Monofloral Honeys Part 5: Nutty Honey.
Australia’s unique endemic vegetation has given rise to a diverse array of highly regarded monofloral honeys, but strangely there is one in particular that is more commonly produced overseas.
There are four species of macadamia trees native to central and southeast Queensland and northeastern New South Wales. Three of these are important commercial sources of macadamia nuts, while the fruit of the fourth (Macadamia jansenii) is poisonous. The trees vary from two to twelve metres in height, and prefer well-drained soils, high rainfall and an ideal temperature of around 25oC. They are usually propagated by grafting and do not produce significant amounts of fruit until about ten years of age, but thereafter are capable of producing good yields for more than a hundred years. The nutshells are extremely hard; macadamia nuts are sometimes fed to macaws in captivity, and these birds are unusual in having beaks strong enough to crack the shells. Originally an important form of ‘bush tucker’ for local aboriginal peoples, the macadamia has now become the most expensive nut in the world!
Macadamia seeds were exported to Hawaii in the 1880s, where the climate proved to be ideal for large-scale cultivation. Extensive plantations were established, to the extent that Hawaiian production quickly outstripped that of Australia, and the nuts became intimately associated with Hawaii in the public perception (in the last decade, South Africa took over as the major producer of macadamia nuts). Interestingly, genetic research has determined that all of the Hawaiian macadamias have descended from a small population of Australian trees from the Queensland town of Gympie – possibly from a single specimen. The lucrative nature of the macadamia crop has resulted in commercial production in other countries with a tropical or subtropical climate, such as Brazil, China and Fiji.
Pollination by Honey bees is integral to the success of commercial macadamia orchards, and macadamia honey has become a valuable by-product. Hawaii is also the largest producer of macadamia honey, and Hawaiian beekeepers argue that their product is generally superior to Australian macadamia honey, since apiaries are positioned deep in the macadamia orchards, forcing the bees to focus almost exclusively on the macadamia blossoms, and excluding other sources of pollen and nectar. The resultant honey is said to be lighter in colour than the typical Australian product, with a more delicate flavour and aroma.
Macadamia honey has been described as having a complex floral aroma that includes notes of malt, caramel and, of all things, soy sauce! The flavour is strong and sweet, with hints of malt and fruity accents. Macadamia honey is slow to crystallise and perfect for marinades or assisting to caramelise meat on the barbecue.
In addition, macadamia honey is generally sold in its raw form, which means that it retains all of the naturally beneficial properties that may be lost through commercial processing. It contains high levels of antioxidants and may also be used as an effective topical antiseptic.