New Year in Sri Lanka sees the first of the season’s cashew crop. Cashews are the third most popular tree nut traded internationally, after almonds and hazelnuts. Thanks to their large size, superior creamy taste and rich aroma, Sri Lankan cashews are in high demand from markets in Canada, the USA, Israel, UK and Japan.

You can show your support for a local industry and highlight their seasonality by making a special feature of cashews in your New Year menus. Here are some tips on how to make the most of this tasty ingredient in your recipes.

  • Ground cashews are brilliant for making recipes pastes and creams and thickening curries, and they are just as good in New Year sweetmeats such as Dodol, Bibikkan and desserts as they are in savoury recipes. Decorate your sweet semolinas or wattalapan with toasted chopped cashews for that final flourish.
  • Serve spiced, roasted cashews as a bar snack that will stimulate your customers’ appetites. The classic combo is to toss with deep-fried curry leaves and chilli flakes, but you can create some ‘house specials’ and match them with different drinks.
  • Whole, chopped, toasted or raw, Cashews lend themselves well as a garnish in rice dishes, curries, salads and stir fries.

Nuts in their shell have a longer shelf life than shelled nuts, but this isn’t an option with cashews due to the toxicity of their shells. All cashews are processed and heat-treated before they enter the market, so officially even the ‘raw’ cashews aren’t properly raw.

However, it’s more cost-effective to buy ‘raw’ cashews than ones that have been pre-roasted, with or without salt and other flavourings. Nuts can go off quickly due to their high fat content. Make sure to keep them in airtight containers in the fridge and they can last for up to six months without going bad.

Around six per cent of people worldwide have allergies to cashews and sometimes these reactions can be severe or even fatal. Tree nut allergies are far more common among those of European descent (Sri Lankans are more likely to suffer from wheat or cow’s milk allergies), but research shows that the numbers affected by all food allergies is increasing, especially in rapidly urbanising countries. Show you care by highlighting any dish on your menu that has nuts in it (or is cooked in nut oil) and be careful of cross contamination – use different chopping boards, knives and wash hands and containers thoroughly after handling nuts.

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