All about candlenut

Understanding Spices

What is candlenut?

The candlenut (Aleurites moluccanus) is a flowering tree and is also known as candleberry, Indian walnut, kemiri, varnish tree, nuez de la India, buah keras, godou or kukui nut tree, and Kekuna tree. The tree grows to a height of 15-25 metres, with wide spread branches and pale green leaves. The nut is round, about 4-6 centimetres in diameter and has a hard, furrowed shell. On the inside is a whitish yellow, waxy and fleshy kernel which is the source of oil. One candlenut fruit can have one to two seeds inside it.

Candlenut was first domesticated in Southeast Asia. Archaeological sites in eastern Indonesia have uncovered remains of harvested candlenuts dating back to 11,000 BP. Candlenuts were brought to the Pacific Islands by Austronesian voyagers. Today, the candlenut tree grows throughout the tropics and can even be found as far south as Australia and New Zealand.

Uses of candlenut:

In food

Candlenuts are usually roasted in their shell before the kernels are removed and both the nut and the extracted oil can be used. The nut is toxic in its raw form and causes laxative effects and vomiting if a lot is ingested. However, once it’s cooked and toasted, the nut can be used in many different dishes.

When it comes to Indonesian and Malaysian cooking, candlenut is often used in curries and stews as the high oil content makes the gravy thicker. Candlenut is also added to chilli pastes to make them thicker and creamier, such as the Javanese dish of sambal bajak, a relish made with candlenuts, chillies, garlic, shallots, Indonesian bay leaves, galangal, palm sugar and shrimp paste. This chilli sauce is most often served with fried foods like fried chicken.

In Hawaii, candlenuts are roasted and pounded and mixed with salt to create a relish called inamona. This is a key ingredient in a traditional Hawaiian poke, which is diced raw fish originally served with traditional condiments like seasalt, candlenuts, seaweed and limu, a kind of brown algae.

Candlenuts can be found in Asian supermarkets. Keep in mind that they do go rancid very quickly, so make sure you choose ones that are white or light beige in colour. You don’t want to use them once they’re brown.

If you can’t find any, raw macadamia nuts are often used as a substitute as they are similar in texture and oil content. Ready to start cooking with candlenut? Here are some recipes to get you started:

Other uses

In Hawaii, particularly in Maui, the candlenut tree has a spiritual significance. The candlenut tree is a symbol of enlightenment, protection and peace. The candlenut tree was considered to be the body form of Kamapua’a, the hog-man fertility demigod.

As well as cooking, Hawaiians also have had many other uses for the candlenut tree, including leis and jewellery from the shells, leaves and flowers, tattoo ink from the charred nuts, a varnish from the oil, a red-brown dye from the inner bark, and boat building materials from the wood. Hawaiian fishermen used the nut to give them better visibility underwater, chewing the nut and spitting them on the water to break the surface tension and remove reflections.

In Indonesia, Malaysia and Hawaii, candlenuts were burned to provide light. With such a high oil content, candlenuts can burn like a candle on their own. The nuts would be strung in a row on a rib of a palm leaf. The nut at the top would burn for fifteen minutes or so, while dripping oil onto the nut below it and causing it to light up. This would make the process repeat itself until the whole string of nuts burned like a candle. Hawaiians also used the oil from the nut to burn in a stone oil lamp with a wick made from traditional kapa cloth. The nuts were also used to make torches by filling the end of a bamboo pole with the kernels and set alight.

In China, the candlenut oil is used in a variety of ways such as in paints, varnishes, lacquer and soft soap. It’s also sold for aromatherapy, cosmetic, and skin and hair care purposes. It contains high levels of fatty acids and aminos such as Omega-3 and Omega-6 which are important in skin and hair health. These fatty acids can easily penetrate the skin, hair and scalp. Candlenut oil is often used as a treatment to reduce signs of ageing and soothe skin conditions like psoriasis, eczema and rosacea. The oil also helps keep hair moisturised and nourished, treats dandruff, and promotes hair growth.


Benefits of candlenut

Candlenuts boast a variety of health benefits and have been used as natural medicine for centuries. They’re rich in potassium and protein, and contain small amounts of zinc, copper and selenium. Below are just some of their health benefits:

  • Improved digestive system

Candlenuts contain high amounts of fiber which is beneficial for the GI tract. It promotes regular bowel movement and helps with constipation, as the oil is a mild laxative.

  • Improve heart health

Candlenuts help to increase the levels of HDL or ‘good cholesterol’ in the body, so are very beneficial for people who suffer from high cholesterol. Candlenuts also have a high potassium content, which is known for its ability to lower blood pressure.

  • Overcome insomnia

People who suffer from insomnia or have trouble sleeping often find that candlenut works well in helping them fall asleep better. This is because candlenut contains melatonin, a hormone associated with control of the sleep-wake cycle.

  • Healthy joints and bones

Regular consumption of candlenuts helps to prevent aches in joints and bones from everyday wear and tear. It’s also effective in relieving joint stiffness from arthritis. Candlenuts contain phosphorus which works together with calcium and vitamin D in your body to keep your bones healthy and strong.

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