Cashew Fruit Cashews / Mangos
The Cashews (Anacardiaceae) are a medium sized family of resinous trees and plants, mostly tropical but some temperate. Some provide highly prized edible fruit, but many have an irritant in their sap which causes rashes in humans, poison ivy being the most notorious.
Cashew fruit photo from United States Agency for International Development - public domain.

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Cashew   -   [Anacardium occidentale]
Cashew Nuts

The Cashew is native to Brazil which is still a major grower, though long overshadowed by India which has itself been eclipsed by Vietnam. Looking at the photo at the top of the page you can see the true fruit, shaped like a cashew nut, with a false fruit, the "cashew apple" above it.

Cashews are never shipped "in the shell" because the "shell" is laced with blistering levels of the irritant urushiol. Cashews must be shelled and prepared with great care to prevent toxicity. While rare, there have been cases of mass rash breakouts from cans of nuts contaminated with pieces of shell. The photo shows unroasted and roasted nuts.   Details and Cooking.

The "cashew apple" is edible but used fresh only locally because it is highly perishable, starting to ferment within 24 hours. It is used mainly to make jams and fermented and distilled into alcoholic beverages. There is also an Australian cashew, Semecarpus australiensis with a similar structure and requiring similar care in handling.

Malosma   -   [Laurel Sumac, Malosma laurina]
Malosma Berries

A large shrub common among the coastal chaparral of Southern and Baja California. It got the name Laurel Sumac from having leaves similar in shape to the unrelated California Laurel. It is currently used only as a decorative but the Chumash Indians once used the fruits to make a kind of flour and the bark to make a tea used to treat dysentery. Photo distributed under Creative Commons Attribution ShareAlike 2.0.

Mangos   -   [A. Mangifera indica | Mangifera sylvatica]
Mix of Fruits

Native to India and Southeast Asia mangos have been cultivated since prehistory. Over 1000 varieties are recognized and hundreds are cultivated in India where the fruit is a national obsession. We see just a few varieties here in California. Mangos ripen from June to November depending on variety and where they are grown, earlier inland later on the coast.

India is by far the largest grower of mangos followed by Southeast Asia, but most sold in the U.S. are grown in Mexico. Florida production was largely wiped out by hurricane Andrew (1992) and has not been restored due to doubts Florida could be price competitive (and fear of more hurricanes). Significant production began around 2002 in Southern California, but production can not yet meet demand (2013), even at a premium price.

While all mangoes sold in North America are M. indica, the Pickling Mango M. sylvatica also figures in India and Southeast Asia. All the other species are too toxic to be exploited. We now have a separate page for Mangos, including Mango Varieties - Details & Photos.

Pepper Trees   -   [Schinus]
These trees are in no way related to the plants that give us black, white, green, red or Sichuan peppercorns. They provide instead the Pink Peppercorns that were so popular with the fancy chef set some years back. There has been much talk of pink peppercorns grown in Florida causing throat irritation, but in general there is almost no irritant in dried berries.


Brazilian Pepper Tree   -   [Florida Holly, Christmasberry, Schinus terebinthifolius]
Branch with Berries

Fruits of this tree are used in the Caribbean for both seasoning and medicinal purposes. "Pink peppercorns" from trees growing in Florida were reputed to cause an allergic reaction in some people (throat irritation) so the chefs get their berries from the Caribbean island of Réunion. Whether this is a real problem or just a move to protect a cash crop on Réunion I do not know, but I've had no problem with the ones from my trees here in California.

This low growing tree is extremely invasive in wet climates and almost impossible to eradicate, particularly a problem in Hawaii and Florida. It can be told from the California / Peruvian pepper tree by the rounded tips of its leaves and it's low, dense, even sprawling growth habit. Note in the photo new spring growth with the berries on the previous year's growth. Details and Cooking.

California / Peruvian Pepper Tree   -   [Peruvian Mastic tree, Schinus molle]
Branch with Berries

This tree is very common in Southern California and is easy to tell from the Brazilian Pepper Tree. It grows as a large tree with drooping branches bearing very long leaves with many narrow sharply pointed leaflets. The Inca used the berries to make fermented beverages and flavoring syrups. The tree is also used as a medicinal, but is toxic to some animals and possibly small children. I get these leaves and berries from the Bank of America parking lot down on the corner, but find the berries of my Brazilian pepper trees to be much sweeter and milder. This tree is drought resistant and is a serious invasive in South Africa and Australia. Details and Cooking.


Pistachio   -   [Pistacia vera]
Pistachio Pistachios used to come from Persia, Afghanistan and Turkey. Today I see some Turkish in markets serving Mid Eastern communities but Persia (Iran) is embargoed and Afghanistan seems to have found opium more profitable.

