Candlenuts, or Buah Keras as it is known in Malay, is an essential ingredient in some parts of South East Asia, used for its thickening and enriching qualities.
Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Table of contents
What are Candlenuts?
Candlenuts are from the flowering tree, Aleurites moluccanus, which grows to a massive height of about 30 metres (100 feet), with a wide reach. The candlenut tree belong to the same family as the poinsettia, the plant many of us identify with Christmas.
They are not native to South East Asia, even if the region is synonymous with its use. Its origin is uncertain, having been used in many parts of the world going back hundreds, even thousands of years and travelled widely with each use.
However, it is believed that the candlenut tree was first domesticated in the region, with harvest remains found in Indonesia going way back to more than 10 000 years ago.
What do Candlenuts taste Like?
They are fairly creamy in look and flavour, with a nutty, almost almond-like flavour, but milder. they are closer to macadamia nuts in taste. They do have a slightly bitter aftertaste when eaten raw, which you shouldn’t because of their mild toxicity.
The best substitute for candlenuts are macadamia nuts
Macadamia nuts have the same mildness and creaminess as the kukui nut, making it the perfect substitute. Cashew nuts can also be used, but because they are very creamy, you will want to reduce the number called for in your recipe.
Other names for the Kukui Nut
Mildly toxic when raw, they have many purposes, not just in cooking. It is known by many different names in various parts of the world. These are just some of them.
- Buah Keras in Malay
- Buah Kemiri in Indonesian
- Lumbang in the Philippines
- Kukui Nut in Hawaii
- Godou in Sabah
- Nuez de la India
- Semilla de Brasil
Uses for Buah Keras
Candlenuts in Curries and Stews
As mentioned right at the start, in South East Asia, especially in Malay, Nyonya and Indonesian cooking, buah keras or buah kemiri are used to add a rich flavour to all sorts of dishes like the following (all recipes are on LinsFood.com):
Candlenuts in Hawaiian Cooking
Just to prove how much the kukui nut has travelled over time, it is also an essential ingredient in the Hawaiian seasoning called Inamona. The candlenuts are roasted, imparting an earthier and smoky flavour, before being crushed and mixed with salt, and perhaps some black pepper or chilli.
Inamona works extremely well with seafood, this is why poke almost always has it. Poke is that Hawaiian dish of chopped up raw fish, not unlike ceviche.
On top of that, citrus and herbs can also be added to inamona and the whole mix is then used as a condiment in a meal.
Non Cooking Uses
- The kukui nut is also used for its oil, in the health and cosmetic industries. Being high in fatty acids, it is deeply moisturising.
- Perhaps a contested use for it is in weightloss products. There are many candlenut supplements out there promoting this use. Because of its toxicity, naturally, many health professionals, caution against excessive use.
- In ancient Hawaii, kukui nuts were lit and used as torches.
- They are also used in tattoo inks in some parts of the world, like Sabah, east Malaysia.
How to Choose and Store Candlenuts
Because of their high fat content, like all nuts and seeds, they can turn rancid. In my experience though, buah keras have a very, very long shelf life.
Just keep them in an airtight container, and store them in a dark, cool place, like your spice cupboard.
And now, let’s go take a look at how to use and substitute candlenuts.
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What are Candlenuts?
- OR pestle and mortar
- 3 macadamia nuts OR
- 2 cashew nuts
- If using as part of a paste ingredients, like the recipes above, just add them to the chopper or pestle and mortar and chop with everything else. You can add them whole, as they will chop up easily.
- If using on their own, ground to powdered form before adding to your recipe.