Learn the History of Macadamia Nuts in Hawaii

Hawaii was the site of the world’s first commercial macadamia nut farm. Hawaii and South Africa have the biggest commercial production of macadamia nuts. Macadamia nuts are fruits that come from macadamia trees (a species of evergreen trees indigenous to Australia). Other names for a macadamia nut include bush nut, maroochi nut, bauple nut, Queensland nut, and Hawaii sometimes refers to these nuts as Hawaii nut. 

History of Macadamia Nuts in Hawaii

Macadamia nuts are native to Australia, which was the prime source of all macadamia nuts in Hawaii. William Herbert Purvis who is a plant collector and investor in a sugarcane plantation on the island of Hawaii, introduced macadamia seeds after visiting Australia in 1881. He planted the seed nuts at Kapulena Hawaii, southeast of the Pacific Mill.  

In 1892, macadamia nuts, which were referred to as “Queensland nuts,” were introduced to two American brothers (E.W. and R.A. Jordan) while they were on their stay at Mooloo, Australia. The milky, sweet, and crunchy (when roasted) taste of the macadamia nut they brought with them amazed the brothers, who planted the seeds at home in Nu’uanu, Hawaii. The nuts gained popularity with the residents in the area.

In 1916, after coming to Hawaii for his failing health, Ernest Van Tassel first came across the macadamia nut at a cocktail party. His stay in Hawaii made his health improved, and to show gratitude to the island, Tassel introduced macadamia nuts as a commercial product. 

Commercialized Macadamia Nuts

A large pile of beautiful macadamia nuts

Using the seeds from the Purvis and Jordan trees, Tassel leased 25 acres of government land near Honolulu to plant them. In 1922, he created the company Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co., Ltd. and began commercializing the macadamia nuts. 

However, as Tassel was not experienced in agriculture, his production was unsuccessful at first. The produced nuts were inconsistent in terms of quality and harvest time, even though they came from the same seedlings.

With the help of the University of Hawaii, a modern method of propagating macadamia nuts was used and produced consistently high-quality nuts. 

In 1934, Tassel commercialized the macadamia nuts again, limitedly under the brand name Van’s Macadamia Nuts. 

Other Producers 

Candy shops such as Ellen Dye Candies and the Alexander Young Hotel began to sell chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in the 1930s. 

Hawaiian Candies & Nuts Ltd., also started marketing macadamias under a family-run business label, Menehune Mac label.

The “Big Five” (a consortium of corporations that includes Castle & Cooke, Alexander & Baldwin, C. Brewer & Co., AmFac, and Theo H. Davies & Co.) who were dominant in sugar production in Hawaii for many years, also tried to get involved in the production of macadamia nuts. 

Castle & Cooke planted their first orchard that became the foundation of the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp (the leading macadamia nut producer of today). The trees bore fruit after waiting for many years, and it took another 2 years before the first commercial crop became available. C. Brewer, which is a part of the big five, is also one of the major companies that were involved in macadamia production. In 1973, C. Brewer bought the orchard and processing plant of Castle & Cooke. 

Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp

The Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corp was first called the Royal Lolani. It changed its name in 1976 and began marketing its nuts under the Mauna Loa Label. The facility in Hilo, Hawaii, is the processing facility for macadamia nuts, while its corporate headquarters is in Irvine, California. In the same year, C. Brewer converted 5 sugar plantations to macadamia cultivations. 

Mauna Loa funded its expansion by selling off its nut orchards to private investors in small parcels, with a contract stating that Mauna Loa would buy the nuts produced. 

There were several struggles and ownership changes that the Mauna Loa faced before becoming what it is known in the present. Today, the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corporation is considered the leading Hawaii macadamia nut industry. 

What do these nuts look like?

Macadamia nuts with leaves flat lay

Macadamia nuts are round and light. Although there are four species of macadamia trees, only two of these species are used for the production of macadamia nuts. The first is Macadamia Integrefolia which produces nuts with smooth shells, and the second is Macadamia Tetraphylla which produces rough-shelled nuts. Macadamia nuts are also well-known for having shells that are hard to crack. A machine with 300 pounds of pressure per square inch is used to crack open the shells. They are already shelled when sold. 

What do they taste like?

Since macadamia nuts in Hawaii grow in a tropical climate, their rich and buttery flavor profile pairs well with lemon, coffee, and coconut. When macadamia nuts are roasted or salted, they draw out their sweetness and creamy texture. 

Commercial Flavors

Processed macadamia nuts are widely distributed in Hawaiian island, some of the flavors and texture in which the nuts are offered are chocolate, dark chocolate, sea salt, roasted, onion and garlic. 

Growing Calendar

Patience is a necessary tool in cultivating macadamia nuts. It takes about 4-5 years for a tree to bear nuts, and another 8 months before a nut ripens. To identify if the nuts are ripe, make sure that they are no longer sticky and if the color inside the macadamia husk is chocolate brown already and not white. Most often, ripe macadamia nuts just naturally fall to the ground. 

Benefits of eating Macadamia Nuts

  • They are a great source of many nutrients including proteins, calories, fats, carbs, fiber, vitamin e, magnesium, and many others. 
  • They are loaded with antioxidants. 
  • They help in weight loss. 
  • They contain lower cholesterol. 
  • They help reduce the risk of a heart attack.
  • They are delicious, versatile, and widely accessible.  

Macadamia Nut Farms in Hawaii

There are over 700 macadamia nut farms in Hawaii, and some of them allows locals and tourists to visit. Aside from the biggest producer of Macadamia Nuts which is the Mauna Loa Macadamia Nut Corps with farm in the Big Island, other farms in Hawaii include: Hamakua Macadamia Farm in Waimea; Purdy’s Natural Macadamia Nut Farm in Molokai; Tropical Farms Macadamia Nuts in Kaneohe; North Shore Macadamia Nut Company in Haleiwa; and Ahualoa Family Farms in Honoaa, to name a few. 

Price of Macadamia Nuts sold in Hawaii

Macadamia nuts are available in different sizes and at different prices depending on their quality and type. A pound of unshelled nuts cost about $25 on average, while shelled nuts can range in price from $10 to $150

Final Thoughts

Macadamia nuts are not the normal nuts that we see every day. They require a lot of patience as they take longer years before being ripen. Although they did not originally came from Hawaii, the history of how the state is recognized as one of its biggest producers is mind-blowing. This only shows that with great perseverance, nothing is almost impossible in Hawaii.