Macadamias are without equal in the Australian native foods industry - they are our most well known and consumed native ingredient by an immense degree. So much so that Australia is not even the largest producer of Macadamias, that ranking goes to South Africa, and Hawaii was the first major district to truly cultivate and commoditise them. But the indigenous peoples of this country did not see them as a staple in diets, they were considered a delicacy.
Macadamias are native to the rainforests of northern New South Wales and southern Queensland - where a swathe of important native ingredients hail from - the indigenous women of the region would gather the nuts from the rare and evergreen trees, where they were then carried back to their feasting grounds to be shared and eaten - they were even traded as gifts to neighbouring peoples.
Despite the Macadamias evergreen nature, their reverence as a delicacy likely stems from their difficulty to consume them with their tough exterior shell, around 5 times the strength of a hazelnut, requiring a decent whack of force to break it open (for the scientists, approximately 2000 Newtons). Most indigenous groups of the area had special stones with indentations to break into their coveted core.
So cultivation and commercialisation was born with a few challenges, but in 1888, a farm in Lismore began the first commercial orchard - where the nuts' edible popularity grew - but prior to this they started plantation over the sea in Hawaii, where Macadamia trees were planted as wind breakers for sugar cane. They were then an alternative crop revenue stream for coffee farmers, but by the 1950s, agricultural advancements had paved the way for large scale production, and had begun their sale into the greater United States of America under the name "Royal Macadamias" by Castle & Cooke.
Australia eventually caught up and overtook the production of Macadamias in 1997 - but only for a moment. By 2015, South Africa had become the worlds primary Macadamia producer, responsible for 55% of the worlds commercial macadamia production. Macadamias still hold significant value to Australia, with 14% of our horticultural exports being our champion nut, and 70% of the international plantation of the trees can be linked to a single tree in Gympie, Queensland!
Flavour wise, it's easy to see why they are as popular as they are - especially freshly cracked from the shell, and they only improve with roasting, which is what led us down the path towards our Macadamia Gin. It's particularly savoury, but a spirit that distinctly captures the flavour of macadamias - and makes a remarkable twist on a Pina Colada. The distilled essence of our most well known Australian ingredient.