The macadamia nut is an originally Australian nut from plants of the genus Macadamia. The nut was named by botanist Ferdinand Mueller after the Scottish chemist and physician John Macadam. Two species are grown commercially: Macadamia integrifolia and Macadamia tetraphylla. They are also called ‘Queensland nuts’, after their country of origin.
The macadamia nut is the hardest nut to crack in the world; it requires a pressure of more than twenty kilos per square centimeter. They are sometimes referred to as ‘brain food’ because they are rich in nutrients and fats that are beneficial to your brain.
The macadamia tree has its origins in Australia, where the Aborigines discovered the nut thousands of years ago. They found it in Queensland, in northeastern Australia.
The nuts themselves were a good alternative to meat in the months when it was scarce. The oil they extracted from the nuts was used to mix with earth and clay. With this mixture the Aborigines decorated their bodies. Later, when Europeans set foot on the largest island in the world, the Aborigines traded the nuts for rum and tobacco. The nut owes its name to John Macadam, a colleague of the botanist Ferdinand von Müller (1825-1896), who was the first European to study the macadamia tree.
The macadamia tree descends from the Proteaceae family. For a long time, the nut remained unnoticed. Only about a century and a half ago were the first plantations planted. At that time, production was still quite small-scale. The first trees were shipped to Hawaii, where they mainly served as ornamental trees and to protect the sugar cane. Only when their popularity started to increase in America, commercial plantations were established.
Macadamia nuts are a minor nut in the world market for edible tree nuts, accounting for less than one percent of world tree nut production. The US is the world’s largest producer and consumer, accounting for over half of global production, which is for 99 percent located in Hawaii. Macadamias are Hawaii’s third-largest agricultural crop, following sugarcane and pineapples.
The macadamia nut grows on the macadamia tree native to Australia. It is an evergreen tree in the tropical rainforests along the coast. The tree thrives best on volcanic soil. The Macadamia nut starts as a white or pink flower. The flowers smell delicious. Eventually, each of these flowers will mature to up to 20 nuts. The nuts are covered with a leathery skin. As soon as the nut ripens, the shell will crack and the nut falls to the ground and is ready to be harvested.
Harvesting is no longer done by hand these days. Most farmers on the plantations have a machine that picks the nuts from the ground. The nuts have a stiff skin that bursts open when the nuts are ripe. The hard shell that contains the nut is then collected. After sorting, the nuts are brought to the factory and peeled and checked for quality. The nut shell is very hard and is very susceptible to fungus. Therefore, the nuts are peeled after harvesting, and the husk is also removed, so mold doesn’t get a chance to settle during transport.
Like other nuts, macadamia nuts are rich in healthy fats. In particular omega-7. Because there are not that many products with a lot of omega-7 fats (they are mainly found in some kernels and oils), they are also often offered as a supplement. In addition, as in most nuts, there is also a lot of omega-3 in macadamias. They can be eaten as a snack, processed in apple pies, coated in chocolate – you name it.
Macadamia nuts are extremely versatile. Not only are they tasty and healthy, but the oils are very good for your skin and hair. They are therefore regularly used in cosmetics. That versatility, plus the hard shell that has to be cracked, unfortunately comes at quite a price.
Considered a high-quality dessert nut because of its rich, buttery flavor, macadamia nuts are a popular treat and a trendy import in countries like China and the United States. Macadamias only represent 1.5% of the tree nut market, held back by limited supplies and high prices. A one-pound bag can cost around $25, almost twice as much as other nuts like almonds, and they’ve been breaking price records year after year.
It’s also the hardest nut to crack in the world. The Aborigines cracked the nut with a stone, as the shell is so hard that it can be used in sandpaper. The price of the nut is also higher than that of other nuts, precisely because it takes so much effort to crack the nut.