Three main cashew products are traded on the international market – raw nuts, cashew kernels and cashew nut shell liquid (CNSL). A fourth product – the cashew apple is generally processed and consumed locally.
The raw cashew nut is the main commercial product of the cashew tree, though yields of the cashew apple are eight to ten times the weight of the raw nuts. Raw nuts are either exported or processed prior to export. Processing of the raw nuts releases the by-product CNSL that has industrial and medicinal applications. The skin of the nut is high in tannins and can be recovered and used in the tanning of hides. The fruit of the cashew tree that surrounds the kernel can be made into a juice with high vitamin C content and fermented to give a high proof spirit.
It is estimated that 60 percent of cashew kernels are consumed in the form of snacks while the remaining 40 percent are included in confectionery. The cashew competes in the same market as other edible nuts including almonds, hazels, walnuts, pecans, macadamias, pistachios and peanuts. There has recently been a considerable rise in demand for edible nuts by consumers interested in quality and health aspects of food. The breakfast cereal, health food, salads and baked goods markets are all expanding markets for cashew nuts.
One major factor that affects the consumption of cashew kernels in world markets is competition from other tree nuts. The major importers in developed countries contract their requirement for the whole year based on the sales from previous years. If prices of a commodity fluctuate over a wide range, they will not want to trade in that item for fear of incurring heavy losses. Since cashew cultivation is not organised on a plantation scale in most producing countries, year to year variation in crop yield is a regular feature resulting in wide price fluctuations for cashew kernels. On the other hand, almonds and pistachios are grown in very large plantations in the United States and thus their prices are steady year after year.