What can compare to the sweet, buttery mac nut’s tender embrace? As far as nuts, seeds, and pseudo-nuts go, its fatty acid profile is unparalleled. Throw a handful into a bowl of Greek yogurt, along with blueberries, blackberries, and strawberries (or any berry, really), and you’ve got yourself a rich, masterful dessert with minimal linoleic acid. And it’s got good amounts of magnesium, manganese, thiamine, copper, and iron. Pack a baggy full and you’ve got yourself the perfect trail food for day long hikes. Suffice it to say, they’re my go-to snack when I’m feeling a bit peckish throughout the day.
But that’s not why I’m here today – to extoll the virtues of the macadamia nut.
I tend to get a little carried away when it comes to those little mouth bombs of satiety, so I apologize. Today’s post concerns the mac nut’s lifeblood: macadamia oil. I know what I’ve said about seed oils in the past, but this is different. I liken the concept of macadamia nut oil to that of olive oil; they are inherently, obviously, blatantly fatty foods, and extracting said fat isn’t a stretch, nor does it require industrial solvents and complex processes (they may do so to increase production and efficiency, but you can crush a mac nut and leave an oily residue; you can’t do the same for a kernel of corn to produce corn oil). In fact, the layman extracts his own virgin, first-press macadamia nut oil every time he bites into one. You can feel the macadamia oil droplets oozing out of the obliterated nut mass and into your mouth. Being the most energy (specifically, fat-derived energy) dense nut of all, it’s totally saturated with the stuff.
Macadamia oil imparts a mild, buttery, rather macadamia-y flavor to foods, but it’s mild enough to use for homemade mayonnaise. It is highly shelf-stable and resistant to heat-induced oxidation; in one test, it bested rice bran oil, walnut oil, sesame oil, almond oil, avocado oil, grapeseed oil, and hazelnut oil in an oxidative potential test. Of all the seed and nut oils, macadamia oil withstood temperatures up to 120 degrees C (about 250 degrees F) without significant oxidation. It also excelled at the shelf stability test, being the only oil tested that exceeded the manufacturer’s given “best-before” date. I rarely expect companies to be totally accurate, but to be completely wrong in the opposite direction is a nice surprise! Keep your macadamia oil in a dark bottle and in the fridge, or a cool dark place, and I bet it’ll stay fresh even longer. I’m still wary of doing any heavy duty sauteeing or high heat grilling using macadamia oil as the primary fat, but it looks to be pretty stable as far as oils go with a smoke point of anywhere between 210 and 234 degrees C (410-453 degrees F), depending on who you ask.
Macadamia oil owes its stability mostly to its extremely low omega-6 fatty acid content (the lowest of all traditional cooking oils, next to coconut oil), high monounsaturated fatty acid content (it runs over 80% MUFA, mostly oleic acid, which is higher than olive oil’s content), and a decent portion of saturated fat (around 16%, which is pretty good for a nut oil). Omega-6 linoleic acid is the most unstable, so having almost none of it makes macadamia oil superior to most. Macadamia oil also contains varying amounts of antioxidants which appear to confer some antioxidative (surprise, surprise) support. One study of vitamin E in Hawaiian cultivars found that while the tocopherol content was basically nonexistent, comparatively higher amounts of tocotrienols (T3) were detected in samples of macadamia oil extracts, including appreciable amounts of alpha-, beta-, and gamma-tocotrienols (no delta-tocotrienols were found). Though the bioavailability of tocotrienols after oral ingestion is lower than that of tocopherols, tocotrienols are more potent antioxidants. Besides, we should be focused on reducing oxidation of the fat we’re about to consume, rather than consume oxidized fats and then try to mitigate the damage by consuming antioxidants. Tocotrienols in macadamia oil seem to achieve that. Consider that walnut oil contains some of the highest levels of tocopherols and yet is the most prone to rancidity and oxidation. Don’t think that tocotrienols are totally useless orally, though; orally ingested tocotrienols have evinced bioavailability in a number of tissues and organs.
That same study also found that macadamia nut oils are rich sources of squalene, a naturally occurring antioxidant present in human skin surface lipids that protects us from sun-induced lipid peroxidation. It’s primarily used in our bodies to synthesize both cholesterol and vitamin D, but its role in macadamia nuts may be to prevent oxidative damage – kinda like how it does to our skin cell lipids. At any rate, it’s a complex relationship, the one between fatty acid profile, antioxidant content, and stability, but it can be said with reasonable certainty that monounsaturated fats are more stable than polyunsaturated fats, and antioxidants play some role in oxidative protection of fats.
Another feature of macadamia oil is its palmitoleic acid content. Palmitoleic acid is an omega-7 monounsaturated fat; it’s a common constituent of human adipose tissue, and we synthesize it from saturated palmitic acid. The most prominent fatty acid in human sebum, the natural moisturizer produced by the body, is palmitoleic acid. It has positive effects on blood lipids (without the oxidative potential of the highly unsaturated fatty acids that are so often lauded for their similarly “positive effects”) and, given its resemblance to sebum, makes for an effective moisturizer. I even tried shaving with macadamia oil to great effect. A half dozen drops applied to my shower-softened facial hair provided adequate protection from my razor. Plus, without all that cream or gel, I could see where I was going with the blade.
What about varying grades of macadamia oil – is there yet a caste system in place, like with olive oil? Not obviously. It’s still a relative newcomer to the scene, and most macadamia nut oils are fairly expensive and boutique-y. I’ve been sampling one from Whole Foods, the name of which I’m not sure (and I don’t have it in front of me), and it tastes fine. You could always hop on Amazon and see what the reviews are saying about the different mac nut oils. Given the stability of the oil and the lack of market saturation, I imagine most macadamia oils you come across will be edible. Just look for macadamia oils that actually taste like macadamia nuts; you’ll know it by the buttery flavor and the golden color. Perhaps in a year or two we’ll be able to produce a comprehensive “Definitive Guide to Macadamia Oils,” but not quite yet.
You can use macadamia oil for salad dressings, personal hygiene (shaving, moisturizing, perhaps even sunblock given the squalene content), light sauteeing and stir frying, mayo-making, and essentially anything you’d normally use olive oil for.
You can buy macadamia oil at most grocery stores now, or you can look online for (probably) better deals. Here are a few I was able to dig up:
NOW Foods makes an oil from organic, unhybridized macadamia nuts.
The popular Slanker’s Grass-Fed Meat folks have the “Oils of Aloha,” which include both regular and flavored macadamia oils.
In closing, I think macadamia oil has its place in Primal living. If you’re using olive oil, there’s no reason to exclude macadamia oil, and if you’re looking for a more neutral salad or light cooking fat, macadamia nut oil seems to fit the bill.
What kind of macadamia oil do you use (I’m always on the hunt for new stuff)? Any brands people should look out for? Let us know your mac oil experiences in the comments!
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.