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A Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Smackdown

Chocolate for every taste: milk, dark, white and premiums; bells and whistles of every tune: caramel, coffee, toffee, mixed with popcorn, seasoned with garlic and onion, and everything else under the sun, it seems everyone’s jumping on the Macadamia Nut bandwagon.

In fact, there’s so many products by a growing number of manufacturers these days, that some local retailers and mega-marts dedicate entire departments-worth of sales floor space to accommodate all of them. In case you haven’t noticed, next time you’re in one of these stores, you’ll see exactly what I’m talking about.

Yet, of all the styles and colors to choose, if there’s one product that all the brands go head-to-head for market share today, that would be the classic milk chocolate covered Macadamia Nuts, first introduced to Hawaii and the world over 80 years ago by Hawaiian Host.

As you see in the photo above, since then, there’s been many imitators over the years, which they say is is the sincerest form of flattery.

With that, in the spirit of competition as the 2008 Beijing Olympics carry on, The Tasty Island decided to pit the various brands available today head-to-head in an all-out Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut smackdown. So let the battle begin!

Unlike product comparison solo projects I’ve done in the past, such as “The Great Portuguese Sausage shootout” and “SPAM vs. Tulip vs. Treet”, this time I’ve decided to be more scientifically-correct, employing a blind taste test method by a panel of judges. This, in honor of our new friends over WOWGrinds.com, a new source for such enthusiastic local grinds smackdowns.

It wasn’t 100% double blind, as the participants did get a glimpse of the unopened boxes before the test was given, but still, that was very brief. I’ll say it was “semi-double blind” as, while we all were familiar with Hawaiian Host, most of us weren’t familiar the rest of the brands in the bunch. At least not with this product.

First of all, I had to properly pit who and what should be competing against each other. See, not only is there the type of chocolate to consider, but also the nut.

For the chocolate, while just one specifies “milk chocolate”, all the others just say “chocolate”, which, for the most part were all milk chocolate in DNA. As long as the box doesn’t say “white” or “dark”, “chocolate” is general enough to qualify. In the end though, a few turned out darker than expected, which actually was a plus to a couple of judges who prefer that.

For the nuts, obviously the more expensive type are those that specify as “Whole Macadamia Nut”. Then there are those not specified as “whole”, with no indication on the box what they are except that they’re macadamia nuts. In most cases these are also comparably cheaper in price. So I decided to put them into what we’ll call here the “halves”.

If you look at the group photo above again, you’ll notice all the Macadamia Nut “halves” are on the left column, and the “wholes” are on the right. The only one that was sort of a toss-up was the Hawaiian Host “wholes”, which for the love of me, I could not find in the store! They had wholes, but only in Dark and White Chocolate, disqualifying that to compare with the others, which are milk chocolate based. Wassup wit’ dat?

Fine then. We’ll have to settle for Hawaiian Host’s “Selected Wholes and Halves” to qualify into the “Wholes” category of the taste test, which was divided into two, with the other being “halves”. More on the specifics of the test method a little later.

First let’s take a close look at each contender in the “wholes” category…

Sample A:


Island Royals Hawaiian Gourmet Chocolate Covered Whole Macadamia Nuts by Ed & Don’s Hawaii, $2.89 (8 oz., 18 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample B:


Hawaiian Host Selected Whole and Halves Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, $3.97 (4 oz., 8 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample C:


Mauna Loa Premium Deluxe Wholes Milk Chocolate, $5.79 (8 oz., 24 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample D:


Hawaii Chocolate Covered Deluxe Wholes Macadamia Nuts by Hawaiian Sun, $3.69 (6 oz., 15 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and finally in this corner of the “wholes” category, Sample E:


Island Princess Classic Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, $3.29 (6 oz., 15 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

To recap, here are the five brands just introduced in the chocolate covered “whole” macadamia nuts category: Hawaiian Host, Ed & Don’s Hawaii, Mauna Loa, Hawaiian Sun and Island Princess.

