WRITTEN BY GRETCHEN MILLER
PHOTOS BY PATCH WONG
Walk into any island grocery to pick up milk and you are overwhelmed primarily by choices imported from the mainland: imported cow, almond, cashew, coconut, hemp, oat, rice and soy milks. This summer, Royal Hawaiian Orchards of Hilo finally released their much-anticipated Hawaiian macadamia nut milk to grocery stores throughout the islands. You can now buy a quart of delicious, creamy, local and sustainable mac nut milk at your local food store, a wonderful option to help keep our dollars in-state.
Macadamia nuts have one of the best fatty acid profiles of any nut, with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids, and lowest levels of phytic acid, an anti-nutrient that impairs mineral absorption. Enjoyed in moderation, mac nuts and mac nut milk can help us maintain a healthy weight by providing an excellent source of high-quality fat.
Unfortunately, most nut milks available for commercial retail include many nutritionally void fillers, including the very ambiguous additive “natural flavors,” which could be composed of dozens of ingredients, natural and synthetic alike. If you want to know exactly what you’re drinking, it’s easy and enjoyable to make your own quart of frothy macadamia nut milk from Hawai‘i-grown mac nuts and filtered water.
Macadamias are a tree seed indigenous to the eastern shore of Australia, where they were a food source for the ancient Aborigines. Today they are a valuable food crop in Hawaii; this past year’s (2015-2016) Hawaiian harvest reached a record high in both quantity and price. Our state currently has over 16,000 acres in nut orchard production including over one million trees statewide, creating a $45 million industry that sustains orchards primarily on Hawai‘i Island, including the well-known brands Mauna Loa (one of the world’s largest producers), Hamakua and Tropical Farms on O‘ahu.
Macadamia nuts were introduced to Hawai‘i in 1882 by a young English plant collector, William Purvis, manager of Pacific Sugar Mill, who was looking for an effective windbreak for sugarcane. He planted the first seeds near Waipi‘o Valley, and the macadamia became popular as an ornamental tree. It wasn’t until the post-WW II economic boom that large-scale mac nut plantations took off . Macadamia nuts became a desirable commodity on the mainland, conjuring up the exotic Pacifi c isles to homemakers cooking and baking away in their suburban kitchens.
To make homemade mac nut milk, I wanted to buy raw macadamia nuts as close to my home in Hāwī as possible; I knew just the place: Hawaii Institute of the Pacifi c (HIP) Farm, a young, progressive Hawai‘i Island organic farm tucked into the jungle right off of Highway 270 near mile marker 25. Owner Erika Shickle was gracious enough to give me a tour, in-between prepping for her daily educational fi eld trips with local schools. The HIP Farm orchard is an old one of a few dozen trees, one of the fi rst trial plantings in North Kohala on land deemed unfi t for sugarcane. The gracious, stately trees are thriving, their branches fi lled with green seeds that will drop to the ground this fall, ready for the monthly autumnal harvest gathering by hand. The seeds will then be sent through the husker, and hauled to Kawaihae to be sun-dried in a friend’s yard, cracked and sorted by the farmers into fi rst-quality nuts suitable for snacking and selling, and nuts with minor imperfections better suited for macadamia nut butter or cooking with on the farm. All nuts then go through a light saltwater rinse, and are fi nally dehydrated at very low temperatures. Finally, the farmers package, seal and label the sweet, raw nuts to sell at the Hāwī Farmer’s Market.
Most of the major producers on the island sell roasted mac nuts, which you can use for mac nut milk, but you will have immeasurably sweeter, creamier results with fresh raw nuts. If you happen to be near Hāwī, it’s worth a trip to the Saturday farmer’s market to stock up, or you can mail-order with HIP Farm at 889-6316. Other sources to order Hawai‘i-grown raw mac nuts include the South Kona Macadamia Nut Co., www.southkonamacs.com, which also off ers a lovely bed and breakfast on the property for a weekend of mac nut adventures, and Purdy’s Farm on Moloka‘i, 567-6601. There are dozens of wonderful small orchards that sell at their local farmers market, so please check your market and ask around, hopefully you’ll be able to fi nd some of these raw, rich, buttery treats close to home.
Now all you need is a good blender: a Vitamix if you have one, but no worries if you don’t, an Osterizer will work just fi ne. Unlike many nut milks, macadamia nuts blend so well that straining your milk is optional. For the absolute creamiest, smoothest milk possible, use a nut bag to strain your fi nal product; if you don’t mind a few fl ecks of mac nuts adding a bit of texture and fi ber to your milk, there’s no need to strain.
A general guideline for making nut milk is a ratio of four cups of filtered water to one cup of soaked nuts; less water will yield a thicker, richer “cream” and more water will yield a thinner “skim milk.” It’s a good idea to soak your nuts before using to break down the phytic acid, making the nuts more easily digestible and the nutrients more available; it also makes the nuts softer so they’ll blend more easily and thoroughly. Mac nuts have comparatively low levels of phytic acid, and are thus a “short-soak nut,” requiring only a two-hour soak before use.
If you can resist devouring your entire bag of mac nuts, soak one cup in a glass or bowl of filtered water with a pinch of sea salt and a small squeeze of lemon. After two hours, drain and discard the soaking water, and give your mac nuts a rinse. Toss your soaked mac nuts, three or four cups of filtered water, and a pinch of sea salt into your blender. Blend on high for a full minute and watch the beautiful white foam rise; hopefully you have a cup of coffee or tea ready to plop that foam on top of and savor every sip.
For sweeter milk, I enjoyed adding a teaspoon of pure vanilla extract. You could also blend in a couple tablespoons of your favorite raw, local honey, or a few pitted dates. For chocolate milk, blend a couple tablespoons of cocoa powder into sweetened milk, and for strawberry (or other fruit) milk, add two cups of fresh fruit to your sweetened milk. Another flavorful option is soaking your mac nuts alongside a date and cinnamon stick, infusing the mac nuts themselves with a sweeter flavor that they will then bring to your milk. Homemade mac nut milk will last for a few days covered in the fridge; transfer to a mason jar, or just keep your blender in the fridge, which will allow you to give the milk a little “foam-refresh” whenever you are craving more foam for your coffee. Homemade mac nut milk is divine for smoothies, hot and cold cereals, and drinking straight from the glass. Whichever option you choose, enjoy every sip of our rich, creamy, local island gift, and make plenty to share.