Macadamia is a genus of four species of trees native to Australia (but now grown in countries all over the world, like South Africa, the USA, Kenya, Malawi and Guatemala). Three of these species are commercially great for their fruit; the macadamia nut. At first, Hawaii was world’s largest producer of macadamia nuts, but since the 2010s, South Africa has taken this place.
The first macadamia tree in Hawaii was planted by William Purvis in 1881 because he wanted them as windbreaks for his sugar cane fields. A few decades later, the aim was to get new crops on the island hence the government offered a five-year tax exemption for land that was used only for macadamia production. Once the worldwide sales of the (roasted) nuts eventually went up, the number of trees planted grew as well and major companies were making a pretty penny off them.
Macadamia is a large, bushy evergreen which can grow up to 20 meters tall and live more than 70 years. Once the tree is about four or five years old, it starts producing a crop and by its tenth year, it can be in full production. When flowering starts in spring, approximately 10% of the flowers will form “nutlets” and ripen into nuts. The seeds inside are surrounded by a very hard layer and a green husk that splits open when the nut ripens. When it is about late fall / early winter, the mature nuts fall off the trees. Hence the harvest period is much longer than with other tree nuts. By that time, they will be picked off the ground weekly and hulled within 24 hours after gathering, to minimize the likelihood of mold. After the nuts have been hulled, the moisture inside, which will be around 25%, needs to be brought down to 1.5% and once that is done, the nuts will be cracked by a machine. The nuts will be sorted based on size and finally, a hand sorting follows to sort the nuts on style and quality, before they get packed. Macadamias have different grades starting from style 0 (the largest) to style 8 (the smallest; fine grains).
Macadamia nuts are considered the most expensive nuts in the world. One of the reasons the price is so high is the fact that a macadamia tree takes about seven years to produce a crop. The land prices in Hawaii are so high that farmers cannot expand their land easily, but the producers cannot wait for seven years, so supply stays stable, while demand is only going up. Additionally, the nuts are the hardest to crack, so processing is harder than usual, which also determines the price.
More information can be found on our Cornhouse Nuts News page.