Now introducing the contenders in the chocolate covered “halves” macadamia nut cetegory…

Sample A:


Menehune Mac Chocolate Coated Hawaiian Macadamia Nuts, $4.99 (5 oz., 13 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample B:


Mauna Loa Mountains Macadamia Nuts Covered in Milk Chocolate, $2.49 (5 oz., 15 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample C:


Hawaiian Host The Original Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, $2.99 (7 oz., 14 pieces)

Cross-section macro view…

and in this corner, Sample D:


Hawaiian Sun Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, $2.59 (5 oz., 13 pieces).

Cross-section macro view…

and finally in this corner, Sample E:


Island Sunshine Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts, $1.99 (5 oz., 15 pieces).

Cross-section macro view…

To recap the brands in the “halves” category, they are: Menehune Mac, Mauna Loa, Hawaiian Host, Hawaiian Sun and Island Sunshine.

Now let’s look at how the test was set up.

We had a panel of 5 judges: Diner A, Diner C, Diner E, Diner AC and Diner P (me). Each judge were given two plates. One with a sample from each contending brand in their respective whole or halves category, which was set-up like this…


A plate with one sample from each contender in the “whole” Macadamia Nut category


A plate with one sample from each contender in the “halves Macadamia Nut category

As you see, each “blind-branded” piece is marked with A-W, B-W, C-W, D-W, E-W; and A-H, B-H, C-H, D-H & E-H. “W” = wholes and “H”= halves.

While I was the person who plated everything, and the least “blinded” judge, I made as much effort as possible to turn off my immediate memory processes, further helping this out by dealing out the chocolates from the open trays with just generic alphabet IDs on them. To be very honest, I really had mostly forgotten which one was which upon looking at my plate during the sampling session. Even of the two obvious “pretty ones” in the wholes category, of those, I forgot who was one or the other.

Along with the two sample plates, a form was given with a list of criteria to judge by as followed:
• Chocolate (flavor, balance, texture)
• Macadamia Nut (flavor, freshness, texture)
• Balance of Chocolate and Macadamia Nut

Each criteria was graded on a scale of 1-5, five being best.

We originally also included criteria for ‘Appearance’ and ‘Aftertaste’, but ended up crossing them out, as it turned out to be too complicating and irrelevant to the subject at hand.

A “comments” portion was also included for each one to note anything else they thought about it.

If you think that looks like a lot of chocolate, well, you’re right. Actually TOO MUCH chocolate! Major O.D..

As a palate cleanser between each sample, most of us drank PLENTY of room temperature water, while Diner A chose to chase his chocolates with a Coke, which explains his subsequent sugar rush. lol

After finishing the sampling session, I had a head rush, Diner A had a sugar rush, and Diner E, well, he fared best out of all of us, not being affected either way. Tough buggah!

Diner C knew she couldn’t get through more than 1 plate, so she split the tasting session, doing the “wholes” on one day, and the “halves” the next. Diner AC used a different strategy, choosing to just nip at a portion of the chocolate and macadamia nut instead of consuming the entire piece. While that may have affected her ratings on the “balance of chocolate and macadamia nut” criteria, hey, we gotta’ be practical. The last thing we want is anyone getting sick doing this. Thankfully after it was all said and done, nobody did. Whew!

Here are the individual judge’s results!…

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Diner A
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 2.1 (comment: “paper cups made it seem larger; way too much chocolate”)
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 3.3 (comment: “creamy chocolate, Hawaiian Host?)
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 3.0 (comment: n/a)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 3.3 (comment: “Menehune Mac? paper cup made it seem larger, crunchy nut, dark chocolate?”)
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 2.3 (comment: “way too much chocolate”)

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 3.0 (comment: “crunchy nut”)
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.0 (comment: “terrible chocolate”)
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host – 2.7 (comment: “Hawaiian Host? crunchy nut; creamy chocolate”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 3.7 (comment: “Menehune Mac? extra-crunchy nut”)
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 2.7 (comment: “too much chocolate, but smooth”)

*************************************************

Diner C
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 3.7 (comment: “creamy; sticky; sweetness just right”)
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 3.0 (comment: “too sweet, nut tastes a little dry”)
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 3.0 (comment: “chocolate tastes cheap; mac nut tastes freshly-roasted… yummy!”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 4.0 (comment: “creamy and chocolately”)
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 2.7 (comment: “chocolate tastes light”)

