September 4 is National Macadamia Nut Day. While most people associate this famous nut with Hawaii, it actually originates from somewhere much further south - so south, in fact, that it’s “down under” the equator!
Aborigines, a people indigenous to Australia, have eaten the macadamia for hundreds, if not thousands, of years and know it by several names, including “gyndl” or “kindal kindal.” According to Lynne Ziehlke, market development manager of theAustralian Macadamia Society , the buttery nut is particularly interesting because it has transcended millenniums.
“[Today], we regard the macadamia as very special,” Ziehlke said. “But even indigenous people did so as well [thousands of years ago]. They ate them but also traded them as ceremonial gifts, so they tended to use and treat them more special than other nuts.”
The “gyndl” was eventually introduced to the Western world when English botanist Allan Cunningham discovered them in the 19th century, according to Australian-based Macadamia Castle , the part café, part theme park, part petting zoo that incorporates all things macadamia.
Nearly 30 years later, it was officially named by another botanist who worked with the nut, Ferdinand von Mueller, after a scientist friend of his, Dr. John Macadam. Surprisingly, though, the first person to eat the nut wasn’t Cunningham, Mueller or even its namesake, Macadam.
Walter Hill, a colleague of Mueller’s and the director of the Botanical Gardens in Brisbane, was researching the genus and “asked a young associate to crack some nuts for germinat[ion],” explains Macadamia Castle’s website. While working with the nuts, the young associate tasted it, not realizing that it could have been poisonous. After monitoring the associate’s health for several days and seeing no side effects other than a satisfied tummy, Hill ate the nut himself and “proclaim[ed] he had discovered a nut to surpass all others.”
Fast forward a hundred years or so, and macadamia nuts are incorporated into all types of dishes, from cookies and fish, to cheesecake and bread.
But before you go nuts celebrating with something tasty and covered in chocolate, here are a few fun facts about this fabulous treat:
- Macadamias are the hardest nut to crack, which is why they took so long to come into commercial production, explained Ziehlke.
- Desperately trying to lower your cholesterol but getting tired of the same bowl of Honey Nut Cheerios? Try some macadamias – the nuts contain monounsaturated fatty acids that studies say may lower cholesterol .
- Macadamias are toxic to dogs , so make sure you don’t share that macadamia energy bar with Old Yeller - if you do, he could experience muscle tremors, vomiting or lameness, among other symptoms.