Macadamia Nuts
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Macadamia Nuts, also called Bush Nuts, Maroochi Nuts, Queen of Nuts, Hawaiian Nuts and Mac Nuts, are another of the Culinary Nuts, which are not actually Nuts but instead the Seeds of a Drupe Fruit of an evergreen shrub and/or tree in the family Proteaceae genus Macadamia. The genus name was created in 1857 by German-Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller to honor his friend Dr. John Macadam, a well regarded scientist.

There are two types of Macadamia Trees that are grown commercially in Hawaii, California, and Australia. Both yield kernels (the Macadamia Nut) that are protected by a very strong shell and similar in taste, texture and appearance.

The Macadamia integrifolia, also called “Gyndl,” “Jindilli,” “Kindal” and “the Northern Species,” reaches a height of 60 feet (18 m) with a 40 foot spread (12 m) and produces small white flowers. The Macadamia integrifolia grows smooth-shelled Macadamia Nuts, also called the Queensland Nuts, or Australian Nuts.

The Macadamia tetraphylla, also known as the Boombera and “the Southern Species,” reaches a height of 50 feet (15 m) with a 40 foot spread (12 m) and produces small pink flowers. The Macadamia tetraphylla grows a rough-shelled Macadamia Nut, which is called a “Boppal” locally. In fact, Mt. Bauple in the Gympie area takes its name from seasonal Macadamia feasts.

Even though it is a actually a spherical seed with a diameter of ½ to 1 & ½ inches, in the kitchen we consider the edible, oily, creamy-white Macadamia Nut a Culinary Nut because we store it and use it in a manner similar to how we use other true tree Nuts.

The Macadamia, which looks similar to a Filbert Nut, originated in the rainforests of Queensland and New South Wales in eastern Australia. The aborigines enjoyed the Macadamia Nut long before the arrival of Westerners who only “discovered” Macadamias in 1828 when Alan Cunningham documented their existence but did not eat one. The History of the Macadamia Nut is an interesting tale.

Cultivation

Today the global Macadamia Nut industry produces 87,754 metric tons and is worth about $500 million. Australia, the dominant producer at 40% of the crop by tonnage (34,300 tons), earns almost $100 million a year. Macadamia Nuts are the only native Australian plant food that is grown and exported in any significant amount.

The United States, the second largest producer (24,494 tons) earns between $38 million to $43 million a year depending on market conditions.  Almost all of the production occurs in Hawaii but a smaller crop is grown in California.

South Africa (11,000 tons) and Guatemala (9,360 tons) round out the top 4 Macadamia Nut producers with Costa Rica and Kenya being notable as up and comers. Brazil, Israel, Bolivia, New Zealand, Columbia and Malawi also produce Macadamia Nuts.

U.S. producers tend to sell at the higher end of the Macadamia market while the other countries are selling their product into the commodity side of the market.  

There are some debates in the Macadamia business about “Country of Origin” labeling. For example, Hawaiian based companies can import cheaper Australian Macadamia Nuts and then resell them as 100% Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts, even though the nuts were really only passing through. One company that is being accused of this legal but duplicitous practice is Hershey owned Mauna Loa. According to the Dallas Business Journal “Sources in the macadamia nut industry on the Big Island say that some companies, notably Hershey-owned Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp., add non-Hawaiian Mac nuts to Mauna Loa products sold on the Mainland."

The U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of Macadamia Nuts consuming 44,069 tons. The majority of macadamia imports are bulk and industrial product intended for processing.

The macadamia tree is usually propagated by grafting and Macadamia Trees take 7 to 10 years to mature and produce and don’t really hit their stride for 15 years. Macadamia Trees will remain productive for 60 years or more. Some trees are still producing after 120 years.

Macadamias prefer fertile, well-drained soils, a rainfall of 39 inches to 78 inches a year (1,000–2,000 mm), and temperatures not falling below 50° F (10 °C), although once established, they can tolerate light frosts. Optimum temperature for Macadamia trees is 77° F (25 °C). The roots of Macadamia Trees are shallow and storms can blow them down. They are also susceptible to various diseases and pests.

There are a number of Macadamia cultivars including: Beaumont, MaroochyNelmac II and Renown.

Ripe Macadamia Nuts fall from the trees from July to December in the Northern Hemisphere. The large green nuts, in their husks about the size of a lime, are then collected by the farmer to begin the drying and shelling process.

The first step of the process is to wash the Macadamia Nuts before separating the shell and kernel from the green outer husk, typically via mechanical means. The husks may be retained to be burned for fuel to run the drying racks.

