Macadamia, Queensland nut
egoz maqademya (Hebrew), auzhou hu tao (Chinese)
(Macadamia integrifolia and M. tetraphylla formerly M. ternifolia – Family Proteaceae)
For many years, the macadamia was given the botanical classification of M. ternifolia, which proved to be incorrect and was actually the classification for a bitter, inedible nut. Botanists now agree that the commonly cultivated kinds with sweet edible nuts belong to two other closely related species: M. tetraphylla and M. integrifolia, which produces the best of the nuts.
The macadamia trees are native to the coastal rainforest and scrubs of Queensland, Australia, but now extensively grown in Hawaii, and is the only example of a native Australian plant attaining international importance. Originally called Queensland nuts or Australian nuts, macadamias did not receive their botanical name until 1857 when the director of the Royal Botanical Gardens in Melbourne named them for his friend Dr. Macadam. Soon after, commercial cultivation began, and introduced to Hawaii in the 1880s where Hawaiian growers developed new strains so successfully that it became a major export. Only two of the five Australian species have become important food producers. There are other species in New Caledonia, the Celebes, and Madagascar. Another kind of macadamia that grows in Australia (M. whelanii) produces very large nuts, averaging two inches across. However, they are very dangerous, containing large quantities of cyanide. They are eaten by the aboriginals only after special preparation to remove the toxin.
The nuts are borne in clusters, with each nut encasing a thick, fleshy, green husk. At maturity, the nuts usually fall to the ground and the husks split open, revealing the brown shells. These are harvested from the ground; and, since they have a high moisture content, must be dried. Commercial nuts are usually shelled, and the white kernels dried still further to increase their keeping qualities for up to a year. Macadamias have a rich buttery flavour and should be refrigerated because of their high oil content. The kernels contain as much as 76% oil and about 36% protein. They do not contain any starch, but do have about 6% sugar. These nuts can be substituted in any recipe calling for candlenuts, which are more difficult to obtain in the West.
Proteaceae has only about sixty-two species of trees and shrubs, but the macadamia is the most important. Only one or two of the species survive in Florida as the rest of the family is concentrated in South Africa, California, and the dry parts of Australia. Some from from this family include the following:
– Wild almond, wild chestnut (Brabejum stellatifolium – Family Proteaceae) is a genus with only one species. The tree or shrub grows to about twenty-five feet in height along streams. It was often used as a protective hedge to keep cattle from wandering onto neighbouring fields. The fruit very much resembles the cultivated almond and at one time, the roasted kernels were used as a coffee substitute. The seed is poisonous unless well soaked.
– Finschia is a genus with seven kinds of edible nuts that grow from New Guinea to the Solomon Islands and New Hebrides, where the people value them as a food. The nuts are collected as they mature and fall, and then are roasted to help crack the shell so the meat can be extracted.
– Avellano, Chilean nut, Chile hazel (Gevuina avellana – Family Proteaceae) are small nuts from an evergreen in Chile. It resembles the hazelnut in both appearance and flavour. The seeds are borne within a coral-red fruit. Although these beautiful trees have been found in Chile for a hundred years, they also grow to fifty feet and more in Ireland, southwest England, California, and other suitably mild, moist climates.
– Monkey nut, rednut (Hicksbeachia pinnarufuda – Family Proteaceae) comes from an 80-foot tree that grows in Australia’s New South Wales and Queensland. The tree has striking 24-inch leaves and 12-inch spikes of small yellowish flowers that produce small, oval nuts.
– Manketti nut, mugongo nut (Ricinodendron rautanenii) is borne by trees growing in tropical Africa. The nuts are about the size of a hazelnut but resembles cashews. The nutritious kernels can be eaten raw or roasted. The raw fruit pulp tastes like dates but less sweet, and, when boiled down, turns maroon in colour and tastes like apple sauce. What makes this nut so remarkable, and may diminish its appeal, is the fact that it is usually gathered from elephant dung. Elephants are good at picking the fruit and greedily eating it, but their digestive systems cannot utilize the very hard nuts. Therefore, when these nuts emerge about a week later, they are ready to germinate. People then collect, clean, crack, and eat the nuts.