Mangoes and cashews have a natural affinity. They’re often paired in some of my favorite cuisines — Indian, Caribbean and Asian. I’d assumed it was because they’re both irresistible and thrive in the tropics (both do well here in South Florida, too). But it turns out there’s more to the story. They’re related.
Clearly, they come from a superior gene pool. Cashews, despite their rich flavor, are not only lower in fat than other nuts, but are high in oleic acid, the same heart-healthy monounsaturated fat that’s in olive oil. A source of protein and fiber, cashews are also tiny treasure chests of minerals, including copper and magnesium. An ounce (a too-easy handful) of raw cashews has 160 calories.
An average mango (about a cup, sliced) supplies your entire day’s vitamin C and 35 percent of your vitamin A, the same vitamin that’s in retinol, which makes your skin gorgeous and glowing. One serving also provides folate and fiber, all for 100 calories.
As with all families, though, there are issues. Mangoes and cashews belong to the Anacardiaceae or sumac family. You may have met some other family members —poison sumac, poison oak, poison ivy. Like their relatives, both mangoes and cashews are naturally coated with an irritating resin meant to keep predators away.
The nut we love is actually the seed that grows from the fleshy fruit, or pseudo-fruit, botanically speaking, known as the cashew apple. To rid cashews of their itchy-making toxins, the nuts are shelled and partially cooked before they’re sold, even the ones labeled raw.
The irritant in mango comes from the sap on the peel, but doesn’t permeate the fruit itself. The sap doesn’t bother the blue jays feasting on my neighbor’s mangoes, but it might bother you. Wash your hands well after handling and peeling and you’ll only have sweet associations.
You’re in the right place at the right time to enjoy mangoes at their ripe, abundant peak. Along with cashews, they’re the family favorites.
Ellen Kanner, author of “Feeding the Hungry Ghost: Life, Faith and What to Eat for Dinner,” writes about all things meatless.