I personally taste-tested a variety of candlenut substitutes to find the best one for every cooking occasion. Whether you’re on the hunt for the closest flavor match, in need of a last-minute pantry substitute, or want a swap that fits your diet, I’ve got the answers.
Macadamia nuts are the best substitute for candlenuts in terms of flavor and texture, but they’re not the cheapest option. Cashews or Brazil nuts also work to add the same richness to dishes. And for a nut-free option, mix coconut oil with coconut flour.
I made small batches of beef rendang (if you’ve never tried it, you need to! It’s delicious) to test different candlenut substitutes.
Candlenuts look very similar to macadamia nuts. They have a hard shell surrounding a yellow, waxy nut. They have a high oil content, making them a common thickening agent used in Southeast Asian cooking. You can also find them in Hawaiian dishes.
They’re not the easiest ingredients to find, so I was looking for a substitute that would bring a similar richness. Here are the substitutes I tested and my verdicts:
|Substitutes||How to Substitute||Verdict|
|Macadamia Nuts||Similar fat content||9/10|
|Brazil Nuts||Distinct earthy flavor||8/10|
|Pine Nuts||Super creamy texture||8/10|
|Almonds||Ground almonds really convenient||7/10|
|Coconut Oil + Coconut Flour||Nut free||6/10|
Macadamia nuts are the closest substitute for candlenuts. They have a similar oiliness which gives them a velvet, creamy texture. The flavor of macadamia nuts is sweeter and less earthy than candlenuts but in most recipes, the other flavors will mask the taste difference.
You can also roast the macadamia nuts before you cook them to give them a deeper, richer flavor. The only downside to this substitute is price. They don’t come cheap, but they’re much easier to find than candlenuts in Western countries.
Psst… Macadamia nuts contain fewer omega-6 fatty acids than candlenuts, making them slightly healthier.
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts in a 1:1 ratio with macadamia nuts.
Cashews are another great stand-in for candlenuts. They’re easier on the wallet than macadamia nuts and you can easily find them in any grocery store.
These nuts have a gentle sweetness, although the flavor is milder than the flavor of candlenuts. They have a slightly lower oil content than candlenuts, clocking at about 47% compared to 60%. But when you soak them in water and blend them, they turn into a super creamy paste.
To make the most of their flavor, opt for roasted, unsalted cashews. This way, you’ll have a blank canvas ready to take on any seasonings you fancy!
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts with 3/4 the amount of cashews.
Brazil nuts have a high-fat content so they work perfectly to replace candlenuts in terms of texture and richness. But they have a very distinct flavor.
Brazil nuts are extremely earthy, slightly sweet, and mildly bitter. If you’ve never tasted them before, definitely do a taste test to make sure you like the flavor before using them in your dishes. I’m not actually much of a fan, but they worked okay in my beef rendang.
Psst… Brazil nuts are exceptionally high in selenium, an essential nutrient. Just two Brazil nuts can provide you with your daily recommended intake.
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts with 1/2 the amount of Brazil nuts, adjust to taste.
Believe it or not, pine nuts aren’t nuts at all – they’re seeds! But the American Academy of Allergy, Asthma, and Immunology still recommends avoiding these if you’re allergic to tree nuts, just to be safe.
You might recognize pine nuts as the ingredient that gives pesto its creamy texture. So it didn’t surprise me that they added the same richness to my curry. And with their mildly sweet, nutty flavor, no one will be the wiser!
Pro tip: Just like with other nuts, toasting the pine nuts first gives them a more complex flavor profile.
As the video above says, keep an eye on the pine nuts as you toast them – they can quickly burn and turn bitter.
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts in a 1:1 ratio with pine nuts.
If you like baking, you might have some ground almonds in your cupboard. These can make a really convenient substitute for candlenuts when you’re using them as a thickener or to add body to a dish.
Almonds have a less oily texture and a sweeter, more nutty flavor. But it’s not too strong. If you feel like the almonds are too dry for your recipe, consider adding a small amount of oil or coconut milk to achieve the desired consistency.
If you’re using whole almonds, it’s best to blanch them and remove the skins for a smoother texture.
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts in a 1:1 ratio with ground almonds.
Coconut oil (nut-free)
Coconut oil alone won’t work for any recipe where the candlenuts are adding substance and body to the recipe. But in dishes like sambal where the candlenuts provide an oily consistency, you can replace them with coconut oil.
Refined coconut oil is neutrally-flavored, so it won’t add any prominent flavors to your sambal, it will just give it a thick and luscious consistency.
If you do want to use coconut oil to add some body, mix it with coconut flour to get more of a thicker paste. Just be aware that coconut flour has a mild coconut flavor.
How to substitute: Replace candlenuts with 1/2 the amount of coconut oil.
Substitutes to avoid
There were a lot of different suggestions for candlenut substitutes online, but there were a few I didn’t like when I tested them. For example, I don’t recommend using walnuts or pistachios.
Both nuts work if all you want is something to enrich your dish. But they also had a strong taste that ended up clashing with my curry’s flavors. Save them for your desserts or trail mixes instead.
You might also see palm oil suggested as a substitute (to be used in a similar way to coconut oil), but I can’t recommend using palm oil because most of it is very unsustainably produced.
Best Candlenut Substitutes + 2 To Avoid
- 1 tbsp ground macadamia nuts
- ½ tbsp ground cashews
- 1 tbsp ground brazil nuts
- 1 tbsp ground almonds
- 2 tbsp coconut oil
- Cook your meal according to the recipe.
- Add your chosen candlenut substitute at the appropriate cooking time.
- Mix until thoroughly combined and continue with the recipe