Linda explores food facts, folklore, and fabulous recipes one ingredient at a time.
The Beauty of Macadamia Trees
Deep in the rainforests of the northeast Australian coast, the cream and pink blossoms of the macadamia trees fill the air with a scent sweeter than honey. For thousands of years, the aboriginal people of this region treasured the fruits of the macadamia, a stately evergreen tree with glossy dark green leaves.
The Legend of the Macadamia
The nuts are not a staple of their diet but rather are considered a delicacy, a commodity to be traded or bartered or given as a gift because opening them requires a high level of skill. The aborigines have many names for the nut—kindal kindal, boombera, jindill, maroochi, and most important, baphal.
There is a tale, the legend of Baphal that was shared by Olga Miller, a direct descendant of the Butchulla Tribe of Fraser Island.
Way back in time, the Dreamtime, when the Messenger God was leaving the mountain, the people needed new persons to steward the land. One man went to the south, and another to the north, but no one wanted to go to the faraway place, the Mountain. Finally, a man named Baphal volunteered for the duty.
He packed for his journey and traveled many, many miles. He did not know that his friend, the jewel lizard had stowed away in his pack. When Baphal finally reached his destination the little lizard leaped out, explaining that he could not bear to be apart from his friend, and so he had hid himself and came along.
One day Baphal fell and injured his foot. He could not move. The jewel lizard sought help for his friend, first asking the rock wallaby. The wallaby in turn asked the cockatoo. The cockatoo collected some nuts and strew them around the mountain so that Baphal could have food. Then the rock wallaby and the lizard recognized that Baphal needed help from his people. They made a fire and the cockatoo flew out and collected some green leaves from the nut tree, and this created smoke. The people saw the smoke and rescued Baphal. The Mountain is now known as Baphal’s Mountain, the lizard as Baphal’s lizard, and the nuts they call Baphal’s nuts.
Botany and an Unlikely Pair of Explorers
Theophrastus (371–287 B.C.), revered as the Father of Botany, is the author of two publications, Enquiry into Plants, and On the Causes of Plants. For the next 1500 years, his works were unquestioned and botanical study was quietly conducted at universities and monasteries. Then the Renaissance brought the dawn of the enlightenment and opened up plant study. Not only were researchers interested in the science, but average people were starting to enjoy plants too. “Gentlemen scientists/hobbyists” were exploring on their own, conducting their own research, often with little or no formal training.
Please remember these two names—Walter Hill began his career at the age of 16 as an apprentice to his brother, the head gardener at Balloch Castle, Scotland. A decade later he was appointed as the first superintendent of the Brisbane Botanic Gardens. And then there was Baron Sir Ferdinand von Mueller. He apprenticed as a pharmacist but became interested in botany. He studied the topic at Kiel University, Germany. At the age of 20, he completed his pharmacy qualification and was awarded a Ph.D. for a thesis based on a survey of the flora of southern Schleswig. Shortly after receiving his Ph.D., Mueller left Germany for Adelaide, South Australia. In 1852 he went to Melbourne where Lieutenant-Governor Charles La Trobe appointed him a government botanist.
No Longer Hidden in the Rainforest
Macadamia nuts might have remained in obscurity, treasured and traded by isolated native tribes, but then two men from Europe discovered them in the rainforest of Queensland.
In 1857 Walter Hill and Baron von Mueller discovered the Baphal tree. Mueller named the tree for his friend John Macadam, a physician and member of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria.
Walter Hill asked a young associate to crack some nuts for germinating. The lad ate a few and said they were delicious. Hill thought these bush nuts were poisonous but after a few days when the boy showed no signs of ill-health, he tasted some himself, proclaiming he had discovered a nut to surpass all others. These were the first recorded Europeans to eat these amazing nuts. Hill cultivated the first macadamia in the Brisbane Botanical Gardens in 1858. It is still alive and bearing today.
Hill worked on learning how to propagate the tree and in 1890 the first macadamia orchard was established on the Frederickson Estate in New South Wales, Australia. From this original gathering of 250 trees, hybrids were grown from seed and grafting.
With a Little Help, They Migrated to Hawaii
Meanwhile, a gentleman named William Herbert Purvis visited Queensland, Australia. Purvis was part-owner of a Hawaiian sugarcane plantation and an amateur plant collector. He collected some macadamia seeds and planted them in Kapulena, Hawaii where they not only survived but thrived. The rich volcanic soil, warm climate, and ample rainfall were just what the macadamia needed.
Commercial production began in 1921. At one time Hawaii produced about 90 percent of the world's supply. They are still one of the state's most important crops but are now also grown in California, South Africa and other tropical and subtropical areas.
Projected World Macadamia Production 2015 - 2020
Macadamia nuts are not just another pretty face. They are a powerhouse of nutrition—rich in antioxidants and minerals. Some people shun them because they are calorie-dense and high in fat, but the fat is heart-healthy polyunsaturated fat.
In 2000 the Univ. of Hawaii conducted a study comparing three different diets—a typical American diet, a diet with fat calories solely from macadamia nuts, and a “heart-healthy” diet recommended by the American Heart Assoc. The study compared 15 men. 15 women, ages 18-59, as they followed each of the 3 diets for 1 month. Test subjects who followed the macadamia diet had lower cholesterol levels than those on the typical American diet and similar levels to those on the AHA low-fat diet.
