Could macadamia nuts crack through and capitalise on the growing dairy-free trend as an alternative ingredient?
That’s the hope of Green & Gold Macadamia, a marketer which represents six different macadamia processors across five continents. It has set up an innovation programme to explore how it can take the nut beyond simple snacking.
Food development so far has included a dairy-free mushroom soup, a mango smoothie, drinkable yoghurt and set yoghurt. From a taste and texture perspective, focus groups could not detect that macadamias were used instead of milk for both the soup and smoothie. In fact, a blind taste test of a market-leading soup in Brazil saw people prefer the macadamia-based product.
It wasn’t all smooth sailing when it came to the sensory panels, however. While the yoghurt’s texture resembled that of the dairy yoghurt, participants could taste the macadamias – with a mixed response: some liked it and some didn’t.
Breaking the nut
The innovation programme also found that macadamias retained their creamy texture, even in liquid form, due to their high fat content, revealed Green and Gold Macadamia CEO Brian Loader.
“Up until recently, we were nervous about testing that textual theory in very fine form in a paste or a butter that a confectioner or dairy company or cheesemaker would use. We felt that we’d lose our identity,” Loader told Food Spark’s sister site Food Navigator.
“What we’ve found is that its textural advantage does carry over. The smoothness, the butteryness, the full bodiedness of macadamias translates to this format. That was a tremendous surprise to be honest. We’d never been in a format where we were liquid and blended with something else. We just assumed that because of the high oil content of macadamias that when it was blended with something else it would separate, but it doesn’t.”
But the nuts do present a challenge when it comes to their growing conditions. Generally, the trees need to be 12 to 15 years' old to be in full production, making the nuts notoriously costly to harvest and grow.
This issue is being addressed according to the International Nut Council, which said global supply of macadamias has doubled in the past five years and will double again by 2023.
“The size of our industry has probably been the biggest hurdle for our foray into the ingredient area because the volumes that one requires to get there are substantial,” Loader said. “But now we are approaching the critical mass where using macadamias as an ingredient is becoming very interesting.”
However, cost does remain a barrier, admitted Loader.
“One of the challenges that we’re going to have to demonstrate is that macadamias – while they do have a unique selling proposition for food manufacturers that want to use our product in this sort of way – is that it’s probably going to be a more expensive option then the dairy alternative – you’re probably adding 10 cents to the cost of the soup,” he said.
But Loader is convinced that macadamias should no longer play second fiddle to their larger nut counterparts in the sector.
“It is only a matter of time before macadamias take their rightful place alongside, and at times supersede, other nut counterparts in dairy alternatives, bakery, butters, pastes and others,” he explained.
Can Sparkie see a makeover for macadamia’s use?
Macadamia nuts have a fairly unique fat profile which would make them very good for soups, sauces and the like. Anything made using them is not going to be particularly healthy though because they are over 70% fat.
As yet I haven’t seen any products making use of them, likely because of the cost, but I have seen the media surrounding them so that may change if there is enough consumer interest generated through that.