Key Ingredient


Wednesday, December 12, 2001

Ingredient of the week



With baking on the minds of many this time of year, nuts may become a necessary item on your shopping list.

A variety of unshelled nuts, including pecans, walnuts, hazelnuts and almonds are now available by bulk in the markets, but don't lose sight of our own nut, the macadamia.

Even at this time of the year, you'll rarely find unshelled macadamia nuts (except for a few outlets on the Big Island). But that's a good thing, because no one should have to fight a losing battle to get a macadamia nut out of its shell.

The basics: The macadamia nut is native to the rain forests of Australia and was named after its discoverer, Scottish-born scientist John Macadam.

Ironically, the macadamia tree was originally prized for its ornamental quality and not for its tasty nut. In 1882, William Purvis, a Big Island sugar-plantation manager, introduced the tree to Hawaii, and the rest is history.

Macadamia trees don't produce nuts until they are about 10 years old. The nuts themselves are covered by a green outer husk and an extremely hard, dark-brown inner shell.

In recent years, macadamia nuts have been found to have positive nutritional qualities, such as reducing overall cholesterol levels. The nut contains high levels of monounsaturated fats and is considered a high-energy food, rich in minerals and protein.

Selecting: Macadamia nuts are generally sold shelled and pre-packaged. The nuts come roasted, raw, salted, unsalted, whole and in pieces and are sealed for freshness in everything from vacuum-packed cans to plastic bags.

Storing: Like most nuts, macadamias will go rancid because of their high oil content. Use as soon as the package is opened or store in the refrigerator in a tightly covered container for a couple of weeks.

Use: The list of uses for the macadamia nut is endless. During the holidays, the emphasis is on baked goods, such as cookies, cakes, pies and candies. But the nut can also be a great addition to savory dishes, as in a crust for fish and meats.

Macadamia nut oil is also available for stir-frying and sautéing. It's a rather light and mild oil that adds a subtle flavor to recipes.

Where to buy: Macadamia nuts are abundant year-round and at a number of outlets. Prices fluctuate throughout the year, but this time of the year, take advantage of frequent sales. The nut is rather expensive, but given that it's grown in our back yard, it should be the nut of choice.

Food Stuffs: Morsels

Contact Eleanor Nakama-Mitsunaga
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