Macadamia Nuts grow on evergreen trees with dark, glossy green leaves. The trees can reach 30 to 40 feet tall (9 to 12 metres), and be nearly as wide. They can be grown from seed, but because they will take 8 to 12 years to bear nuts this way, they are most often propagated by grafting, so that they will bear nuts reliably in 2 to 8 years. The roots of the tree spread out below the surface, rather than producing a large tap root like other trees. An average grafted tree will produce up to 50 pounds of nuts (22.5 kg) a year by the time it is 10 years old.
There are about 9 different species of Macadamia trees. Only two of these, "Macadamia Integrifolia" and "Macadamia Tetraphylla", produce nuts that are edible. The other 7 just produce nuts that are too small and that taste very bitter.
The nut of the "Macadamia Integrifolia" has a smooth shell, and is up to 80% oil. The "Macadamia Tetraphylla" nut has a rough shell and a bit of a lower fat content (65 to 75%.) There are now over 40 different cultivars that have been bred from these two species.
The nuts grow with a very hard shell surrounded by a dark green husk. Inside the marble-sized nut is white. They are usually harvested by waiting for the nuts to fall to the ground, because shaking the tree can bring down nuts that aren't ripe yet.
When eaten fresh off the tree, the texture of Macadamia Nut is creamy, almost like the inside of a fresh coconut. They must be dried for storage and shipping, however. Even when dried, they still end up with a rich, buttery flavour.
They are grown in Australia, Brazil, Central America, Columbia, Hawaii and South Africa.
The tree was introduced into Hawaii in 1881 by a William H. Purvis.
Large scale production didn't start in Australia until the 1960s. The Hawaiians were ahead of them and started in the 1930s.
In the Brisbane botanical gardens there is still growing (as of 2004) a Macadamia tree that was planted in 1858.
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