That's Nuts

A weekly dose of nutty history, pop culture, and recipes from Lee Zalben, aka The Peanut Butter Guy.

The Macadamia: The Toughest Nut to Crack

"You can purchase macadamia nuts flavored with onion, garlic, chili pepper, chocolate...and even SPAM."

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[Photograph: elanaspantry.com]

Some culinary nuts are often bought in the shell: peanuts, walnuts, and pistachios all come to mind. But what about the ones that you never see in the shell? Ever think about those?

One nut you have likely never seen in the shell is the macadamia, and for good reason. Unlike opening a peanut or a pistachio, it takes some serious muscle to extract the edible nut from its shell: 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to be exact, making it the hardest nut in the world to crack!

Some may think "Why bother?" We've got plenty of other nuts around.

Are macadamia nuts really worth the extra effort? Ask anyone from Hawaii, the world leader in macadamia nut production, and the question would most likely be an unequivocal yes!

The first macadamia tree came from Australia to Hawaii in 1881, and the first macadamia plantations were established about 40 years after that. In 1922 the University of Hawaii began a 20-year study of macadamia trees and eventually developed nine cultivars that consistently produce high-quality nuts.

Macadamia nuts are up to 80% oil, which accounts for their rich, buttery flavor. This also leads to a very high caloric content, which is perhaps tempered by the fact that the nuts are high in monounsaturated fats.

Their subtle sweetness comes through especially well when they're roasted and salted. Because macadamia nuts grow exclusively in hot, sunny locations, many people think of them as an iconic "tropical" flavor. Eating a dessert that pairs macadamia with lemon, coffee or coconut can be like an island vacation for your palate.

While some prefer their macadamia nuts seasoned only with a touch of salt, macadamias are available in a wide array of fun and unusual seasonings. Through companies like Mauna Loa and Hamakua, you can purchase macadamia nuts flavored with onion, garlic, chili pepper, chocolate, mustard, coconut, jalapeno, coffee, teriyaki, wasabi, and even SPAM.

Do you go nuts for macadamias? Ever visit a plantation when on vacation in Hawaii? Got any good mac-centric recipes?

About the author: Lee Zalben was a PB&J-loving kid that grew up to be the founder and president of Peanut Butter & Co., which began as a Greenwich Village sandwich shop serving nothing but peanut butter sandwiches and expanded to include the now-famous line of all natural flavored peanut butter. Lee is a graduate of Vassar College and enjoys traveling the world in search of interesting foods made with peanuts, tree nuts, and seeds. When he's not working, eating, flying or writing, he enjoys scuba diving and training elephants.

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