How Ethical Cashew Nuts Are Processed

Cashew nuts tree to table

Some people have commented on our recipes with concerns over the ethics of buying cashew nuts. This is because the raw cashew nut contains the same toxic substance as poison ivy and can cause serious health issues. There are some unscrupulous cashew factories where workers are exposed to the toxins. The term “blood cashews” has been coined and some consumers are understandably worried about the ethics of cashew nuts.

While in Bali I noticed a premium brand of cashews in all of the local shops – East Bali Cashews. This company’s packaging is adorned with “sustainability” and “social enterprise” so I was keen to learn more about the company. After going through copious amounts of their flavoured cashew nuts (especially the chilli lime and cocoa dusted) I contacted them to learn more. They were kind enough to give me a tour of their factory and an overview of the company.

East bali cashew factory
East Bali Cashew factory

The East Bali Cashew Company was set up because in Bali farmers were growing cashews but most were exported abroad to be processed. East Bali is one of the poorest parts of the island and where most cashews in Bali are grown. Arron Fishman started the company with several investors to keep the wealth in the local area. The factory started operating in 2014 and now employs over 300 people. It has outgrown the original premises and having is a hugely positive impact on the local area and people.

Processing and adding value to the cashew nut in Bali has helped to retain the money. This money can then go towards addressing the issues of poverty, low education, lack of jobs and healthcare in the area. There is now a pre-school next to the cashew factory and this is only the start of the social projects the cashew factory is doing to benefit the local area and lives. Visit the East Bali Cashew site for more details. East Bali Cashew nuts are available in most shops in Bali, gourmet shops in Singapore and Australia and from Amazon.

Different grades of cashews
Different grades of cashews

Cashew Nuts From Tree to Table – Cashew Factory Processing Video

Are Raw Cashew Nuts Really Raw?

After speaking to several cashew producers I’ve learned that cashew nuts sold as “raw” in the shops have usually gone through two heating processes. In the video above the cashews are steamed before opening to help destroy the toxins that the shell contains. Then heated again as the inner nut is wet and needs to be dried. All cashew processors I spoke to heated twice – some by roasting the first time rather than steaming.

Cashew nuts from most stores that are sold as “raw” have probably have been heated above the 38-degree temperature that many raw foodists avoid. These so-called raw cashews are still a different product to roasted nuts as the roasted nuts are heated at far higher temperatures. There are said to be places where workers manually shell cashew nuts without heating. This would be unethical, as workers hand shelling raw cashews would be exposed to all the toxins.

Young cashew tree plants
These are young cashew tree plants at the East Bali Cashew Company. With an eye to the future they buy older unproductive cashew trees with diminishing returns from farmers and exchange with a young cashew plant.
The view from East Bali Cashews
The view from East Bali Cashews

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6 thoughts on “How Ethical Cashew Nuts Are Processed”

  1. David Seeman Conteh

    Good afternoon to you all.
    I am very much impressed by what I saw today.
    Please I am kindly asking your organisation to be giving me some advises as I am trying to do the same here in Sierra Leone.
    I have just planted cashew trees 10 acres of land just last year and I have just nursed 800 seeds this month which will be ready to be planted early July 2019
    Please I want us to be partners in cashew farming
    Thank You and hoping to hear from you.
    Best regards
    David S. Conteh
    Contact: +23277242108
    Sierra Leone, Karene District

  2. Hi, so as I understand it, the way these are produced prevents the hand damage that many women manually shelling them experience. Is that correct? Do you know which store this company supplies in the the U.K. if any?
    Finally, what would be your thoughts on how the less ethical factories could be improved or helped to improve, the ladies need the work so it can’t be taken away, but their conditions do need to improve.

    1. Hi There, I’ve seen East Bali cashews in planet organic and they are on Amazon. For your second question, I’m not nearly knowledgeable enough to even have a view – there’s so many food items that have questionable practices used on the workforce and change isn’t easy in a world where consumers demand a low price.

  3. Could you please answer this question : “so as I understand it, the way these are produced prevents the hand damage that many women manually shelling them experience. Is that correct?” The above article does say “the cashews are steamed before opening to help destroy the toxins that the shell contains”; does some toxin remain, and are the shells still opened manually?

    1. Bastian Durward

      Yes they do. I think you can / could get them on amazon and few other online shops. But I think things are a bit over the place at the moment

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