Their family told them they were nuts

It started out as a weekend getaway and then this happened …

If I were to ask have you tried sandalwood nuts? you’d be forgiven for looking at me with a confused expression. That’s understandable – I mean, I had never heard of these little wonders of nature before I met two rockstars who have turned a nutty idea into an award winning international business. They’re pretty much unknown here in the UK but that’s something that’s very much about to change!

I had the pleasure of spending time via Skype talking to Connie & Marty of Sandalwood Nuts based out in Western Australia to find out what made their story so special.

Established in 2007, their agroforestry journey has been one of significant growth and diversity, something they could only have imagined when they set out. Like true Rockstar Retirees, their initial plan was one of a simple, small venture that became a passion. Marty said

Initially we just wanted to buy some land, plant the trees and leave a legacy for our children, which would enable them to pay off their mortgages and lead their own comfortable retirements. We had no idea that it would lead to becoming a business venture for us.”

Of course, the best laid plans etc and here we are eleven years later with a company that has not only been awarded National Tree Farmer of the Year 2014 but that has embarked in a private mission to raise awareness of this long-overlooked nut.

Speaking to both Connie & Marty it’s very clear to see that they have immense passion and are looking to not only bring global awareness of the nut but to return it to the indigenous people.

“We realised that children have long forgotten days of sitting under the trees, harvesting the nut as a free snack, low in sodium and sugar but high in protein.”

As well as creating a legacy for themselves and their family they’re also giving something back. They now run educational days specifically for the indigenous people to remind them of their own lost heritage. You can read more about the indigenous uses of sandalwood nuts here.

History bit for Nuts…

The “York Nut” as it’s known (deriving from the English named colony in WA) is very similar to that of the Macadamia, which we’re all familiar with and again originates in Australia (originally called the Bopple or Yaba nut) although many believe it’s American. So, why did the Macadamia rise to fame but not the sandalwood?  Primarily this comes from the uses of the tree itself and how over-farmed it was back in the 1800s.

Typically, it was an English chap (Ensign Dale) that recognised the scent of the wood burning in 1832 and reported it back to England. Sandalwood was then used as a way to trade tea with China and of course help the English Navy! Because the trees were so valuable (three times the value of Oak during the same period) the nut was never considered unless used to re-propagate, although not done well. The macadamia by contrast was only ever considered for its nut.

For over a hundred years the harvesting was very much stop start and many new growers found their tree shoots eaten by camel farmers (yes I was surprised that the biggest farmers of camels are in WA and that they export them to the Arab nations) rabbits and other imported pests! It took a good while to repopulate despite The Department of Woods and Forests, created in 1896, and their attempts to conserve and extend sandalwood resource.

It’s all about the flavour and the tech

One of the biggest issues facing the company is that it’s all hand-picked and whilst Marty has endeavoured to invent his own harvesting machine, it’s still very labour intensive.

“I knocked together something out of the existing mining equipment which enables me to be a little more productive but it’s still a very labour intensive process.”

Of course, that hasn’t stopped them and whilst Marty wold love to find an investor to help him develop better harvesting technology, they’re continuing to expand. They sell the nuts in various flavours including lime & chilli and sea salt & balsamic vinegar as well as bulk shipping them around the world. You’ve only got to wander up and down your local supermarket aisle to see that the demand for nuts has far surpassed the days of salted and dry roasted. New and unique flavours and type are popping up almost weekly.

When it comes to WA Sandalwood nuts, Connie is the quiet genius behind the flavour and development, she says

“I’m not interested in the limelight and I leave all that to Marty, I’m happy coming up with new ideas.”

Whilst Marty is very much the face and voice of the company as well as the tech. It’s hard to imagine this gruff miner spending his down time looking after his trees and promoting the nuts but that’s exactly what he does.

World Renowned

Today WA Sandalwood Nuts has many fans, including chef Matt Stone who featured the nuts on his show with Alex James – Recipes That Rock. Marty said

We were utterly delighted and had no idea how they would take off following the show. We’ve had such incredible feedback.”

You can see the recipe here.

Last year the nuts were part of a cocktail by local bartender David Stucken from Bar Lafayette, Perth which made it to the final six in the Chivas Regal Masters Final

Marty also told me

We were invited to be part of the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto which is a slow food group in Italy. Their three interconnected principles: good, clean and fair is something both Connie & I are very keen to embrace, this is how all food production should be.”

As you can see the buzz around the nuts is growing fast. To view some of the recipes and collaborations click here.

Nuts are for life not just for fads

Being so healthy and full of protein they’re perfect for many diets including vegan and paleo although Connie is keen to stress that these aren’t a fad and nor should they be treated that way. And this is perhaps where you come in … Yes I know you were wondering what the point to the article was! We’re looking to find chefs here in the UK and far wider that can embrace these nuts and include them in new and innovative recipes. Are you just that chef or can you see a synergy with your own product? We know that they’re amazing with chocolate and cakes too. If you’d like to try the nuts please contact us and we can help you start your own Nut Job.

Going back to the beginning Connie & Marty have come a long way from their original legacy aspirations and although grandparents themselves, they’re not looking to retire any time soon, far from it! Their drive comes from the desire to see the company and more the nut thrive and develop which in my eyes makes them both true #RockstarRetirees.

If you’d like to know more about sandalwood nuts you can find them on this website and if you think you have a product you could collaborate with, we’d love to know!

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