Arriving from Brazil, the Portuguese introduced cashews to India about 500 years ago. The lucrative crop was able to take root in the deforested regions around Auroville and many farms sprang up.
Processing cashews is difficult. There are many labor problems such as stealing, and large amounts of DDT are sprayed at farms around Tamil Nadu.
Alok, a native Aurovillian, expanded his tea processing venture to include organic cashew production about four years ago. His business, called Cuppa Chai, is focusing on natural cashew processing– for which in Auroville there is a demand; it is directly related to the immediate region, and it’s just plain profitable.
Architectural plans have been drawn up for a larger, multi-story complex to produce more cashews, to be constructed when the price of building materials go down sometime in 2011. However, the downside is that they will then need to use less natural means to process the cashews, such as more machines for steaming and drying.
The sustainability of natural products is dependent on economic viability; as the soil becomes less nutrient rich and yields less, farmers around Auroville are starting to turn away from growing these delicious cashews.
To prepare for this, Alok is trying to develop organic fertilizers to enhance the yield and growth of organic foods.
As of now, Cuppa Chai processes the cashews by hand, steaming the shells to make them easier to open. Only three highly specialized women at Cuppa Chai do this, processing about 55 kilos per day. Cashews are then peeled and dried out in temporary cases via the sun.
Cuppa Chai is the only place where I have ever heard of this process before. Using their own recipe, the cashews are covered in sand, which when laid out in the sun, are able to heat the insides of the nuts without damaging the outside.
Whole cashews are typically sold as is. Broken cashews are in high demand for products such as cashew butter. The shells are even sold for their oils.
Our group devoured the sample of sand-roasted cashews given to us on our visit. I should know, being one of the people holding the tray out to everyone, while trying simultaneously to take pictures and notes. Natural food processing is also a balancing act. We hope that Cuppa Chai is able to increase their production while continuing with their quality and environmentally friendly ways