Hawaii goes nuts after nuts

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When the first humans arrived in Hawaii, edible nutritional kernels or nuts were hard to find. About the only native nut was the mahoe, or Alectron macrococculus. They brought with them the coconut and the kukui nut. Technically, the coconut is not a true nut and although kukui nut is edible, it can create serious stomach issues when eaten. So in the arena of foods and nutrition, true nuts were lacking.

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When the first humans arrived in Hawaii, edible nutritional kernels or nuts were hard to find. About the only native nut was the mahoe, or Alectron macrococculus. They brought with them the coconut and the kukui nut. Technically, the coconut is not a true nut and although kukui nut is edible, it can create serious stomach issues when eaten. So in the arena of foods and nutrition, true nuts were lacking.

In the mid 20th century, University of Hawaii College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources researchers literally scoured the tropical world for nut crops that might adapt to some of Hawaii’s diverse climates. Many nut-bearing species like almonds and cashews were introduced but none really found popularity like the Australian macadamia nut. Researchers developed many superior varieties and it wasn’t long before farmers began growing them commercially. Today, when folks think macadamia, they think Hawaii since the best varieties were promoted as Hawaiian macadamias even though they are now grown in parts of Africa, tropical America and Australia as well.

According to Randyl Rupar with Sanctuary of Mauna Kea Gardens, Hawaii Island is celebrating the success of macadamias Nov. 1 at the Sheraton Kona Resort &Spa at Keauhou Bay convention center. The event is open and free to the public from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. with live music and entertainment. From 5 to 8 p.m., there will be a benefit concert for the Voice of Kona Community Radio, Kona 100.5.

The Going Nuts For The Holidays Festival is an opportunity for the community to network with local artists, wood craftsmen, farmers and artisan nutty food folks while enjoying live Hawaiian cultural entertainment. For other details, contact the organizers at 936-5233 or kona1005.org.

In the meantime, let’s visit some of the other nuts with potential here.

When was the last time you had pili nut pie, brittle or cookies? Unless you have lived in the Philippine Islands it is probably never. How about tropical almond cookies? Again, we don’t see them here but tropical almond confections are popular in Haiti and other parts of the Caribbean. The tropical almond, false kamani or Terminalia catappa, is originally from the East Indies but now found all over coastal regions of the tropical Pacific.

The Philippine Islands are a fascinating and beautiful part of the world. They are rich in plant and animal life and are populated by many interesting indigenous people with diverse cultures.

We are fortunate in Hawaii to have a large Filipino population that has brought a lot of flavor to our multicultural mix. It is surprising that more of the fruits and nuts that are popular there are not main stream here. For example, one of the tastiest nuts found in Manila is the pili. The pili nut, Canarium ovatum, is native to the Philippines and is the most important of about 10 nut-bearing species. The tree reaches an ultimate height of about 60 feet. Leaves are compound like the African tulip. Flowers are yellow, fragrant and form in terminal clusters. Male and female flowers are born on separate trees, so two trees of opposite sexes are required to produce nuts on the female tree. The oblong greenish fruits are black when ripe and are almost 2.5 to 3 inches long. The nut can be eaten raw or roasted and some consider it superior to the almond. My favorite recipe is the same as making peanut brittle, substituting pili nuts for peanuts.

In the Philippines, the kernel is made into several products, including plain roasted nuts, sugar-coated nuts, pudding and pili nut butter. They are great in nut chocolates and are a source of good cooking oil. The shell is an excellent source of fuel and is also used as a planting medium. In Indonesia, the shells are also made into ornaments. Resin may be tapped from the tree as with the rubber tree. It is used in perfumes, adhesives, plastics, printing inks, paint, varnish and many other products.

The University of Hawaii Waiakea Experiment Station has been studying pili production for years and found it to grow well in the Hilo region. It is a tropical tree. At this time, it appears the best growing areas would be below 1,300 feet, protected from strong winds and given irrigation where rainfall is below 50 well-distributed inches of rain per year.

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The limiting factor in growing pili trees is availability of plants. Most trees in Hawaii and the Philippines are grown from seed. Grafting and budding are difficult. Air layering has limited success. Since the university does have a number of trees, it would be possible to obtain seed by contacting the UH CTAHR Agricultural Extension office. Seeds are not always available, but may be obtained when ready. The university also has information on orchard establishment. Although pili nut could be grown in a standard orchard layout, it also lends itself to growing under natural forest conditions as is done in the Philippines. Since significant yields do not occur until the 10th year, intercropping is desirable. This can fit in well with multicrop, sustainable agriculture systems.

Some nurseries are beginning to carry pili nut plants, especially on the Hilo side of the island, so you might check with your favorite nurseries and garden supply stores.