CASHEW INDUSTRY - A THRIVING BUSINESS IN QUILON
Quilon has been rightly nicknamed as the ‘cashew capital of Kerala ‘. The district has been termed as the centre of cashew industry by the central government for its numerous cashew-processing factories and sales outlets. Most of the workers in this industry are women and among them a majority comes from the weaker sections of the society. There are several private and state-sponsored cashew processing units successfully functioning in the district. The Kerala State Cashew Development Corporation Ltd, a Government of Kerala undertaking, has its headquarters in Quilon. It serves as a model agency for the cashew processing industry. The Corporation has thirty cashew factories and employs thousand five hundred staff members and more than twenty thousand workers. Another government organisation in this field is CAPEX, which is in the cooperative sector and has ten cashew factories. The coir sector alongwith other industrial activities in the district including handloom industry and clay and wood-based industries contribute to the industrial advancement of the region.
Around 4663 hectares of land are used for cultivation of the cashew crop which produces roughly 3043 tonnes of cashew annually.
The short cashew tree is an evergreen one with a short, often irregularly shaped trunk and leathery, spirally-arranged leaves and small slender flowers.What appears to be the fruit of the cashew tree is an oval or pear-shaped accessory fruit that develops from the receptacle of the cashew flower. Called the cashew apple, the edible fruit ripens into a yellow colour with a strong smell and taste, containing a juicy pulp.
High Quality Nut
Quilon is known for its high quality cashew production. Most of the bakeries and eateries in and around the district sell cashews in some form or the other. Even the restaurants serve a variety of cashew-flavoured dishes and drinks. Needless to mention, Quilon is the cheapest place to buy cashew of good quality. The factories and outlets offer the best variety of fruit at wholesale rates.
The tasty cashew nut is a popular snack and it can be eaten on its own or by adding different flavours, or covered with chocolate. The most common forms are mainly roasted, salted or spice-coated. Alcoholic beverages like fenny are made from cashew apple. There are about twenty six different types of cashew nut produced in the district varying in their size, shape and wholeness. Also available in the market are different value added products such as cashew soup, cashew vita-an energy drink, cashew powder- a cooking ingredient and cashew bits. There are around twenty four cashew factories in Quilon city alone run by direct involvement of the state government and excluding the factories under private sector. Cashew is the main export material in the district. Cashews from the city have customers from all over the world since Quilon is known for producing the best and high quality cashews. No visitor would want to go back to their home land without buying a pack of irresistibly flavoured cashews from Quilon.
The following steps are involved in cashew processing
1- Picking and drying process of nuts
* Naturally fallen raw cashews with 15-20% moisture are collected by the farmers.
* Raw cashews are sun dried for 2-3 days (maximum temperature is 30°C) until moisture level comes down to 10-12%.
2- Storing of nuts
* Dried cashew nuts are packed in woven gunny sacks and stored in well ventilated rooms giving enough space between stacks for air circulation. Dried cashew-in-shell are warehoused for up to 12 months without degradation although some further moisture is lost (2-3%).
3- Shelling of nuts
* Raw cashew nuts are shelled manually by utilizing specially-made cutters in order to remove the shells and release the cashew kernels. Kernels at this stage are still covered in a testa or thin skin.
4- Drying process of kernels with testa
* Cashew kernels with testa/skin are dehydrated at maximum 40 oC for 12-16 hours in order to reduce moisture level to 5%.
5- Peeling process of kernels
* Testa/skin of the kernel is removed manually by cloth gloves and final quality check is done with scalpel to remove any remaining skin or blemish.
6- Packing of kernels (with or without testa)
* Kernels are vacuum packed in 1kg plastic bags
* Plastic bags are packaged in cartons.
Cashew plantation is presently being developed by the government in the state on a mass scale with a view to increasing the production of indigenous raw nuts. The cashew industries of both the government and private sectors, with their multi-crore turnover enterprises, today play a pivotal role in the cashew industry in the world.