California has taken up the slack. After testing 13 varieties Kerman and Lassen were chosen for nut bearing female trees and Peters as a male pollen producer. Kerman and Lassen produce particularly large crisp nuts. The first harvest was in 1976 and California is now the second largest producer in the world at 400 million pounds.

Some say Iranian nuts are better - I can't get any to compare, but they do grow more varieties (C1). The Turkish I've found are good but often over-roasted. The photo specimens are all California. To the right are roasted nuts, in the center roasted kernels, and to the left are fresh whole fruits and unroasted nuts (probably not much available in North America outside California).

Other pistachio trees are also useful. Mastic (Pistacia lentiscus) is the source of Mastic gum, used widely in Greece, Turkey, the Levant and Egypt as a spice and as a chewing gum. Terebinth (Pistacia terebinthus), native all around the Mediterranean, was the original source of turpentine. Resins from these trees were used to preserve wine more 7000 years ago, a usage still reflected in Greek retsina wines, though they use pine resin.

Toxicodendrons   -   [Toxicodendron sp.]
These highly toxic plants were formerly in Ruhs, the Sumac genus, but have been separated out. They contain significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol. We do not recommend attempting to use any Toxicodendron species for food in any way. This recommendation is self enforcing.


Poison Ivy | Poison Oak   -   [Toxicodendron species]
Growing Leaves Growing Leaves Low growing plants with leaves in sets of three, but Poison Ivy can also be a substantial tree climbing vine, easily recognizable by the dense hairs holding it to the tree trunk. They are common in forested areas of North America, and contain significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol.   Poison Ivy photo by Esculapio contributed to the public domain. Photo of Poison Oak by US Federal Government = public domain.

Poison Sumac   -   [Toxicodendron vemix]
Growing Leaves Shrubs and small trees up to 30 feet tall, native to very wet or swampy soils in eastern North America. Very little is west of the Mississippi or north of the Canadian border. They contain very significant amounts of the strong contact irritant urushiol, and are considered by some botanists to be the most toxic plants native to North America.   Photo of Poison Oak by US Department of Agriculture = public domain.


Spondias   -   [genus Spondias, var species]
These are minor fruits even in their home ranges. In general they are not cultivated but are picked wild. Listed here are the most important.


Tahitian Apple   -   [Golden Apple; Ambarella (Sri Lanka, Dutch); Qua coc, Coc ot (Viet); Pomme cythere, June plum, Manzana de oro (Caribbean), Juplon (Costa Rica); Jobo indio (Venezuela), caja-manga, cajarana (Brazil); Spondias dulcis alt S. cytherea] Pickled Fruit

Native to Southeast Asia, this tree has been planted in tropical regions worldwide. Eaten raw with shrimp sauce, made into juice and preserves and used as a flavoring in soups and stews, it is most popular in Indonesia and Malaysia. The flesh is crunchy and slightly sour. In West Java young leaves are also used as a flavoring.

The photo specimens, from Vietnam, were up to 2.5 inches by 1.95 inches, peeled and pickled "sweet and sour". The firm crisp flesh was slashed in places to allow penetration of the pickle. They appeared to have been picked while still green and were slightly sour with an interesting slightly mango-like flavor. Ingred: Spondias dulcis fruit, chili, sugar, salt, vinegar, water, potassium sorbate, FD&C yellow #6.

Hog Plum   -   [Makok (Thai); Yellow Mombin, Hog Plum (Caribbean); Spanish Plum, Gully Plum (Jamaica); Ashanti Plum (Ghana); Golden Apple, Java Plum; Spondias mombin]
Fruit on Tree

This tree is native to Southeast Asia, but now found in the tropics worldwide. It seldom cultivated but picked wild. The fruit flesh is eaten fresh or used for juice and jelly. In Thailand young leaves, which have a slightly sour-bitter taste, are eaten raw with nam phrik, a chili condiment variously made.   Photo by Marco Schmidt distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5.

Jocote   -   [Ciruela Roja, Ciruela Huesito Red Mombin, Purple Mombin, Sineguela, Siriguela; Spondias purpurea]
Whole and cut fruit

This small to medium size tree is native to the tropical Americas, and now cultivated in the tropics worldwide for its fruits. Cultivars are being selected for fruit quality and yield to improve the crop. The fruit is like a tiny, round mango, sweet when ripe, very tart when not yet ripe. Unlike the mango, the skin is often eaten with the fruit.

While they are most commonly eaten ripe, either fresh or simmered in a syrup, they are also eaten not quite ripe with salt and lime juice. The photo specimens, previously frozen, were about 1.6 inches long and 1.4 inches diameter, the largest weighing about 1 ounce. They were purchased from a large multi-ethnic market in Los Angeles, 2012 US $2.85 / pound, bagged in the freezer section.

