As mature Australian macadamia nuts fall to the ground across subtropical orchards in northern New South Wales and southern Queensland, growers are cranking up their mechanical harvesters and getting ready to gather the finest quality, best tasting macadamias in the world.
Reportedly we're in for a cracker of a season. Aussies nutty for macadamias are in for a treat with the first forecast of the season sitting at 46,750 tonnes in-shell, representing a four per cent increase in production from 2015.
Australia is the leading producer of macadamias in the world, producing more than 30% of the world crop. They represent one of Australia’s largest horticultural exports valued at around $120-130 million per annum.
Indigenous to Australia, macadamias are primarily grown along the eastern seaboard of northern New South Wales and Queensland, from Nambucca Heads in the south through to Mackay in the north. There is also small area under cultivation in Western Australia.
These locations have all the perfect conditions for growing this native Australian nut because of all the factors influencing macadamia growth and productivity, temperature is the most important. Optimum growth occurs between 20-25 degrees Celsius.
The soil, too, has just the right mix of nutrients, and the consistent warm sunshine is loved by the trees as much the local growers who tend them. It is the combination of climate and the investment in research and development over the last 20 year that keeps Australia at the forefront of what has become a vibrant global industry.
Australian macadamia farms range from smaller orchards with 1,000 trees, to large operations with more than 300,000 trees.
Peter and I visited one of the farms in the Byron Bay Hinterland a while back and discovered that it can take 10 to 15 years before a macadamia tree reaches maturity and maximum yield. Mature trees grow to heights of between 12 and 15 metres, and have shiny dark green leaves.
Macadamias are prolific producers with each tree bearing sprays (racemes) of long, delicate, sweet-smelling white or pink blossoms. Each spray of 40-50 flowers produces from four to 15 ‘nutlets’, which will eventually ripen into nuts. Flowering occurs in early spring with nuts forming in early summer and, by early autumn, clusters of plump green nuts appear.
The nuts grow encased in a hard, woody shell, which is protected by a green-brown fibrous husk. Shell hardening takes place in early December followed by rapid oil accumulation in late December and January. Between March and September, the mature nuts fall to the ground and are harvested regularly with purpose built harvesters.
Fortunately, when the nuts fall, their precious cargo is protected by an incredibly hard shell. The fibrous outer husk of the macadamia is removed within 24 hours of harvest to reduce heat respiration and facilitate drying. The husk material is usually recycled as organic mulch.
Careful drying is a critical step in macadamia processing to maximise quality of the end product. At harvest the nuts have a moisture content of up to 30%. Drying can take up to three weeks and reduces the moisture content to around 1.5%. The kernel shrinks away from the inside of the shell and allows the shells to be cracked without damaging the kernel.
Cracking machines have been developed to crack the tough shell of the macadamia without damaging the kernel inside. These machines have either a fixed blade and cutting blade, or a combination of rollers and a base plate to compress the shell.
Macadamias have a completely unique creamy, buttery taste and soft crunch which make them a delicious food to snack on.
They're a great cooking ingredient adding taste and texture to all types of dishes from salads to savoury and are best known for the luxuriousness they add to desserts. They are a favourite in the Good Things kitchen, in fact Peter and I are nuts about them. If you are interested, you'll find an assortment of delicious macadamia recipes here on my little blog.
Macadamias are also used in many other premium foods such as breakfast cereals, snack food bars, confectionary and ice-cream. Cold pressed macadamia oil is gaining popularity in Australian kitchens. It has a delicate flavor ideal for salads and a low flash point which makes it an excellent oil to cook with. Macadamia oil is also widely used in cosmetic and skin care products and is recognized by beauty care professionals for its exceptional skin enhancement qualities.
Australia’s unrivalled investment in research and development, world-class farming practices, and commitment to clean, green production from seedling to serving, means that our macadamias are the best quality, best tasting macadamias in the world.
Image of the macadamia nuts above appears courtesy of Australian Macadamias. Information source media release. Photographs of the Duck Creek Macadamia Farm are my own.
Tell me dear readers, have you ever visited a macadamia farm? Did you know that macadamias are indigenous to Australia? And what's your favourite way of enjoying them?
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- Liz Posmyk
NB: I use Australian standard measuring cups and spoons in my recipes.