Candlenuts are a creamy, mild nut popular in Asian and Hawaiian cuisine. If you are looking for a good candlenut substitute for cooking at home, here are a few options.
Candlenuts are not hugely popular in American cuisine, but in southeast Asian markets and the South Pacific islands where they grow natively, this oily seed is popular for both cooking and medicinal purposes. In Southeast Asia, candlenuts are an essential ingredient.
If you are doing some Indonesian cooking and have come across a recipe that calls for candlenuts, it is possible to replace them!
But finding just the right replacement can be tricky; The key is understanding what candlenuts are and what their purpose is in the recipe you are making. Here are a few tips to help!
What are Candlenuts?
Candlenuts are also known as Buah Keras, Buah Kemiri, Kukui nut, and Indian Walnut. The nut comes from the Aleurites moluccana tree which grows natively in Indonesia, Malaysia and the Polynesian islands.
The kukui nut tree is actually the state tree of Hawaii. The beautiful flowering tree can grow very large and produces white flowers in bunches. The fruit actually grows in a hard shell with the nut inside.
Toxicity in Candlenuts
Candlenuts come from the same family as poinsettia plants, and just like poinsettia plants they have a slight toxicity to them and can be harmful if ingested. Candlenuts are not poisonous, but fresh candlenut fruit does have a laxative effect when raw and can cause problems if eaten in large quantities.
You may be wondering then why candle nuts are a popular ingredient in Southeast Asian and Hawaiian cuisine. The truth is the nuts have a high content of oil, a mild nutty flavor and can add a creamy texture and thickness to many dishes.
What do Candlenuts Taste Like?
Candlenuts have a mild, creamy flavor like an almond but with a slightly bitter aftertaste. The closest flavor is raw macadamia nuts and they are even considered macadamia cousins because of their similar taste.
Roasting candlenuts helps to reduce the slight bitterness and adds a smoky flavor that is popular for chili paste and seafood seasoning.
What are Candlenuts Used In?
Candlenuts are a popular thickening agent for curry or stew in Malaysian, Indonesian and Singaporean cuisines. Candlenuts are also often used in sauces in Asian cuisine to make them creamy and thick. They may even be used in soy sauce!
Other culinary uses for candlenut kernels include some regional chili pastes, shrimp paste and seafood seasoning in Hawaii.
What are the Non-Edible Uses for Candlenuts?
Candlenuts have a high oil content and that essential oil is extracted for many different uses. The oil from candlenuts is inflammable so it is a popular choice for lamps, torches and candles. This may be where they got their name from!
The oil is also very moisturizing for cosmetic products, and candlenuts have also been used in tattoo ink in some countries.
Some weight loss products like to use candlenuts because of its natural laxative properties, but there is no scientific evidence that it assists with weight loss. Most doctors would advise against using it for this purpose.
What Are The Best Substitutes For Candlenuts?
- Macadamia Nuts: The closest substitute for candlenuts is macadamia nuts. They are similar in texture and flavor and more readily available in American grocery stores.
- Brazil Nuts: Brazil nuts are also a good option when it comes to candlenut substitutes. They have the same oily texture and mild flavor.
- Pine Nuts: Pine nuts are a great substitute for people with a tree nut allergy. The texture is not exactly the same as a candlenut but they are a passable substitute.
- Cashews: Cashews have also been listed as a substitute for candlenuts, but they are slightly more creamy and flavorful so if they are being used you may need to adjust how much you use.
- Coconut Oil and Flour: For anyone who has a serious nut allergy, sometimes a mixture of coconut oil and flour can be used as a substitute. The flour helps with the thickening properties that you are trying to replace, but the coconut oil may add a slightly coconut flavor. The texture, of course, will not be the same, but it may be a good option.
- If you are using candlenuts for the first time, don’t buy too many. The oil in the nuts can cause them to go rancid if they are not used within a few weeks or months.
- Candlenuts should not be consumed raw as they may cause vomiting or diarrhea. Always make sure to cook your candlenuts before eating them!
- Candlenuts are naturally yellowish in color. White nuts have been bleached.
How to Choose Candlenuts
As mentioned above, candlenuts should be naturally slightly yellow in color. Choose ones that are beige or tan in color. If candlenuts are brown, they are most likely rancid and you should not buy them.
How to Store Candlenuts
Candlenuts are fickle and can easily go rancid if they are not stored properly. Store the candlenuts in an airtight container or plastic bag and then keep them in the fridge for a few weeks.
If you need to store your candlenuts for longer, keep them in an airtight container in the freezer for up to a year!
Recipes That Use Candlenuts
- Beef Rendang from Indonesia: Beef Rendang is a dry beef curry recipe that is very popular in Indonesia. It is made by cooking beef in coconut milk and flavoring it with candlenuts, lemongrass, chilies, tamarind, and so much more. Check out this recipe for Beef Rendang from Indonesia.
- Chicken Kapitan from Malaysia: Kari Kapitan is a chicken curry dish from Malaysia made by cooking chicken in a coconut milk-based curry sauce alongside potatoes, Jasmine Rice, and flavorful spices such as candlenuts. Check out this Chicken Kapitan recipe from Cook Eat World.
- Sarawak Laksa: This is a noodle soup served with chicken, cucumbers, bean sprouts, eggs, shrimp and more. In this Sarawak Laksa recipe from Sift and Simmer, candlenuts are ground into a Laksa seasoning paste to flavor the food.
Now that you know about candlenuts, go feel confident using them in your recipes! You will love the nutty flavor that they provide and the depth that they add to your delicious food.