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 3.0 (comment: “crunchy nut”)
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.3 (comment: “terrible chocolate”)
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host – 4.0 (comment: “Hawaiian Host? crunchy nut; creamy chocolate”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.7 (comment: “Menehune Mac? extra-crunchy nut”)
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 3.0 (comment: “too much chocolate, but smooth”)

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Diner E
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 2.7 (comment: “looked good to eat; expensive-looking; creamy texture”)
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 2.3 (comment: “Had creamy feel”)
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 3.3 (comment: “buttery”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.0 (comment: “too much chocolate”)
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 2.3 (comment: “looked good to eat; expensive-looking”)

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 2.0 (comment: “dark color”)
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.7 (comment: “roasted taste”)
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host 1.7 (comment: “powdery aftertaste”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 1.3 (comment: “too much chocolate; small single piece of mac’ nut”)
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 2.3 (comment: “powdery chocolate”)

*************************************************

Diner AC
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 2.7 (comment: “chocolate seemed a little bland!”)
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 3.3 (comment: “chocolate was sweet; good balance”)
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 1.7 (comment: “chocolate overpowered mac’ nut”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.3 (comment: “chocolate was more dark than milk”)
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 1.3 (comment: “chocolate tasted a little floral & dark; tasted musty!”)

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 1.7 (comment: “chocolate dark, not milky”)
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.0 (comment: “chocolate a little too sweet; mac’ nut not very tasty!”)
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host – 3.3 (comment: “chocolate was good, mac nut tastes like almond!”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.3 (comment: “chocolate was a little dark tasting, mac nut was bland”)
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 1.3 (comment: “chocolate a little thick; barely any mac’ nut”)

*************************************************

Diner P (yours truly)
Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 2.0 (comment: “looks great, but taste doesn’t live up to that”)
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 2.6 (comment: “rich chocolate flavor”)
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 3.3 (comment: “decent flavor”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.6 (comment: “low quality”)
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 2.0 (comment: “fruity chocolate”)

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 1.7 (comment: “slightly bitter”)
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.7 (comment: “not enough nut”)
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host – 5.0 (comment: “clean flavor; fresh, roasted nut”)
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.7 (comment: “darker chocolate”)
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 3.7 (comment: “smooth chocolate flavor and texture”)

*************************************************

Based on the average score of all the judges, here are the combined results:

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Wholes:

  • Sample A: Ed & Don’s Hawaii – 2.8
  • Sample B: Hawaiian Host – 2.9
  • Sample C: Mauna Loa – 2.9
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.9
  • Sample E: Island Princess – 2.2

Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Halves:

  • Sample A: Menehune Mac – 2.3
  • Sample B: Mauna Loa – 2.3
  • Sample C: Hawaiian Host – 3.3
  • Sample D: Hawaiian Sun – 2.5
  • Sample E: Island Sunshine – 2.6

So in the combined results, it looks like the “Wholes” came out with a three-way tie for the gold medal, while in the “Halves” category, Hawaiian Host won the gold by a wide margin.


Overall three-way tie for the Gold Medal in the “Wholes” category: Hawaiian Sun, Mauna Loa and Hawaiian Sun

Interestingly, Island Sunshine, while being the cheapest in price (only $1.99/box) of the bunch, got the silver in the “Halves” contest, showing quite favorable results by three of the judges.


Island Sunshine was the the surprise Silver Medalist in the “halves” category

We also critiqued the various box cover designs. Everyone unanimously chose Menehune Mac’s cover as their favorite from an artwork perspective. Diner A noted the chocolates on Hawaiian Sun’s “halves” box was the most eye-catching, while saying Hawaiian Host’s brown cover with the Tiki was the most classic of all, as Diner E agreed. Diner C’s favorite overall was Hawaiian Host’s scenic box. Mine too. Diner E liked Island Princess’ logo the most, while noting Hawaiian Sun’s “Hawaii” themed cover was the most tacky and cheap looking.


Judges’ Pick: Gold medalist in cover art design

We all found taste-testing chocolate is a fairly difficult process, especially for amateurs such as ourselves. I’d almost put it on the same level as tasting fine wines, as every one has its own nuance and unique character.

Of course, you’ll need to be your own judge and pick up a few brands out there and compare them yourself. Certainly not all at one time like we did (which was, well, NUTS!), but do try pairing a few to see what differences you find.

