The famous songwriter Lee Hazelwood might have written the lyrics and Nancy Sinatra might have sung it with him to make the song ‘Summer Wine’ world famous, however, for Goans, summers can be encapsulated with some urrak and roasted cashew nuts! Goans naturally wax nostalgic about the kaju or cashew and bless the colonialists for having bestowed its bountiful benefits on our red rich soil. The roasted cashew nuts along with a generous portion of urrak or feni are the toast of the season, with cashew feni having its Geographical Indications (GI) registered in favour of Goa. We owe that to the then development commissioner of Goa, J K Dadoo IAS, and a team he created that included stakeholders, from connoisseurs to producers and bottlers as well as horticultural researchers and archivists. Work needs to be done to register the varieties selected by progressive farmers from the seedling progenies in Goa. AR Desai of ICAR-CCARI, Old Goa, has already registered four varieties selected by the institute.
Protected by a corrosive cashew nut shell liquid (or CNSL), the nut was not known to be edible. Hence, nobody willingly plucked, roasted or ate cashew nuts in any stage – fokam, bibbe, biyo or goddhavlim. The hunger due to drought compelled the locals in the west coast of India to consume the goddhavlim (germinated cashew nut cotyledons). They did not die. Commercial cashew nut processing originated in Kollam (formerly Quilon), Kerala, started by a Sri Lankan in the mid-1920s and the first successful export of the cashew kernel to England took place in 1929. This is as difficult to imagine as the fact that the Calangute beach and village did not have electricity until 1972 or tourists till 1968!
The increasing economic importance of cashew nuts led to the search of high-yielding cashew varieties. These are not hybrids, rather, grafts of high yielding elite trees found in nature. These are known as ‘selections’. Of the two high-yielding elite cashew trees – Bali-1 and Bali-2, identified in the village of Bali in Quepem – the Bali-2 was found superior in yield and kernel characteristics. It was registered as Goa-1. Now we also have Goa-2, Goa-3 and Goa-4 selections released by ICAR-CCARI and multiplied for cultivation. However, the M-series of Rajaram Maulankar takes the cake for the sheer size and quality of the nuts. These are currently unregistered varieties with vast potential.
Research in cashew, however, at the DBSKKV’s Regional Fruit Research Station at Vengurla began under the guidance of R T Gunjate. The Vengurla series of grafted cashew plants are popular with the farmers and the Vengurla-4 variety is by far the most popular variety in India, including Goa. Its red apple is juicy and its nuts are bold with a count of about 120 nuts per kilogram.
To cap it all, its fruits ripen early in the season and urrak from Vengurla-4 cashew apples is available well before Carnival, Holi and Shigmo festivals. Osai! Osai! Cashew is the spirit of Goa!