Why are cashews so expensive?

Is it just us, or do the tastiest nuts always seem to command the highest prices? When compared with the silky texture and rich taste of cashews, peanuts just seem so, well, common. And, though they're delightful popped right out of the bag, they're versatile, too: Vegans tap that creamy consistency to craft animal-friendly cashew cheese or cream, and even mass manufacturers have introduced cashew milks to store shelves. 

But these nuggets of nut joy don't come cheap. As of last December, the average global price was $7.05 per kilogram, a 400-plus percent increase over the previous year (via Tridge), and U.S. prices can easily reach $10 to $15 per pound (via Nuts.com). Why so pricey?

The truth behind cashew nut production

Because cashew nuts grow in tropical climates (think India, Vietnam, Brazil, and some African countries), they are not commercially produced in the United States, making American-sold cashews an imported product (via Global Cashew Council). The council explains that a single nut grows attached to the bottom of a fruit called the cashew apple, which grows over two to three months — and, while the fruit's juice and pulp are edible, the shell of the nut itself contains a caustic liquid. 

This makes harvesting a labor-intensive process, done by hand, and potentially dangerous, which in the 2010s prompted nonprofit organizations to call for better working conditions in the impoverished countries that produce these nuts (via The Guardian).

Cashews have faced fluctuating prices in recent years

Like any agricultural product, prices of cashews are determined by many factors, which boil down to basic supply and demand. According to a 2019 report from Gourmet Nuts and Dried Fruit, cashew production reached a high in 2015, but a "poor crop season" in 2016 and 2017 diminished production and drove up prices, just as demand increased in India, which led to fewer exports from that major producer. 

On the plus side, the report notes, West African countries are ramping up their efforts to create larger cashew processing facilities; however, it'll probably take years of those efforts before buyers actually receive lower pricing. Considering their high costs — in terms of both dollars and human rights — are cashews still a worthwhile indulgence? You decide.