Macadamia in Guatemala
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Macadamia in Guatemala

The Australian Macadamia has found the perfect home in Guatemala

It’s a “tough nut to crack,” for real, but the Macadamia may be the most sought-after nut around, and thus expensive.

Macadamia in Guatemala
Macadamia Nuts

The Macadamia tree grows beautifully big in rich, warm soil with lots of water. The Australian import has found the perfect home in Guatemala, where production is increasing each year not only for the flavorful nut but also for their rich oils, increasingly used in beauty and health products.

European immigrants arriving in Australia admired the great evergreen trees that spread up to forty feet both horizontally and vertically. But for a century or so the new Aussies didn’t dare try to crack open and eat the trees’ nuts, unsure if they were safe to digest. Only in 1858 at the Brisbane Botanic Gardens did an observant horticulturalist spot an Aboriginal youth who worked there open and eat the nuts on his break times, with no ill effects. With this “scientific” proof that Macadamia nuts wouldn’t strike them dead, Brisbane folk began to roast and enjoy the snack.

Macadamia in Guatemala
Macadamia Flower

The tree had been named to honor a chemist, medical teacher, and Australian politician, John Macadam, who died young soon thereafter, not from eating his namesakes but from a shipboard accident. There’s no record if poor Dr. Macadam ever had a chance to eat those luscious nuts over his short 37 years of life.

Macadamia munching spread around Queensland, an Australian treat from trees that didn’t reach other lands for several decades, when Hawaiian farmers began growing and selling the nuts to tourists. Trees were planted in Central America late last century, and have thrived here despite occasional tropical storms that have destroyed some groves. The leathery, greenish husks mature on the trees, harvested only when they fall, ready to be dried and carefully shelled. Now bags are available in even the smallest tiendas around the country, though at prices out of the reach of many buyers. The shells are useful for fertilizers, to spread on walkways, and to grind for animal feed. But it’s the rich nut that’s roasted and relished salted or not, your preference.

Macadamia in Guatemala
Macadamia Flowers

A problem is getting the nut intact out of the hard dried shell. Break the round nuts, easy to do, and they sell for less. Smash it hard, and it’s just a tasty powder. Near the entrance to Ciudad Vieja, a half-mile of Macadamia trees were planted some years ago alongside an old hotel. For years I couldn’t figure out why little boys would risk running onto the roadway to deposit something, then see them in my rear-view mirror running back where I’d just passed. They were depositing Macadamia nuts, hoping little cars such as mine would crack them open without powdering them. Must have worked; new generations of boys are still doing it.

Macadamia nuts are fattening, high in cholesterol, you say? Nutritionists are patient to explain the difference among fats – the “good” monounsaturated fat with HDL, the “bad” stuff with high LDL. The macadamia nut is rich with “good” cholesterol, lots of helpful HDL, and very little of the “bad” LDL. So go ahead – indulge – eat a healthy handful – spread the luxurious products over your skin and in your hair.

photos couresy of Valhalla Macadamia Project

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