Cashews are an incredibly versatile and nutrient-dense "nut" that are a staple in vegan cooking. In addition to being delicious on their own as a stand-alone snack, they can be transformed and used in ways such as dairy-free cheese, milk, cream, yogurt and butter!
Cashews offer plant-based protein and are considered an excellent source of copper as well as a good source of potassium, magnesium, manganese, vitamin K, phosphorus and zinc. In this post, I'll cover in depth nutrition information about cashews as well as how to soak them, transform them and use them in vegan recipes.
What are cashews?
Cashews are commonly referred to as a nut, but did you know that technically this not accurate? By definition a cashew is actually a seed.
Let me walk you through the process of how cashews grow. Cashews come from cashew trees native to Brazil but are now grown throughout the world. These trees grow cashew apples (not edible!), and at the bottom of each of these apples is a drupe, which is a fruit containing a single seed. The single seed found within this drupe is the cashew that we call a nut. Confusing, right?
Nutrition facts of cashews
A single serving of raw, unsalted cashews is 1 ounce (28.35 grams), which is roughly 18 nuts. According to the USDA, one serving of cashews provides 69% of the recommended daily value (DV) for copper, roughly 20% of the DV for both magnesium and manganese, 15% of the DV for zinc, 13% of the DV for phosphorus, 10% of the DV for thiamin and 8% of the DV for Vitamin K. Here is the full nutritional breakdown of cashews from the USDA:
- Calories: 157
- Total Fat: 12.4g
- Cholesterol: 0mg
- Sodium: 3.4mg
- Total Carbohydrates: 8.6g
- Dietary Fiber: 0.9g
- Total Sugars: 1.7g
- Protein: 5.2g
- Iron: 1.9mg (10.5%)
- Zinc: 1.6mg (14.9%)
- Copper: 0.6mg (69.3%)
- Magnesium: 82.8mg (19.7%)
- Manganese: 0.5mg (20.5%)
- Vitamin B6: 0.12mg (6.9%)
- Vitamin K: 9.7mcg (8.1%)
- Phosphorus: 168mg (13.4%)
- Potassium: 187mg (4%)
- Thiamin: .12mg (10%)
Health benefits of cashews
The National Library of Medicine concluded that nuts as a whole (including tree nuts such as cashews) are nutrient rich foods with wide-ranging cardiovascular and metabolic benefits. Nut consumption has been found to contribute to a reduced risk of coronary heart disease, including sudden cardiac death, and also decreases total and LDL-cholesterol (source).
Given my background in public health, understanding the purpose and effects of each ingredient I use in my recipes is very important to me. Oftentimes people look only at the top of the nutrition label for things like fat content, cholesterol and protein but neglect to review the vitamins and minerals. Cashews in particular are rich in many minerals, each of which are essential!
Copper is necessary for many important functions such as energy production, maintaining the nervous and immune systems and brain development (source). A deficiency in copper could cause issues such as anemia, bone fractures, an irregular heartbeat and thyroid problems (source).
Cashews are among the foods with the highest copper content! Vegans can also get copper from shiitake mushrooms, almonds, sunflower seeds, leafy greens and even dark chocolate, so it is relatively easy to get enough copper on a plant-based diet.
Magnesium supports muscle and nerve function in addition to energy production, and chronically low levels can increase the risk of high blood pressure, heart disease, type 2 diabetes and osteoporosis (source). Magnesium is also a safe option for migraine prevention and can be an effective option for headaches including migraines, tension-type headaches and cluster headaches (source).
Manganese is used to make energy and protect from cell damage, and also helps with strong bones, reproduction, blood clotting and a healthy immune system (source).
A single serving of cashews contains 20% of the DV for manganese. Manganese is also abundant in whole grains such as brown rice, oatmeal and whole wheat bread, other nuts, legumes and leafy vegetables (source).
Cashews are a good plant-based source of iron (10.5% of the DV per serving). Iron is an essential mineral that is necessary for making hemoglobin in red blood cells, which help transport oxygen from the lungs to the rest of the body. A deficiency in iron can cause weakness, fatigue, dizziness and/or lightheadedness.
To enhance the absorption of iron, it is recommended to pair cashews with a source of vitamin C such as bell peppers, broccoli, mango, citrus or tomatoes. For example, you could make my vegan cashew cream to serve overtop pasta and mix in roasted veggies like bell peppers and/or broccoli. This recipe for Pasta Primavera is a perfect example of this. And this recipe for Weeknight Roasted Veggie Creamy Vegan Pasta is another example of pairing the iron from cashews with vitamin C-rich veggies for better absorption.
