Originally spread from Brazil by the Portuguese, the cashew tree is now cultivated in all regions with a sufficiently warm and humid climate. India, Vietnam, and Brazil, in that order, are the largest producers of cashew kernels; collectively they account for more than 90% of all cashew kernel exports. One of the finest varieties of cashews come from Kollam or Quilon in Kerala, South India which alone produces 4000 tons of cashews per annum.
The cashew apple is used for its juicy but acidic pulp, which can be eaten raw or used in the production of jam, chutney, or various beverages. Depending on local customs, its juice is also processed and distilled into liquor or consumed diluted and sugared as a refreshing drink, Cajuína. In Goa, India, the cashew apple is the source of juicy pulp used to prepare fenny, a locally popular distilled liquor. The cashew apple contains much tannin and is very perishable. For this reason, in many parts of the world, the false fruit is simply discarded after removal of the cashew nut.
The urushiol must be removed from the dark green nut shells before the seed inside is processed for consumption; this is done by shelling the nuts, a somewhat hazardous process, and exceedingly painful skin rashes (similar to poison-ivy rashes) among processing workers are common. In India urushiol is traditionally used to control tamed elephants by its mahout (rider or keeper). The so-called "raw cashews" available in health food shops have been cooked but not roasted or browned.
Cashew nuts are a common ingredient in Asian cooking. They can also be ground into a spread called cashew butter similar to peanut butter. Cashews have a very high oil content, and they are used in some other nut butters to add extra oil. In an off-the-shelf package of cashews found in the United States, a 30-gram serving contained 180 calories (750 kilojoules), 70% of which was fat.
The liquid contained within the shell casing of the cashew, known as Cashew Nut Shell Liquid (CNSL), has a variety of industrial uses which were first developed in the 1930s. CNSL is fractionated in a process similar to the distillation of petroleum, and has two primary end products: solids that are pulverized and used as friction particle for brake linings, and an amber-colored liquid that is aminated to create phenalkamine curing agents and resin modifiers. Phenalkamines are primarily used in epoxy coatings for the marine and flooring markets, as they have intense hydrophobic properties and are capable of remaining chemically active at low temperatures.