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Macadamia Nuts

Robert C. Schmitt, Courtesy of the Hawaiian Historical Society

Macadamia nuts, which were native to Australia, were first planted in Hawai‘i around 1881. William Purvis, the young manager of the Pacific Sugar Mill at Kukuihaele on the Big Island, planted seed nuts that year at Kapulena. Eleven years later, the Jordan brothers successfully planted some seeds at their home in Nu‘uanu.

The nuts soon became popular with Hawai‘i residents, but they were not planted commercially until 1921. In that year, Ernest Van Tassel leased government land on Round Top and planted it with seeds from the Jordan and Purvis trees. Then, in 1922, he formed the Hawaiian Macadamia Nut Co., Ltd. Other planters quickly followed, establishing macadamia nut farms on O‘ahu, the Big Island, and elsewhere.

Commercial processing of macadamia nuts began in 1934 at Van Tassel’s new factory in Kaka‘ako. The nuts were shelled, roasted, salted, bottled, and marketed there as “Van’s Macadamia Nuts.”

Macadamia nut candies became commercially available a few years later. Two well-known confectioners, Ellen Dye Candies and the Alexander Young Hotel candy shop, began making and selling chocolate-covered macadamia nuts in the middle or late 1930s. Another early maker was Hawaiian Candies & Nuts Ltd., established in 1939 and originators of the Menehune Mac brand.