Issue 20.1: February/March 2017
Native Intelligence: Hawai‘i Island

Mac Nut Makeover

Story by Martha Cheng. Photos by Steve Czerniak.

Poor macadamia nuts. While almonds and walnuts bask in the health food spotlight, touted as snacks for the svelte, macadamia nuts are the fat nuts, covered in chocolate and sold as candy, or buried in cream and custard and served as dessert.

“Consumers do not view mac nuts as healthy,” says Scott Wallace, president of Royal Hawaiian Orchards, which has been growing mac nuts on Hawai‘i Island for sixty years. “We’ve done the research and it’s kind of amazing. You would think because they know almonds, walnuts and pistachios are good for you, they would infer the same of mac nuts. But mac nuts they view as unhealthy and full of fat because they’re traditionally offered in indulgent forms—mac nut cream pie, mac nut cookies, chocolate-covered mac nuts.” Dig them out of dessert, however, and mac nuts have something to offer health nuts, like monounsaturated fats, the same good fats found in olive oil.

Enter the macadamia nut makeover. Royal Hawaiian recently launched a “Don’t hate me because I’m delicious” ad campaign and debuted some salubrious new products, like mac nuts dipped in dark chocolate and paired with superfoods like goji and açaí. It’s currently petitioning the Food and Drug Administration to allow its labels to say that mac nuts can lower the risk for heart disease. If the petition succeeds, it will give a big boost to Royal Hawaiian’s newest product: mac nut milk. With a nutritional profile similar to almond milk, the darling of nut milks, mac nut milk carries a whisper of the buttery creaminess that mac nuts are famous for. Nut milks are in such demand these days that Royal Hawaiian couldn’t find a nut milk processing plant in California that wasn’t at maximum capacity, so it has to send its nuts all the way to Minnesota.

When it comes to producing nut milks, it’s go big or go home: Processing facilities don’t deal in small batches, which is why Royal Hawaiian is already making a million cartons of mac nut milk a year. You can expect mac nut milk mustaches from Honolulu to Manhattan as the company expands its distribution beyond the Islands (where it’s sold at Island Naturals Market, Longs Drugs, Don Quijote, Target and Kmart) to Safeway, Whole Foods and other super-markets nationwide. In the meantime, cheers to a cold glass of mac nut milk. Just hold the mac nut cookie.