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Friday, June 17, 2011
MACADAMIA NUTS - HEALTH BENEFITS AND USES: BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH MACADAMIA NUT TOPPING RECIPE
The Macadamia nut trees are native to Australia and indigenous to the rainforests of south eastern Queensland and New South Wales. They were a staple food of the Aborigines for thousands of years before they were found by the “white fella” in the shape of Allan Cunningham in 1828. They were named after John Macadam, a chemist and member of the legislative Assembly for Castlemaine, Victoria. (Yes, the 4X Castlemaine) as he was largely responsible for them being cultivated.
The two types of macadamia nut trees that grow in Australia are the Macadamia integrifolia or the smooth-shelled macadamia nut and Macadamia tetraphylia, the rough-skinned nut. Where their territories meet there are hybrids of these trees.
They can grow to height of between 30 and 40 feet and can spread almost as wide, so they are not small trees. The very hard seed casing is covered in a green husk which splits open as the nut ripens. M .integrifolia has creamy white flowers, while M. tetraphylia has cream to pink flowers, none of which have petals; they are more like the male catkins of the hazel tree.
The macadamia tree was introduced into Hawaii in 1881 and was used for ornamental purposes and reforestation. It can produce fruit after five years of being planted although it is generally not commercially viable until the tenth year. The nuts take 6 to 7 months to mature after the flowers drop and have to be left to ripen on the trees; they are then dried to produce the nuts we buy.
The shells can be used as mulch as can the husks, which also make good fertilizer, so nothing of the nut is wasted.
You can eat them as snacks in the same way the Greeks eat pumpkin seeds or passé tempo, or they can be used in cooking, for desserts, or main meals. They were once marketed in something called “almond coffee” although now hazel nut coffee is more popular. Unfortunately if you have an allergy to other nuts, such as walnuts, pistachios and pecans you should avoid macadamia nuts too. They can be used for ice creams, salads, roasts and casseroles and the dish below is a good starter or vegetarian main course with a baked potato and broccoli.
They are full of vitamins and minerals and contain all 8 essential amino acids, as well as non-essential ones, and have particularly potent antioxidant properties. They help balance the Omega-6 and -3 fatty acids in the body and are rich in potassium, phosphorous, iron, magnesium and calcium, and also contain selenium, zinc, and copper. As for vitamins they have some B-complex ones, vitamin A and a little vitamin C. They contain tocopherols and tocotrienols which are derivatives of vitamin E, as well as phytosterols, for example sitosterol.
Because they are high in fibre, they help prevent constipation, diverticular diseases, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, piles and reduce the risk of bowel cancer. They have the highest known level of palmitoleic fatty acid, which is found in beneficial fish oils such as that from salmon and mackerel, and which is at an even higher level than in olive oil.
The Australians have done and are doing several research projects on the health benefits of the nuts, including a dietary trial to measure the part they can play in the reduction of the risk of heart disease, diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, high blood pressure, cancer and related diseases. One project is investigating their antioxidant potential and another is trying to determine the effect of the nuts in protecting the brachial arterial wall which is associated with arteriosclerosis. They can act as modulators of the immune system and they may reduce the incidence of heart disease, according to earlier trials. They can also lower blood cholesterol levels.
For some reason they are not as popular in Britain as they are in Australia, South Africa, the US and the rest of Europe, although I remember eating them as a child and loving their taste.
BUTTERNUT SQUASH WITH MACADAMIA NUT TOPPING
1 cup double cream
2 tbsps sage, finely shredded
1 tsp finely chopped fresh thyme
3 cloves garlic, finely chopped
salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
1 small butternut squash, peeled, seeded, thinly sliced and cut into three pieces
6 oz feta cheese, crumbled
6 oz mozzarella, grated
½ cup freshly chopped macadamia nuts
Preheat oven to Gas Mark 3/ 325° F / 165° C.
Grease a deep oven proof dish.
Whisk together the double cream, sage, thyme, garlic, salt and pepper.
Layer half the feta and a third of the mozzarella in the bottom of the dish, and then put a layer of squash and again the rest of the feta and another third of the mozzarella.
Now add another layer of squash and pour the cream mixture over it. Top this with the rest of the mozzarella and put in the oven.
Cook for 45 mins or until the squash can be pierced with a skewer or knife.
This has Taste and is a Treat.