Macadamia

The macadamia tree is originally from Australia, where the Aborigine people have long been aware of the fruit’s delicious and nutritious properties. Known by many names in Australian Aborigine languages, the nut got its European name in 1857 when German-Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller named it in honour of his colleague, Scottish-born chemist and natural scientist John Macadam. Anyone who has tried a macadamia nut knows that they are hard to resist – crisp and surprisingly light – but the macadamia is also valued in natural cosmetics, for an oil with surprising properties.

The hardest nut in the world – smoothing and rejuvenating

The macadamia tree is originally from Australia, where the Aborigine people have long been aware of the fruit’s delicious and nutritious properties. Known by many names in Australian Aborigine languages, the nut got its European name in 1857 when German-Australian botanist Ferdinand von Mueller named it in honour of his colleague, Scottish-born chemist and natural scientist John Macadam. Anyone who has tried a macadamia nut knows that they are hard to resist – crisp and surprisingly light – but the macadamia is also valued in natural cosmetics, for an oil with surprising properties.

Calm and quiet forest

Nowadays, the macadamia tree thrives productively in many countries of the world, including in Kenya. It is on a farm in the area near Mount Kenya where we find the organic nuts which produce valuable oil for our natural cosmetics. It is calm and quiet here on the plantation, under trees which reach up to fifteen metres. The strong sunlight is softly filtered through a green leafy roof. Right in the middle, with both feet firmly on the red soil, stands agricultural engineer Jackson Mwura. He is a macadamia expert, and speaks eloquently about the ‘hardest nut in the world’ whose shell cannot be opened with a nutcracker. The macadamia tree bears fruit throughout the year, he tells us. During certain seasons pale pink flowers hang on the branches alongside the developing nuts. Three years after planting, the tree bears fruit and can be harvested for the first time. A yield of up to 100 kilos of nuts is not unusual for a single tree.

The farmer stands smiling, ankle deep in the red earth, and brushes a strand of hair from her face. She has already worked hard today, but she still wants to sow a few more beans: “They grow very well between the trees. We also grow bananas and avocados”, she tells us. Her day started early as always. She got up at six o’clock, fed and milked the cows and brought the fresh milk to the delivery point. “Yes, there is not a lot of free time, but on Sunday, after church, I meet my friends for coffee and a chat. The best thing is that our son can go to a good school - we are proud of him.” The macadamia nut harvest is the livelihood of many such small farmers in the area.

Over in the village of Kiburu, the macadamia buying centre is a colourfully-painted timber building, three metres square, surrounded by other brightly-painted wooden houses. Here small farmers from all over the district will bring sacks of their nut crop for sale. At harvest time the farmers line up on the red sandy road, outside their own wooden houses – many farmers would have no way to carry the load themselves, but mill employees collect everything with a fleet of 30 off-road motorcycles. They go out to the farms, pick up the harvest and take the nuts into the buying centre.

Gathering the nuts

Once they arrive at Kiburu, the nuts are weighed, then the quality is evaluated and the farmers are paid immediately. The test procedure is simple and effective – not more than five macadamia nuts from a sample of 25 should be rated as ‘poor’. Only when each delivery has been checked over in this way does the product receive the award ‘first choice’.

The air feels hot in the hall where the nuts are processed. White crushed macadamia nuts are poured into a metre-high machine – the mill. The nut mixture is heated gently, and then pressed. Spellbound, everyone watches the bright flowing oil, with its distinctive scent - so sweet and delicious. This pretty liquid is full of richness – it contains single and polyunsaturated fatty acids, especially oil and palmitoleic acid, but also saturated fatty acids and vitamin E. Its skin smoothing and rejuvenating properties are a highly respected ingredient in natural cosmetics, which is why Weleda includes it in pomegranate firming facial care products, as well as in sea buckthorn body lotion.

Ten tons of dried nuts yield about six tons of oil after they have been sorted, dried, cracked and pressed. From the shell to the fruit, after the processing nothing remains of the nut. The mixture that drops during the pressing - also called ‘cake’ - is kept for animal feed and the nutshells are burnt in the large oven to generate energy for the oil mill, heating water and providing night-time warmth. The hard work has paid off and the farmers and the head of the macadamia buying center in Kiburu are satisfied. All the nuts from this delivery were perfect.

Bright flowing oil

Ultimately the nut secures the income and livelihood not just of the farming communities, but of the oil mill employees and their families too. The head of the mill takes care of employees and considers it important that they send their children to school. The daily ritual at work includes a communal lunch for all employees in the company. The chef serves meals spiced with fresh coriander, ginger and garlic in the small canteen and the staff starts to chat – one mill-worker says his daughter wants to be a teacher, so he is saving his money for that. He has worked here for eight years, since meeting the boss on the road, and being asked whether he wanted to work here. Of course he wanted to! Today he is responsible for overall production at the mill. Like him, most employees have been here for a long time. All have learned the production process from scratch and been encouraged to develop further.

The staff appreciates their jobs and enjoy the community feeling – it is just like a big family, held together by the simple macadamia nut with its wonderful properties.