• There's more to a mac than the tender heart (pictured here with colorful quandongs). (Rebecca Sullivan )Source: Rebecca Sullivan
There's more to a maca than a hard brown shell.
Rebecca Sullivan

20 Oct 2020 - 5:21 PM  UPDATED 14 Jun 2022 - 7:19 PM

Bauple nuts, Queensland nuts, Mullumbimby nuts, Bush nuts, Maroochi nuts, kindal kindal or boomberaare. All names for our native nut, the macadamia – which is not only delicious but beautiful.

If you’ve only ever seen macadamias when ripe – or hidden in their thick, hard-to-crack shells – you’re missing out.

Perhaps you have only ever seen them standing in a packet on a supermarket shelf or in the bulk bin at your local health food shop, bright creamy-white and nearly perfectly round? Well, when on the tree they are triple the size and the nuts themselves covered in their vibrant green husk before they are picked. This is removed after harvesting and they are left in the shell to dry, before being cracked open to leave raw or roast and flavour with salt or spice.

Grown on green-leafed trees that can stretch to 25m tall, the nuts are Australia’s leading commercially grown native crop. 

Another thing that makes macadamias stand out is their status among nuts as one of the fattiest of them all. Normally the words 'high in fat' and 'high in calories' would never be followed by 'good for you'. But it’s the case with the macadamia.

And it’s the fat in the macadamia that makes them healthy – and increasingly popular around the world. Australia is the world's leading producer of macadamia nuts. We export 70 per cent of our crop of approximately 40,000 tonnes, to more than 40 countries per year.

It's the level of monounsaturated fat that makes macadamias stand out. Consumption of this particular fat has been proven to lower the rate of coronary heart disease, by decreasing the levels of LDL-cholesterol and by influencing other cardiovascular risk factors.  Macadamias also contain protein, fibre, plant sterols and a range of vitamins and minerals. 

Normally the words 'high in fat' and 'high in calories' would never be followed by 'good for you'. But it’s the case with the macadamia.

Admittedly, macadamias aren’t cheap – often up to $45 per kilogram for shelled nuts. But many factors contribute to the cost. For starters, it takes five to twelve years for a tree to produce any nuts - patience is still a must for those growing them.

Julian Mateer must have oodles of it. He has been growing macadamias for several years since he moved to his farm in the Byron Hinterland (perfect growing conditions for the macadamia). His farm is organic and a recent bout of nut rot has pushed his levels of patience further, but, he says, it’s “Just one of the many daily hurdles of being a farmer in general.”

When it comes to macadamias, one of his biggest challenges is the cracking of the nut itself. Those nutcrackers every grandpa in Australia seems to have on his lounge room side table in among the bowl of walnuts won’t do the job with macadamias, and while a hammer suffice for those of us cracking into a batch of macadamias at home, a producer needs expensive machinery to get the job done.

So why grow them? “Well that’s simple, for starters they taste absolutely delicious, addictive almost, and they look beautiful growing in the orchard, a vibrant green colour pre-harvest, plus they are so good for us.” 

“That and the fact that they are the only native food found on the land  - not the sea -  that people actually eat and recognise without question in Australia”. Kangaroo, of course, is widely recognised, but not so widely consumed.

But it hasn’t always been the case.  

Australia nearly lost a thriving industry and the name itself to overseas competition in the 1890s when nuts were taken from Queensland to Hawaii and a successful industry flourished on the American island. Back then the nuts were largely ignored by many Australians, but not by Indigenous Australians.

The nut’s scientific name (there are four specis of macadamias - Macadamia integrifolia and Macadamia tetraphylla are the two that are commercially grown -  refers to John Macadam, who worked with botanist Ferdinand von Mueller, who first described them for science in 1857. However, our first Australians ate them for thousands of years and knew them, among other names, as kindal kindal, gyndl, jindilli and boombera.

They were not a staple as they are today in some diets, in fact, they were considered a delicacy and were cherished and collected wherever they were found (which was mainly in their native northeastern New South Wales and central and southeastern Queensland) and they were also traded between tribes and used as special ceremonial gifts at inter-tribal corroborees. Eaten as a nut, made into flour or pressed into oil for medicinal purposes, the macadamia had multiple uses. Stones with special indentations were used to crack open the nuts.

Go nuts: macadamias top to this cherry and macadamia cake

Today, Australia has more than 850 Aussie macadamia growers. It’s driven by our growing appetite for the creamy tree nut, along with growing interest in the Asia Pacific; Japan is our biggest overseas consumer, with interest growing in countries including Taiwan and Korea.

Macadamia and farm images by Rebecca Sullivan. 

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