, protein, and free of lactose thus, plant-based milk products have become an alternative source of milk requirement.
Cashew milk is known to be a non-dairy milk that is extracted from cashews and is becoming prevalent as a lactose-free, milk alternative around the world. Cashew nuts are rich in iron, vitamins, zinc, magnesium and phosphorus which help with several health benefits.
The global cashew milk market size was valued at USD 37.8 million in 2018 and is expected to register a compound annual growth rate (CAGR) of five percent (5%) from 2019 to 2025. Increasing awareness about the benefits of cashew milk such as improvement in heart health, iron deficiency anemia, blood sugar control, eye health, and skin health is a key factor driving the market.
Moreover, cashew milk provides nutrients and proteins, helps in blood clotting, offers anti-cancer effects, increases antioxidant defenses, and lowers cholesterol levels. In, addition, it is easy to digest and rich in omega 6 fatty acids, thereby driving the demand for the product. Individuals having lactose intolerance are the significant consumers of dairy alternatives, cashew milk being one of them.
Nigeria has a comparative advantage in the cultivation of cashew and processing the cashew would enable the country to earn scare foreign exchange, create employment and meet our milk demands.