Getting Nuts Over Macadamia Nuts!

Did you know February is National Macadamia Nut Month? I sure didn’t. On a recent visit to Keaau, we stopped by the Mauna Loa visitor center for a private tour of the factory. I was excited to see one of my favorite treats being made, chocolate-covered macadamia nuts! Surely such delectable treats are good for your well-being because they make us happy, right? Well, surprisingly they do more than put you in a good mood. If you consume approximately 1.5 ounces of macadamia nuts each day, you may notice an improvement in your blood cholesterol levels according to one clinical trial

Good for you 

Of course, it’s recommended that you consume macadamia nuts in moderationas part of a healthy diet which may include a daily serving size of 1/4 cup (or 28 grams) of nuts. What surprised me was that the effects on cholesterol levels were just after five weeks of adding macadamia nuts to the diet of those with elevated cholesterol. Macadamia nuts are high in monounsaturated fat, so it’s thought that when you eat these nuts on a regular basis you have less cholesterol-raising saturated fats in your diet. So, a new vegetarian like me can get her healthy fats from nuts versus the saturated fat you’d find in a nice buttery steak? I could live with that. This effect is also found in other nuts like walnuts, almonds and peanuts. It hasn’t been studied enough yet, but the fact that macadamias could lower cholesterol so quickly could be an indication that there may be other factors in the nuts that causes the healthy drop in your LDL or bad cholesterol. Also, the health benefits don’t necessarily have to come from raw nuts, one study found that roasted and salted nuts could also be heart healthy. 

Another trial found that young, healthy Japanese women had improved cholesterol levels in a diet that included macadamia nuts. David, our tour guide, stated that a lot of the Asian tourists that come to the factory tend to want unsalted, plain macadamia nuts while other tourists will prefer roasted and salted varieties. I asked the guide if he sees an increase in dark chocolate-covered nuts being sold since more now know of the health benefits of dark chocolate. He said not really, that most who visit are bringing home treats for their family or friends so they tend to go with what tastes best to them. 

Safe to eat 

As we were briefed on the safety precautions of our tour, David told us that we may occasionally hear on the news reports of macadamia nuts having salmonella. He assured us that those recalls occur when selling raw macadamia nuts and that his factory has safety precautions to roast and clean the nuts so that you’d never have a bacterial outbreak. Once through the cracking process, the nuts undergo a chlorine wash and are cleaned and roasted. The roasting process is where any bacteria are killed. 

Why so expensive? 

He told us how the nuts are ready when they fall off the tree and are harvested by picking them off the ground. The factory gets the macadamias from three regions in the Big Island including the Kau/Keaau and Hamakua areas. 

If you look at the macadamia plant, you’ll see that the nut has quite a lot of shell. The outer shell or husk carries moisture as well. Once the shell and moisture is removed, approximately 68 percent of the outer shell and husk is lost in the process. The factory also finds that three to five percent of the nuts are not usable and discarded. The nuts are fed into drying systems and sorted by sizes to go through cracking machines. Once they are cleaned and roasted, there is a lot of manual labor with people sorting and packing the roasted nuts.

How long can you store the bags of macadamia nuts?

Once the macadamia nuts are vacuum-sealed with nitrogen, they have a shelf life of approximately one year. There is strict quality control to assure that expiration dates are followed when shipping products out. 

Supporting a sustainable factory 

David shared another positive thing that his factory does for the environment. They burn all of the outer mac nut shells to help fuel the machines used to process the nuts. Approximately half of the energy the factory uses is from the burning of these shells. In addition, another company uses the discarded shells to add to soil to help grow plants in their nursery. 

Interesting tidbit, did you know those chocolate macadamia nut mountains I dream about have macadamia nuts placed by hand? I asked why and David said that they do have a machine that could place the nuts before the rich chocolate is poured but machines are not as good as the workers who take care to place them so well. No wonder the placement seems so random and yet it fits so well in the chocolate. I left with a new found respect for this wonderful treat!