Nutrition in 1 Serving (10-12 macadamias)
One ounce contains:
- Today, most of the world’s macadamia nuts are grown in Hawaii.
- September 4 is National Macadamia Nut Day.
- The nuts are not picked; they are harvested after they fall from the tree.
- It takes 300 pounds per square inch of force to crack a macadamia nutshell.
- The United States is the largest consumer of macadamias (51 percent).
- Their oil content is high—up to 80 percent.
- Macadamia trees do not bear fruit until they are at least seven years of age; their life span is 60 years.
- Mature macadamias will produce 60 to 150 pounds of nuts per year.
Recipes in This Article
- Chewy white chocolate macadamia nut cookies
- Coconut fudge with macadamia nuts
- Macadamia nut butter
- Macadamia nut pie
- Aussie sausage rolls
- Macadamia nut-crusted chicken tenders
- Macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi with mango-avocado salsa
- Shrimp and spinach stuffed salmon
1. Chewy White Chocolate Macadamia Nut Cookies
Believe it or not, I'm not much of a fan of sweets; I'm more of a salty/savory sort of gal. But there is one sweet treat that I simply cannot resist. I can ignore peanut butter cookies, brownies, and even chocolate chippers, but wave a white chocolate macadamia nut cookie under my nose and I'll follow you to the ends of the earth.
These cookies are soft, moist, and buttery; they are indulgent and (unfortunately) very easy to make. There goes the diet!
2. Coconut Fudge With Macadamia Nuts
I have a fear of candy thermometers. There, I said it. I own one; my husband picked it up for me at a garage sale (do you think he was giving me a subtle hint?).
Don't despair. If you share my feelings about cooking sugar to the soft-ball stage (or whatever it is that you do to make candy) you can still make this coconut fudge with macadamia nuts. Erin's recipe relies on sweetened-condensed milk and a microwave oven. It couldn't possibly be any easier.
3. Macadamia Nut Butter
If you want an easy way to enjoy the health benefits of macadamias in your diet, but don't want to bake cookies, whip up a batch of macadamia nut butter. All you need is fresh nuts and a good food processor. Low in carbs, high in omega-9s, fiber-rich, and a great source of magnesium. What are you waiting for?
4. Macadamia Nut Pie
One of the joys of writing these articles is discovering new blogs and websites. My search for unusual and innovative macadamia recipes lead me to "196 Flavors." Mike and Vera share my passion for authentic and traditional recipes and, like me, take it one step further by including stories about the origins and the details of often unique and local ingredients.
"We completed our World Culinary Tour in May 2014, and have therefore virtually traveled the 196 countries that cover our planet, with 196 recipes available in English and French. Yes, that is 392 publications for the mathematicians among us!"
Part of their virtual tour was a stop at the Marshall Islands, the birthplace of the macadamia nut pie.
5. Macadamia Nut-Crusted Chicken Tenders
If you or someone you are cooking for is on a Paleo, Whole30, or Keto plan, this is the perfect dish. Roasted salted macadamias are ground fine (use your food processor) and mixed with almond meal to make chicken tenders with a crispy coating, a meal that's quick, delicious, and kid-friendly.
6. Macadamia-Crusted Mahi Mahi With Mango Avocado Salsa
Mahi mahi (Polynesian for strong-strong) is a deep-water fish with firm flesh and mild flavor. The common name is dolphinfish, but that's not the same as dolphin. Don't worry, if you order mahi mahi you aren't eating Flipper.
This macadamia-crusted mahi-mahi with salsa would be a great summertime meal. A crunchy coating of panko bread crumbs and crushed macadamias coats the fish; then with just a quick sear in a shallow saute pan dinner is ready. Don't forget the avocado-mango salsa; it really makes the meal. The cool and creamy sweet heat of the salsa adds amazing pops of flavor and texture to the mild crunchy filets.
7. Sausage Rolls
She almost got it right. Nagi made moist on the inside, golden crispy on the outside pork sausage rolls, an iconic snack food in Australia. Instead of relying on premade sausage (and who really knows what lurks in there?) she used pork mince and added bacon. Yes, she added savory, salty, smoky bacon along with the onions and garlic.
She didn't get all fancy with hidden veggies or (heaven forbid) dried fruit. These are honest-to-goodness sausage rolls as God and the Aussies intended, except for one thing. She used panko bread crumbs. Understandable, but also unremarkable. When you make these sausage rolls, ditch the panko and instead use 1/2 cup of finely ground macadamia nuts.
8. Shrimp and Spinach Stuffed Salmon
I love fresh salmon; not only is it a sustainable, healthy fish (bring on the Omega-3s), but it is flavorful without being too "fishy" and adapts to so many different flavor profiles. Are you in the mood for teriyaki—that sweet-savory sauce and salmon work together like best friends. Maybe you're in the mood for barbecue? Use your favorite cue sauce on salmon filets for a quick-to-fix dinner.
Or you can create a company-worthy meal with this shrimp-stuffed salmon dish. The filling of shrimp, mushrooms, and spinach is packed with flavor and color and then Sonia christens the top with toasted and chopped macadamia nuts for an intriguing crunchy texture.
- Australian Macadamias
- Food Faith
- Australian Women's Register
- Hawaii Life
- Food Reference
- Spark Recipes
- Made How
- Australian Dictionary of Biographies
- Macadamia Castle
© 2020 Linda Lum