The cashew comes from the tropical American cashew tree, Anacardium occidentale. The Anacardium occidentale is the member of a larger family the Anacardiaceae.
The American cashew tree is a large evergreen tree that reaches heights of 29-39 feet. The leaves are oval and leathery. The tree also produces fragrant, rose-tinted flowers, which grow in clusters at the ends of young branches. The nut is kidney shaped and borne beneath a yellow or orange fruit called a cashew apple. The apple is edible and can be fermented to make wine.
The nut is used as a food, as a source of food oil, as a flavoring. The tree yields a gum that is the basis of a special varnish used to protect books and woodwork from insect damage.
The cashew tree is indigenous to the West Indies, Central America, Peru, and Brazil. The Portuguese transplanted it to the East Indies as early as the 16th century, and it was later established on the eastern coast of Africa. Today, the leading cashew-producing countries are India, Brazil, Nigeria, and Mozambique.