There’s probably no other food on the mainland that says “Hawaii” more than the macadamia nut… and there’s probably no other nut that’s more kid-friendly and versatile. We recently had a chance to visit a macadamia nut farm in Hawaii, and now our kids are “nuts” for these buttery, slightly-sweet, bite-sized treats.
On the way to Joe’s Nuts in Captain Cook, HI (yes, that’s a real place) you feel like you’re in paradise before you even pull into the driveway. Everywhere you look are lush tropical plants and flowers, and as you turn corners here and there you get a glimpse of the crystal-clear ocean waters down below. Joe’s Nuts welcomes visitors to its farm, where you can check out the nearly 300 macadamia nut trees; meet a few friendly dogs, cats, and chickens; and sample a variety of fresh and flavored nuts. The trees produce nuts consistently throughout the year so you can visit just about any time and the nuts will be in season.
How do you harvest macadamia nuts? Here’s some good news: You don’t have to pick them; they fall off the tree when they’re ripe. The nuts grow with a smooth greenish-brown husk covering the dark brown shell that houses the ivory-colored nut. When the nuts are collected, workers remove the husk and then let the nuts dry in their shells before shelling them. (You can find husks and shells all over the ground at the macadamia nut farm; these byproducts are used as fertilizer to keep the trees healthy.)
Macadamia nut shells aren’t just hard; they’re known as the hardest nut in the world to crack, requiring 300 pounds of pressure per square inch to make a dent. On the nut farm, there’s a special vise-grip nutcracker that you can use to test your strength on individual nuts, but an industrial nut-cracker does the real work for the nuts that will be sold. Once shelled, the nuts are lightly roasted and then flavored with a variety of different coatings and toppings. (The nuts are dry-roasted before packaging and selling because it gives the nut a little more “crack” and makes it less waxy.)
Macadamia nuts are known as being among the fattiest of nuts (about 80 percent oil), but they are high in monounsaturated fats, or the “healthy” fat, so they are an increasingly popular choice as part of a healthy diet. We love macadamia nuts for snacking, but we also love crushing them and adding them to cookies; coating and breading fish or chicken with them; or making them into macadamia nut butter. Macadamia nut oil is also touted as having uses in hair, skin, and nail care.
If you happen to be in the Kona area, definitely stop by Joe’s Nuts for some tasting and exploring. The nut farm is open every day and its friendly staff is always on hand to greet you at the “Mac Shack,” where you can sample nuts flavored with vanilla, Kona coffee, Maui onion and garlic, Hawaiian ginger and lime, or super-spicy peppers.
Want to order some farm-fresh nuts? You can order Joe’s Nuts online, with prices starting at $11 for a half-pound of nuts. If you’re especially brave, you can order 1 pound of “Ball Busters” – uncracked macadamia nuts, still in the shell — for $10. Crack at your own risk.
Joe’s Nuts, 84-5180 Painted Church Road, Captain Cook, HI. www.joesnuts.com