“So what makes macadamias so costly and so addictive?” — Paul Ebeling
Macadamia Nuts Are Not Nuts
The macadamia is in fact a seed. And although they’ve become a signature staple of Hawaiian agriculture, macadamias are actually native to Australia.
“Macadamia nuts are originally from Australia, but much of the early research, breeding work, and quality development were done by the University of Hawaii on the island of Hawaii,” says an economic development specialist with the Hawaii County Department of Research and Development. “These cultivars are suited for the Hawaii climate and do not produce the same high quality nut when grown in foreign conditions.”
“Cultivars,” short for “cultivated varieties,” are specific types of plants selected and cultivated by humans. In this case, the plant is a large bushy tree that starts producing macadamia nuts by the time it’s about 4 or 5 yrs old.
The Big Q: So how exactly did these Australian cultivars end up in Hawaii?
The Big A: For that, we can thank William Purvis who planted the 1st macadamia tree on the Big Island in Y 1881. Purvis didn’t initially intend for the tree nuts to be a hit; he planted the trees as windbreaks for the sugar cane fields. The plants were functional and also happened to be quite pretty, no one suspected they bore such delectable and profitable fruit.
A couple of decades later, the Hawaiian Agricultural Experiment Station (HAES) was established to get new crops growing on the islands since the newly established United States territory was relying almost exclusively on sugar following the collapse of the coffee market.
In the 1920’s, the government offered a 5 yr tax exemption on land that was used solely for macadamia production. Soon roasted macadamia nuts started popping up in stores and consumers went wild. Demand for the nuts went up and the number of trees planted for nut production grew from 423 acres in Y 1932 to 1,086 acres in Y 1938.
At around $25lb, they are considered the most expensive nuts in the world.
They are expensive because they are regarded as a ‘dessert nut‘ Vs a commodity crop like almonds, and the acreage is limited. Hawaii’s fixed harvest acreage and a high global demand make them expensive.
It takes 7 ys for a macadamia nut tree to produce a crop.
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