What Is a Kukui Nut?

kukui nut lei

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The sleek black kukui nut is merely decorative in a Hawaiian lei, but the nut is edible when cooked. Roasted in their shells, kukui nuts become an ingredient called inamona. Roasted kukui nuts are a featured ingredient in recipes for Hawaiian poke, a dish made with raw fish.

Roasted and Crushed

Kukui trees are native to Hawaii and grow wild throughout the state's many islands. To eat kukui nuts, roast them first in a 325-degree Fahrenheit oven or grill them for 60 to 90 minutes -- or until the interior turns a dark, golden brown. To test the nuts for doneness, crack one open using a hammer. Chop the roasted nuts finely, or grind them with a mortar and pestle. Use up to 1 teaspoon of the ground nuts to season 1 pound of fish for a classic Hawaiian poke.

Other Uses

The oil extracted from kukui nuts is used to moisturize the skin, treat rashes and help with tanning. Medicinally, the oil is taken internally as a laxative and mild pain reliever. The nickname for the nut is "the candlelight nut" for its historical use as a torch or candle. Because of the high oil content of the nut, it burns readily when lit and has been used as a light source in Hawaii for more than 2,000 years.