The humble native Australian macadamia nut has become a world-wide favourite due to its fantastic sweet taste, crunchy texture, and amazing health benefits. But where does this delicious nut come from and how is it produced ready for us to eat?
Macadamia nuts grow on trees in orchards. The farmers work hard in order to make sure their crop is of the highest Australian standard possible.</p>
The orchard facts
Farmers consider the soil, the spacing and layout of the trees, and irrigation as a first step.
Healthy plants have lovely dark green foliage and grow beautiful long sprays of white or pink flowers which will form nuts.
The nuts grow and mature in a shell; however this is encased in another green husk.
It can take about 10 years for a macadamia tree to reach maturity and they can grow to about 15 meters in height.
Growth and maturity
Depending on the region of the orchard, the blossoms generally flower in September, turn to green nuts in March, then the shells harden in December and accumulate oil rapidly. Once matured the nuts will fall to the ground between March and September and the cycle begins all over again. During these stages farmers make sure the plants are monitored and information is recorded to keep their crop as healthy as possible for optimum produce.
The macadamia tree is quite a hardy plant, the young plants need to be protected from damage as a priority, however as plants grow they are trained to be strong and healthy so they can produce great nuts. The farmers will fertilise the plants, keep the watered well, prune them, control the weeds, mulch them, and make sure to manage any pests (the worst being caterpillars) and diseases that may arise. Sometimes macadamia nut orchards even work with bee-keepers to help pollinate the flowers.
Nuts are harvested after they fall on the ground. On some occasions the grower will harvest the nuts off the tree by preparing mats under them and giving them a shake to promote nut-drops. A way which farmers determine if the nuts are ready to be harvested is by using a flotation test. The nut samples are dried, and then dropped in water. If they float they are not ready, if most them sink, the crop is ready for harvest. There are special machines which pick up the nuts from under the trees.
After harvest it is time for processing! De-dusking the macadamias can be very noisy and is usually done (by regulation) away from neighbours. The nuts are generally de-husked from the first green layer within 24hrs of being harvested to prevent any deterioration of quality. Nuts are sorted from any foreign matter or rocks, and cracked or defect small nuts are discarded.
Nuts are then dried following the de-husking, usually spread out on wire racks or in forced air drying conditions. This can take up to six weeks depending on moisture content. After the nuts are dry the kernels have shrunk in size and can be cracked open to reveal the precious nut inside. Macadamias are the hardest of all nuts to crack therefore special machines have been designed to perform this task. These have blades to cut the shells open, or rollers to press the shells open, all without damaging the delicious nut inside.
Once this process is over the nuts are sold to distributors ready to go out to the general public. So next time you sit down and relax on the couch or enjoy macadamias with friends, know that your delicious treat has been in the making for at least 10 years. Savour the taste, and enjoy the crunch, and never stop at just one!