Zinc is necessary for cell growth, building proteins, healing damaged tissue and supporting a healthy immune system (source). A deficiency can also cause a loss of taste and smell!
Of all the minerals that cashews are rich in, zinc is the one vegans tend to be lacking most as it is most abundant in red meat, seafood and poultry. Also, common vegan staple ingredients such as beans and grains contain phytates which actually reduce the amount of zinc the body absorbs (source). Therefore, it is important for vegans to incorporate foods high in zinc regularly into their diet.
Phosphorus is a key element of bones, teeth and cell membranes, and also regulates the normal function of nerves and muscles (source). The foods richest in phosphorus are dairy, red meat, poultry, seafood, legumes and nuts. Therefore, it is important for vegans not to overlook legumes and nuts! Cashews contain 13% of the DV per serving.
Similar to zinc, the body does not absorb phosphorus as well from plant-based foods due to phytates that can reduce the mineral's absorption. Cooking, sprouting and soaking help break down phytic acid so that phosphorus is more easily absorbed (source). Fortunately, soaking cashews is common in many vegan recipes!
Cashews are crunchy and delicious by themselves, but soaking them is what brings out their versatility, especially in vegan recipes. When soaked, cashews become soft so that when blended they are creamy. They are a popular choice as a dairy substitute in almost any form given their neutral flavor and creamy texture.
Benefits of soaking cashews
Soaking cashews in advance makes them more easily digestible, but it also helps make the nutrients more available.
One of the main things that happens when cashews soak is they absorb the water and soften. The softer the cashews, the smoother and creamier your recipe will turn out! Soaked cashews also swell in size because of water retention, so skipping this step may affect the outcome of your recipe. If you skip soaking, you will likely need to add more liquid in order to compensate.
How to use soaked cashews
Soaked cashews are incredibly useful in vegan, dairy-free and paleo cooking. Soaking transforms the normally irresistible crunchy cashews into a smooth, creamy and silky consistency. They can be used to make milks, yogurts, creams, cheeses and sauces. These types of recipes and additional information on soaking (including quick and overnight methods) can be found in my comprehensive post on How (and Why!) to Soak Cashews Properly.
How to roast cashews
Roasted cashews are a delicious snack and are widely available in grocery stores, but did you know that you can easily roast them yourself? Store-bought cashews often contain peanut, soybean or canola oil, so if you are sensitive or allergic to these then roasting at home is a great option!
To roast cashews, use a 2:1 cashew to salt ratio (½ cup cashews, ¼ cup salt). Heat the salt first on the stovetop, then lower the heat and add the cashews. Toss the cashews to coat them with the salt, and after about 5-7 minutes they should be golden brown. Done!
How to store cashews
I buy raw, unsalted cashews in the bulk section of my grocery store and store them in the refrigerator (or freezer) in a large, airtight mason jar. In the refrigerator cashews can last up to six months, and they can actually last up to a year if you store them in the freezer.
Vegan recipes featuring cashews
Cashews are the star in many vegan recipes ranging from sauces to entrees and especially desserts! Here are some of my favorites:
- Condiments and sauces:
- Creamy Mexican Casserole with Black Beans & Quinoa
- Roasted Spaghetti Squash with Black Lentils and Creamy Marinara
- Creamy Butternut Squash "Risotto" (no rice needed!)
- Easy Vegan Mozzarella Cheese (for pizza!)
- Creamy Vegan Garlic Mushroom Fettuccine
- Vegan No-Boil Pasta Bake
- The Best Vegan Mac N Cheese
- Pasta al Limone
- Mint Chocolate Chip Ice Cream
- Grain-Free Key Lime Pie Bars
- 5-Ingredient Vegan Peppermint Patties
- Berries & Cream Popsicles
- No-Churn Blender Vanilla Ice Cream
- Vegan & Paleo Pecan Pie Bars
- Easy Vanilla Blender Icing
- No-Churn Chocolate Cherry Ice Cream
- Vegan Pumpkin Pie Pudding
- No-Cook Vegan Blackberry Vanilla Pudding
- No-Bake Vegan Pumpkin Pie
Please comment below with your favorite way to incorporate cashews into your diet, and tag @eatingbyelaine on Instagram so I can see your final shots of any of these recipes you make!