In Search of Australia’s Native Macadamias
By NATALIA VIGNOLA
I’m in Byron Bay, New South Wales, Australia. This is one of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, though I have been told by many people that it’s nothing compared to what it used to be, before the tourists inundated the area. Now the cute three-avenue downtown is overrun by trendy surf shops; but the beach is stunning and a lonely spot can still be easily found along the vast expanse of sand.
The morning after my arrival, and I am driving in my rental car, heading for the hills just outside of Byron Bay. Carefully following the directions given to me over the phone the previous evening, I turn off the main highway and follow a picturesque winding road towards my destination. I’m driving through some beautiful countryside, flanked on both sides by lush trees and pretty houses, and an occasional view of the ocean that steals my breath away every time I catch a glimpse. I turn off onto Macadamia Lane, a sure sign I’m not lost, and find my way to an attractive house overlooking a beautiful orchard of what could only be macadamia trees.
I am greeted by two dalmations and Christine Hodgekinson, who owns and operates the farm with her husband, Alan. We begin our tour right away, with a walk past some huge storage silos towards the orchard.
Christine and Alan bought this farm as a semi-retirement plan – only to find themselves working harder than ever. I'm told that this is a very common occurrence, with people from all over the country wanting to retire to the Byron Bay area and realise their lifelong dream of owning a small macadamia orchard. Usually this sees them outside with their trees a great deal more than basking in the sun with their feet up; but there is very little complaining to be heard. Christine seems a happy and fun-loving woman, with a vast knowledge and love of her trees and all they provide for her. She shows me through the orchard, which is wonderfully cool and quiet, compared to the relentless summer heat we left just a few steps behind us.
Byron Macadamias has been organically certified Grade A for nine years now. There are approximately 4,000 trees in total, and the personal care that must be expended in keeping them healthy and thriving is no small feat. The job of weeding is never-ending, with choking plants and vines tending to thrive in this environment, if not kept under constant control. The orchard floor is kept extremely clean and neat – like almonds and other tree nuts, macadamias are harvested by a machine that gathers them up as they drop from the trees into the orchard rows. At this time of year, January being the height of summer, the nuts are still very young and firmly stuck within their rock-hard shells and sticky green husks to the branches. It gives me pause, seeing the macadamia nuts in their early stages of growth and knowing the process they must go through in order to end up in a bowl on my desk in Canada next November. The gathering, husking, and drying in the silos, is all carried out here at the farm. The nuts are then sent to a processor near Brisbane for cracking, sorting, possible roasting, and packing. The finished product, which Christine is happy to share with me over a cup of tea, are the finest macadamia nuts I have ever tasted.
Contrary to popular belief, the common species of macadamia tree is native only to Australia, growing mainly in the bush of the north-eastern states. To this day, macadamia nuts are the only Australian “bush food” grown for commercial and international consumption. The macadamia nut was well known and enjoyed by the Australian aborigines for thousands of years, before it was discovered and cultivated by a group of Americans in the early 1900s. Now Hawaii is the world's largest producer of macadamia nuts, often being mistakenly credited with the origin of this decadent crop.
In my humble opinion, having now sampled macadamia nuts from some of the various countries that grow the crops to this day (including Hawaii!), Australia wins hands down for producing the biggest and best tasting macadamia nuts in the world. The certified organic ones grown at Christine’s farm are a shining example of this superior quality; large size, light colour, pure buttery flavour and satisfying crunch all combine to make one exquisite experience in each nut.
And taste is only part of what the macadamia nut has to offer. Like most nut crops, macadamias are not genetically modified, containing only natural genes. They are rich in essential minerals such as iron, potassium, phosphorus, magnesium and calcium; as well as vitamins E, B1, B2, B5, niacin and folic acid. They are very high in protein and contain essential dietary fibre. Macadamia nuts do not contain any trans fatty acids – the “bad” fats that are so detrimental and rampant in the Western diet – and again like other tree nuts, they contain no cholesterol.
A recent study conducted by the University of Newcastle (NSW) found that people with elevated cholesterol levels showed a marked improvement in cholesterol and blood fats after consuming macadamia nuts. Despite an increase in total fat consumed, these people also showed a slight weight reduction. This is because macadamia nuts have a high concentration of “good” vegetable fats (the oil found in macadamia nuts is typically 83% monounsaturated fatty acids), which are essential to a healthy diet. Consuming less fat has become an obsession in North America; however, as many of us are now aware, this is not nearly as important as consuming the right kinds of fat. Macadamia nuts contain a higher percentage of monounsaturated oils than any other natural product, which make them a healthy and extremely satisfying food.
I have had a wonderful morning here, learning about the growing and harvesting procedures here at Byron Macadamias, and am excited to be bringing in the next crop of these amazing nuts for our customers this coming season. As I leave the the cool orchard setting, heading back for an afternoon by the ocean, I think ahead again to that bowl of organic macadamia nuts which will be sitting on my desk this coming November. Upon tasting a product as pure and wonderful as these macadamia nuts, I can’t wait to share them, and I know you will love them almost as much as I do!
for more information about macadamias, here