Macadamias: a tough nut to crack or ripe for the picking?

By Oliver Morrison

- Last updated on GMT

Image: Getty/Lightfast
Image: Getty/Lightfast

Related tags Nut macadamia Nuts Almonds

It’s not the cheapest nut in town, but consumers are demanding more innovation and options to enjoy the unique taste and nutritional qualities of macadamias, FoodNavigator hears.

Macadamia nuts boast a subtle, buttery flavour, soft crunch texture and high monounsaturated fat content. They are also high in fibre, magnesium, copper, manganese and thiamine, and are a source of vitamin B6, niacin and minerals such as iron, phosphorus, potassium and selenium. Their versatility means they are used as ingredients in snack, bakery and confectionery products.

But there’s a catch. Macadamias are notoriously costly to harvest and grow. High-quality nuts fall from only mature trees. They reach full production in 12 to 15 years and can last up to 40 years. 

Food manufacturers have therefore tended to shy away from using macadamias as a hero ingredient in product. The World Macadamia Organisation (WMO) claims the nut is the world’s most untapped and undiscovered wholefood. That’s slowly changing. Almonds and walnuts accounted for 32% and 19% of global 2021/2022 production, respectively, according to the International Nut and Dried Fruit Council, followed by cashews (17%), pistachios (15), and hazelnuts (11%). Macadamias, with pecans, pine nuts, and Brazil nuts made up to the remaining 6%.

Global macadamia production has however continued to increase from a small base over the last ten years, with the estimated crop for 2021 reaching more than 66,400 metric tons (kernel basis), up 5% from the previous season and 131% than in 2011.

Increasingly appearing in NDP

Macadamias are also increasingly appearing in NDP, especially dairy alternatives. For example, German brand Veganz launched a plant-based alternative to camembert made from five ingredients including cashew and macadamia nuts. Green & Gold Macadamia, which represents six different macadamia processors across five continents, has invested in an innovation programme to explore potential uses for macadamias as an ingredient. Results so far include a dairy-free mushroom soup, mango smoothie, drinkable yogurt and set yogurt, proving there is a tangible business possibility for macadamias as an ingredient that delivers to healthy eating consumer demands, according to the firm.

Macadamia bar
House of Macadamias has launched of chocolate coconut, salted caramel & dark chocolate macadamia nut bars in the UK

Highly stable emulsification properties

Green & Gold Macadamia further claims macadamias are an excellent flavour carrier with very high and stable emulsification properties, again due to their high fat content, allowing them to retain creamy texture in an end product.

UK snack brand House of Macadamias has announced the nationwide launch of its chocolate coconut, salted caramel & dark chocolate macadamia nut bars at the retailers WH Smiths, Planet Organic & Partridges. “Customers are bombarded with so many bars and brands today. There are also many healthy bars with no sugar and natural ingredients in the mix however they lean towards cheaper nuts almonds, peanuts,”​ co-owner Brandon Hiemstra told FoodNavigator. “We didn't find any with Macadamias as the hero ingredient.”

While more expensive, Hiemstra believes he will find an audience for those consumers prepared a premium for better-for-you snack bars. “We didn't want to compromise. Instead of simply adding macadamias, we made it the first ingredient, almost have of the bar (45%), and the resulting taste is one of a kind because we believe customers deserve the best,”​ he explained. “Having other healthy ingredients and calories lower than many leading bars is just a plus.”

Unique properties of macadamias

Hiemstra stressed the unique nutritional qualities of the macadamia that other nuts cannot claim. “They’ve 30-40% fewer carbohydrates than almonds, with more monounsaturated fats than any nut, even olive oil and avocado. They are rich in the very rare omega 7s. Few nuts, if any, have trace amounts. Omega 7 offers countless benefits but two of my favourites are the natural collagen production and fat loss.”​ They are also easy to digest, he revealed. “Macadamias are unique as they don't contain lectins which make some foods hard to digest. Ever wondered why you sometimes get cramps from almonds and peanuts? It's the lectins.” 

Finally, the nut fits specialist on-trend diets like keto, vegan and paleo. “Unless you are allergic to nuts, they fit into almost any diet,”​ said Hiemstra. “We have found a significant following of macadamias among keto and vegan fraternities. Since macadamias have lower sugar and carbohydrate content, those on keto love them. It keeps blood glucose levels very low, eliminating spikes and crashes in energy. Vegans also seem to like macadamias for the protein, vitamins and natural collagen production found in the omega 7s.”

Are fragile supply chains a concern?

But despite their nutritional qualities, genetic variability can leave macadamias plants vulnerable to things like emerging pests, disease, natural disasters and climate change. How much of a concern is this to the industry? House of Macadamias sources its nuts from South Africa, the number one macadamia growing country in the world behind Australia. “The farmers there are renowned worldwide, giving us quality few other countries can rival,”​ claimed the co-founder. “The climate and farming practices help prevent these variations. Many farmers have started overhead irrigation to help with cooling, but more definitely needs to be done, and also why macadamia production hasn't kept up with demand.”

To cope with the challenge of using the world’s most expensive nut, House of Macadamias went straight to the farmers for sourcing. “Over years of building relationships, we managed to get incredible rates of bulk macadamias forming a partnership as they also want to see demand grow through our brand,”​ Hiemstra told us. “To further save costs, all our packaging and product manufacturing is completed a short drive away from the farms reducing logistics costs and ensuring the freshest product to our customers. Lastly, we have a relatively small remote team who share the same passion and work long hours to reduce costs further.”

‘We won't sell too well in Poundland’

Hiemstra ultimately believes macadamia’s taste and nutrition credentials will allow them to carve a niche, though probably not at the low end of the snack market. “The nature of macadamias being so rare and not cheap mean we are a luxury brand that's not for everyone,”​ he explained. “This is why we started in more high-end retailers. A three quid protein bar probably won't sell too well in Poundland. But we firmly believe, just as you see, peanuts and almonds everywhere. Eventually, you will see Macadamias, and we want to give the customer a choice to purchase something with the best taste and nutrition even though it may not be the cheapest nut in town.”

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