Culinary Arts

What Is a Macadamia Nut? Health Benefits and Culinary Uses of Macadamia Nuts

Written by MasterClass

May 17, 2019 • 3 min read

The macadamia nut is the most expensive nut in the world, with the hardest shell to crack. These exotic nuts are full of quality protein and have a rich, buttery flavor—making them ubiquitous in both the snack aisle and on dessert menus.

What is a Macadamia Nut?

Macadamia nuts are the fruits produced by macadamia trees, a species of evergreen trees indigenous to Australia. Macadamia nuts have other names in different parts of the world: they are also known as the Queensland nut; bush nut; maroochi nut; bauple nut; and Hawaii nut.


Where Do Macadamia Trees Grow?

In the U.S., macadamia trees grow in Southern California and Hawaii. However, the biggest commercial production of macadamia nuts is concentrated in Hawaii and South Africa. Macadamia trees also grow in other tropical climates, including New Zealand, Kenya, and Indonesia. Macadamia nut production takes five years after a macadamia tree has been planted, which is why the nuts are so expensive to import.

What Do Macadamia Nuts Look Like?

Macadamia nuts are round in shape and light in color. Of the four species of macadamia trees, two are used for the production of macadamia nuts: the macadamia integrefolia and the macadamia tetraphylla. The macadamia integrefolia produces nuts with smooth shells, while the macadamia tetraphylla produces rough-shelled nuts.

Macadamia shells are notoriously tough to crack, which is why they are sold already shelled. Once the husks are removed from ripe nuts, machinery is used to break open the shells—it takes 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to crack the shell.

What Do Macadamia Nuts Taste Like?

Macadamia nuts have a rich, buttery flavor. Roasting or salting the nuts draws out their natural, subtle sweetness and creamy texture. Because the nuts are grown in tropical climates, their flavor profile pairs well with lemon, coffee, and coconut.

What are the Health Benefits of Macadamia Nuts?

Macadamia nuts have high nutritional value. According to the USDA, raw macadamia nuts provide a good source of dietary fiber, vitamin B6, vitamin E, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, potassium, selenium, and zinc. Macadamia nuts are rich in monounsaturated fatty acids (heart-healthy fatty acids) and contain flavonoids, which are plant metabolites that convert into antioxidants that fight free radicals in the body.

What’s the Difference Between Macadamia Nuts and Other Nuts?

Macadamia nuts are considered a delicacy. They have a unique flavor alongside many nutritional benefits. Here is how macadamia nuts stand apart from types of nuts:

  • Macadamia nuts have the highest fat content of any tree nuts.
  • Compared to other nuts, macadamia nuts have the highest calorie count. One ounce of macadamia nuts, a serving size, is approximately 12 nuts.
  • Macadamia nuts are sold loose and raw, or roasted and salted in packages.

How to Cook with Macadamia Nuts

The rich flavor of macadamia nuts makes them great to use in desserts, particularly pie crusts and cookie dough. Macadamia nuts can also be used to complement bitter foods, and are sometimes used to create alternative ingredients for baking and cooking. Here are some other creative ways to use macadamia nuts in cooking:

  • Macadamia flour. Macadamia flour is an alternative gluten-free and low-carb flour option for baking.
  • Macadamia milk. Macadamia milk can be easily made at home by soaking macadamia nuts and blending them together. Macadamia milk is a dairy-free milk option for baking, or as a standalone beverage.
  • Macadamia nut butter. Macadamia nuts can be blended into creamy nut butter using a food processor. Add some coconut oil and honey for a healthier alternative to peanut butter.
  • Macadamia oil. Macadamia nuts can be cold pressed to make macadamia oil. Macadamia nut oil has a higher smoke point than olive oil, and is a healthy oil option for baking, grilling, sauteing, or stir-frying.

How to Toast Macadamia Nuts

Toasting macadamia nuts before adding them to a recipe can enhance the dish’s overall flavor and add a textural element. This is how to toast macadamia nuts:

  1. Spread nuts in a single layer on a baking sheet.
  2. Place in a 350 F pre-heated oven for 12-15 minutes.
  3. Remove nuts when they become golden brown.
  4. Let the nuts cool down before chopping or grinding them.

What Are Some Substitutes for Macadamia Nuts?

If you cannot find macadamia nuts, there are a few other tree nuts with a similar flavor profile and texture which can be used as a substitute for macadamia nuts in a recipe:

  • Brazil nuts. These are about three times the size of macadamia nuts but are similarly high in fat.
  • Candlenuts. These are oily nuts that must be cooked before consumed. They are highly toxic when raw.
  • Cashews. Like macadamia nuts, cashews have a creamy texture.
  • Almonds. A crunchy texture and delicate flavor.
  • Pecans. These are sweet and mild in flavor.
  • Walnuts. Sweet and high in fat.