Once released from the husk, the Macadamia Nut in the shell is normally dried in two stages over the course of a week in silos at 80° F to 100° F (27° C to 38° C) before moving on to the cracking stage which will separate the kernel from the hard inner shell. Some critics complain that silo drying gives the nuts a woody flavor but the drying is needed to loosen the kernel inside the shell so that there is a higher yield of whole kernels.

The Macadamia Nut shell is the hardest of the nut shells and requires at least 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to break. The cost of freeing the edible kernel from the shell is one of the major reasons that Macadamia Nuts are so expensive.

In a large commercial processor the Macadamia Nuts will be cracked by thickly grooved, 900 pound titanium balls. The broken shells will be whisked away by another machine, leaving only the golden Macadamia “pearls.” Next, the Macadamia Nuts are typically Roasted for flavor and to extend their shelf life.

A newer, patented method that looks a little like feeding shells into a machine gun was invented by Bill Whaling of Waiohinu, Hawaii and is called the Star M 15 Cracker. The major benefit of using compressed air to shoot the Macadamia Nut at 400 mph against an enclosed anvil with the Star Cracker is the cost, the yield of whole nuts and that farmers can crack fresher nuts with higher moisture content as there is no “pre-drying” needed.

Macadamias processed with the Star Cracker never exceed 105° F (41° C) so they remain Raw and lose none of their critical enzymes and vitamins. The cracked nuts are then sorted by size and then dehumidified instead of being roasted which keeps their oil content stable and gives the nuts a fresh taste.

Purchasing

Because the shells are so hard (it takes 300 pounds per square inch of pressure to crack them), most Macadamia Nuts are sold out of the shell. They are typically Raw or Roasted, salted or unsalted. Even the Raw Macadamia Nuts will most often have been heated (and cooked slightly) during the drying process. If the Macadamia Nuts are visible at the time of purchase, look for Mac Nuts that are light in color. They will get darker as their natural fats age and go Rancid. Generally, vacuum-packed Macadamias in glass are the best choice for the freshest product, though go with vacuum-packed in poly or plastic if there is no glass option available.

Macadamia Nuts are typically more expensive than other Nuts due to the labor and equipment involved in shelling them and the tropical environment required to grow Macadamias. With world gluts caused by oversupply from newly emerging Macadamia exporters, prices have dropped significantly in the last 30 years. Macadamia are no longer just a tourist gift, but can be found in the Nut department of most grocery stores.

One of the things to consider when purchasing packaged Raw Macadamia Nuts is how much heat you’re your nuts been exposed to during the pre-drying and drying steps of processing? The less heat exposure the better for the flavor and nutrients contained in the Nuts. Obviously Roasted Macadamia Nuts will have been exposed to the most nutrient damaging heat.

If the Macadamia Nut, like so many other agricultural products, is a product of its environment and develops a “Terroir” from the best growing regions, there is an issue of Geographic Indication. Most of us would prefer “Hawaiian” Macadamia Nuts, but because there is no Protected Geographic Indication for Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts, as there is for Champagne or Jersey Cream, it can be hard to determine the origin of your Macadamia Nuts, even if they are labeled “100% Hawaiian.” The problem is that unscrupulous importers can import foreign Macadamia Nuts from Costa Rica, Guatemala, Australia, etc. to their Hawaiian warehouse and all of a sudden the foreign nuts are 100% Hawaiian.

If you care about small Hawaiian farmer and the local pedigree of your food, consider bypassing the big brand names who are reported to be some of the biggest abusers of the lax labeling laws and purchase your Macadamia Nuts direct from the growers such as South Kona Macs or Purdy’s Macadamia Nut Farm on Molokai. The links go off of Smart Kitchen to the respective sites of the Macadamia Farms. The ordering is a little “Old School” compared to what most of us are used to, but the product and the tiny dose of Hawaii are decent tradeoffs.

Storage

Macadamia Nuts, like other Nuts, have a high Fat content, but they are more shelf stable because they have an extremely low Omega-6 Fatty Acid Content which helps them resist heat-induced oxidation. That being said, we will want to maximize the shelf life of our expensive Macadamia Nuts by carefully storing them in a cool dark place such as the refrigerator to extend their useful life before they go Rancid.

Unopened, vacuum-packed, Macadamia Nuts should be good until the “use-by” date. Opened Macadamia Nuts should be sealed into an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 2 months. They can also be frozen (again in an airtight container) for up to 6 months.

