Its History and Botany
Hard shelled nut produced by an Australian evergreen tree (Macadamia integrifolia) of the protea family that is cultivated extensively in Hawaii.
Among the finest and most desirable nuts in the world, Macadamia nuts - which were originally known as Queensland nuts - were not 'discovered' as food until well into the 19th century. The Aborigines incorporated the nut into their diet among other nuts, though their texts do not indicate its presence as a major food object. Outside of their use, however, the nut did not acquire its status as food commodity until after a botanical study in 1875.
Ferdinand Von Muller, Royal Botanist at Melbourne and Walter Hill, director of the Botany Garden at Brisbane, were conducting field research in the forest along the Pine River in the Moreton Bay district of Queensland. They encountered a species of tree that bore no resemblance to other established genera in that family; a new genus was filed by Muller in 1858.
It was named for his friend John Macadam, MD, Secretary of the Philosophical Institute of Victoria.
Hawaii Takes Hold
Small-scale commercial cultivation began in the 1880s, and in 1882, the first Macadamia nut was introduced to Hawaii where it flourished immediately. The Hawaiian growers had substantial success both economically and in terms of production. Today, Macadamia nuts are chiefly grown in Hawaii, and its growth there accounts for 90% of the world's production. Additionally, Macadamia trees are grown commercially in South Africa (Komatipoort), Australia, Malawi, Kenya, Israel, Costa Rica, Guatemala, Mexico, Brazil, and many other tropical and subtropical regions, including Florida.
The Tree and Nut
The tree is native to the Brisbane locality of Queensland, Australia. The Macadamia tree is a genus of evergreen trees of the family Proteaceae which are marked by whorled leaves and long racemes of white flowers. There exist three principle species: Macadamia integrifolia with edible nuts, and smooth shell; Macadamia tetraphyllawith edible nuts, and rough shell; and Macadamia ternifolia with rough shell, bitter and inedible nuts. The tendency for and prevalence of interbreeding, for many years made distinguishing between varieties of the Macadamia nut difficult, but there has been recent success in cultivating a superior thin-shelled variety.
The Macadamia tree produces small clusters of nuts. The nuts are encased in a thick, green husk. Once the nut reaches maturity, it falls to the ground and the husk splits open. The brown shells can be as large as one inch (2.5 cm) in diameter. Due to the high moisture content of the nut, they must be dried and shelled before they are prepared for commercial sale.
Practices and Consumption
Macadamia nuts are most often sold in vacuumed-packed containers after having been shelled, roasted, and lightly salted. The roasting is responsible for their gentle sweetness. They are among the most expensive and desirable nuts, and have acquired the status of delicacy over the past fifty years in the United States and Europe.
The essence and texture of the Macadamia nut grace many dessert and bread recipes. The Macadamia chocolate chip cookie, sweet vanilla bread, and pancake are especially popular, though the cook must be careful to use only the unsalted form. In addition, an extraordinary nut butter and oil can be extracted. There are rumors too of the existence of Macadamia nut ice cream.