Umbu   -   [Brazil plum; Imbu (Portuguese); Spondias tuberosa]
Whole green fruit

Native to Bahia state in northeastern Brazil, this is an important fruit in dry regions because of its high yield and drought resistance. The spherical fruit, which can range from 1 inch to 2 inches diameter, may be light green to light yellow when ripe. The flesh is soft, juicy and sweet, often mixed with other fruits and and used in fruit juices, jams and sorbets. It has to be harvested by hand because it is quite delicate.   Photo by Daniele Gidsicki distributed under Creative Commons Attribution v2.0 Generic.


Sumac   -   [genus Rhus, var species]
There are many varieties of Sumac worldwide, some of which may contain sufficient amounts of the irritant urushiol to be unpleasant, even more unpleasant than poison ivy. The fruits of some are usable but reliable local knowledge is recommended. The dangerously toxic species have now been separated out as a separate genus, Toxicodendron.


Sumac Spice   -   [Rhus coriaria]
Sumac

Fruits of this Near Eastern species are used to make a dry purple-red souring agent used in place of lemon. It is widely used and sold in the U.S. simply as "Sumac". You can easily find it in markets serving Near Eastern communities.

Staghorn Sumac
Staghorn Sumac The fruits of Staghorn Sumac Rhus typhina (photo) are soaked strained and sweetened to make a beverage similar to pink lemonade. The leaves were mixed with tobacco and smoked by Native Americans and some still use it that way. Photo U.S. Federal government - public domain.

Lemonade Berry   -   [Rhus integrifolia]
Lemonade Berry

This species grows only in dry costal regions of Southern and Baja California. The name implies a drink similar to lemonade can be made from mature berries but I'm not sure what precautions (if any) should be taken. The seeds can be ground to extract an oil which solidifies at room temperature and can be used to make candles. This plant really doesn't look much like a sumac due to its solitary leaves. Photo distributed under Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v2.5.


Others
Relatively minor genera - details to be filled in as they become available.


Dragon Plum   -   [Chi Sau (Viet); Dracontomelon duperreanum, and several other species]
Basket of Fruit

Dracontomelons are very large trees, native to Vietnam, Cambodia, parts of southern China, Indonesia, Thailand, the Philippines and the Pacific Islands. While D. duperreanum is the most eaten, I haven't been able to find any comment on the taste of even that one. Lots about the cultural importance of the trees, nothing about the fruit. Well, they aren't available here in North America, so I guess that's not going to hurt us much.   Photo by Nguyen Thanh Quang distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported.

Kaffir Plum   -   [Harpepbyllum caffrum]
Fruit on Tree

Native to South Africa, this plant has been established in California as a landscape accent. Small oval bright red fruit are tart and can be used to make fruit jelly.   Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.

Marula   -   [Morula, Maroola, Jelly plum, cider tree; Harpepbyllum caffrum]
Fruit on Tree

Native to Southern Africa, West Africa and Madagascar, this plant has been spread by the Bantu, to whom it has always been an important food. It ripens to a light yellow, with white flesh that contains 8 times as much vitamin C as an orange. It is tart and juicy, with a strong distinctive flavor. Each fruit contains a hard, roughly cylindrical stone, which eventually opens and spills seeds that have a delicate nutty flavor.   Photo by Rotational contributed to the public domain.

Charoli   -   [Chirauli-nut, Chironji, Chiraunji; Buchanania lanzan | B. latifolia]
Shelled Nuts

B. lanza is native to India and Malaysia, while B. latifolia has a wider range, extending into China and Laos. Seeds of this shrub look much like pine nuts, and have a similar hard shell. Once broken out of their shells they have about the same size and consistency as pine nuts, but an almond flavor. They are generally lightly toasted before use, which is often in sweets. They are also ground for use as a spice, flavoring and thickener in savory sauces, curries and kormas.   Photo by Badagnani distributed under license Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike v3.0 Unported attribution required.

Safou   -   [Bush butter tree, Native pear; Dacryodes edulis]
Fruit on Tree

This little known fruit tree, native through the wet parts of tropical Africa, is considered to have great potential for nutrition. It contains about 63% of oils, including palmitic, oleic, stearic, linolenic and linoleic fatty acids. It is also high in amino acids, triglycerides and vitamins. The flesh, which contains about 48% oil (the rest is in the seeds) may be eaten raw or cooked. Cooked it has a mouth feel similar to butter. The tree also produces excellent wood and has medicinal uses. Some of these trees are now being grown in Malaysia.   Photo by uncertain, contributed to the public domain.


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