Culinary Uses

The Macadamia Nut has a sweet, buttery flavor. Macadamia Nuts are usually eaten RawRoasted, or Deep Fried. They can be a snack or used in Granolas, Granola Bars, Trail Mix,  or as Seasoned Macadamias (Smokey, Salt & Pepper, Onion, Chili, Garlic etc.) Macadamia Oil and Macadamia Nut Butter also have their followings as a cooking Oil for the former, and a sandwich spread or cooking ingredient for the latter.

Macadamia Nuts are also used as an ingredient especially in desserts such as Smart Kitchen’s White Chip & Macadamia Nut Coffee Cake.

In general, when using Macadamia Nuts they can be substituted for other nuts on an ounce for ounce basis in most recipes. The opposite is also true. Most other nuts can be substituted for Macadamia Nuts on an ounce for ounce basis.

Ground Macadamia Nuts can be used as a flavor enhancer /extender/filler in Ground Meat. They also make a nice addition to pastry dough, breads, etc. Toasting Macadamia Nuts (or Roasting them) before inclusion in a recipe will give them a brighter flavor. Make sure to let the Toasted (or Roasted) Macadamia Nuts cool off before using them though to prevent them from becoming too oily or pasty.

Nutritional Value USDA
MACADAMIA NUTS,RAW
Amount Per 100g
Calories 718
%Daily Value*
 
115%
Total Fat 75g
9%
Saturated Fat 12g
Polyunsaturated Fat 1g
Monounsaturated Fat 58g
0%
Cholesterol 0mg
0%
Sodium 5mg
7%
Potassium 368mg
4%
Total Carbohydrate 13g
32%
Dietary Fiber 8g
Sugars 4g
Protein 7g
* Percent Daily Values are based on a 2,000 calorie diet. Your Daily Values may be higher or lower depending on your calorie needs.
Nutrition

Macadamia Nuts are the most energy dense nut of all. Most of the energy comes from Fat, but mostly from heart-healthy Monounsaturated Fats (80%). In fact, research has shown that eating Macadamias in moderation (1 handful a day) can actually, like most nuts, lower total blood cholesterol, and most importantly, lower LDL (bad) cholesterol. There are some drawbacks to Macadamia Nuts nutrition profile, namely that they are also high in Omega-7 Palmitoleic Acid (22%), which acts upon the body in a manner similar to Saturated Fat.

Macadamias are also a good source of vegetable protein (8 g per 100 g serving) and also rich in a number Dietary Fiber (8.6 g per 100 g serving) and phytochemicals, minerals, and vitamins such as: CalciumPhosphorusPotassiumSeleniumIronThiamineRiboflavin and Niacin.

Allergies and Toxicology

Most species of Macadamia possess poisonous or at least inedible seeds. Only two of the species, Macadamia integrifolia and Macadamia tetraphylla, yield edible seeds and are of commercial importance.

Macadamia Nuts, like many other nuts, can also cause severe allergic reactions in humans. These allergic reactions to Macadamia Nuts can vary from slight swelling of the lips, to an itchy throat or even fatal anaphylaxis. Caution should be used whenever around children or adults who have never ingested such seeds. Always be careful to alert your diners to the presence of Macadamia Nut in your cooking.

There are a number of people who are allergic to Macadamia Nuts who can experience symptoms ranging from a rash to deadly anaphylaxis. Always be careful to alert your diners to the presence of Macadamia Nuts in your cooking.

Less well known is that Macadamias can be toxic to dogs. If Rover or Spot eats Macadamia Nuts he/she could (will) experience Macadamia Toxicosis within 12 hours of ingestion. The symptoms of Macadamia Toxicosis are: weakness, hind limb paralysis and/or the inability to stand, muscle tremors, joint pain, sharp abdominal pain and vomitting.

The reaction and severity depends on the amount of Macadamia Nuts consumed (sometimes as little as .08 oz. can cause Toxicosis) and the size of the dog. In some cases where Fido got into a mess of Macadamia Nuts, medication may be required to relieve the symptoms until the dog’s body processes the Macadamia Nuts and the toxic effects diminish.

The good news is that Macadamia Nut Toxicosis is rare and there are no fatal cases of Macadamia Toxicosis in the literature. Full recovery usually occurs within 24 to 48 hours. If your pet experiences symptoms of Macadamia Nut Toxicosis, don’t rely on a web site, even one as thorough as Smart Kitchen. Take the animal/pet to a veterinarian.

Gluten Free

Yes

Low Fat

No

Low Calorie

No