Whew, that was exhaustive and intense. Too intense. Brain damage, I tell ya’. From now on we’ll leave this blind taste testing business to the experts over at WOWGrinds.com.


Overall “Halves” Gold Medalist

Related Links:
Have a Macadamia Nut Chocolate Kiss

23 thoughts on “A Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nut Smackdown

  • August 15, 2008 at 6:21 am
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    I got chocolate overload just looking at the pictures! What a fun “competition.” It’s pretty overwhelming when you’re trying to pick a brand, so this should really help.

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 7:38 am
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    Last year I bought the Hawaiian Host whole dark and white chocolates (I prefer dark over milk and generally like white).

    The dark chocolate were really nice. I thought the white chocolate sounded good, but upon trying it, found the white chocolate and macs really didn’t compliment each other that well.

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 7:41 am
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    I wished I could have been one of the testers! Now I know which are the best ones. I usually buy Mauna Loa because it is the cheapest…just for the fix : )

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 9:01 am
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    Pomai! This post is such a tease!

    I love chocolate covered nuts!

    Especially brazil nuts!

    Duckey x

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 3:33 pm
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    Impressive taste test! I think I’ll call my Mom and ask her to send me a care package with some Hawaiian Host ;)

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 5:29 pm
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    I am for dark chocolate for to me it got full favor. Glad Hawaiian Host make it in dark also. Milk chocolate taste too sweet to me.

    Reply
  • August 15, 2008 at 6:59 pm
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    Wow–thanks for the comprehensive survey! I’m glad that my favorite won the halves–also because it’s the one that’s always on sale when I’m home (and spending way too much time at Longs!). A few weeks ago I found a small package of the HH dark chocolate mac nuts at Borders on Park Avenue in NY! It was ono….. drool.

    Reply
  • August 16, 2008 at 9:34 am
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    howzit brah??? hey the last time i was in oahu….my brother–a navy guy–took me to the base exchange (BX) where we got those huge plastic barrels of mac nuts covered in toffee, chocolate, and dusted with cocoa powder. omg those were crazy. also, we picked up some mauna loa mac nut sampler which had the salty stuff…..as well as kona coffee covered mac nuts….those were simply divine!!!! that was back in 2006 when my brother got married and shipped off to japan. we’ll have to come back to da islands for those mac nuts :D great job with the smack down and photos pomai!

    Reply
  • August 16, 2008 at 9:28 pm
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    Howzit Raph’, I know which one you’re talking about. That one is made by Island Princess. Good stuff. Their Toffee Macadamia Nut Popcorn is also da’ bomb!

    It would probably take me an entire month’s worth of blogging – and a few hundred dollars less in my wallet – just covering all the various products made with Macadamia Nuts.

    Cecelia, I wasn’t surprised Hawaiian Host would be at the top, and near the top in the competition. The originator is always hard to beat.

    Amy, we had two judges on our panel who preferred dark chocolate as well, so, not surprisingly, they favored the samples that leaned that way.

    sd, you know what’s funny is, my sister used to live in Missouri, and she said the Costco out there sold Hawaiian Host Macadamia Nut Chocolates! Of course more expensive than here, but still!

    Hi Duckey, can you get Macadamia Nut product in the UK? If so, I’d imagine they’d be quite expensive.

    Susan, speaking of the cheapest, as mentioned in the write-up, I was very impressed with the Island Sunshine brand. Very good chocolate, and decent-sized mac nuts. I must note though, that you can get the Hawaiian Host non-scenic box for just about 50 cents more than Island Sunshine, so that’s something to consider.

    Debbie-chan, arigato for the 411 on the white chocolate. I’m a white chocolate fan, but since you mention that it doesn’t compliment the nut, perhaps I’ll stick with the other types.

    Howzit Jenny and Kelly. Mahalo for stopping by!

    Reply
  • August 17, 2008 at 2:00 am
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    I just saw the Hawaiian Host Scenic Box Carrypack (6 each, 7-ounce boxes) going for $13.99 at the Iwilei Costco. Anybody seen a better price than that (ABC maybe)? I gotta take like 25 boxes back to the mainland.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2008 at 2:36 am
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    Nate, That’s a very good price. I purchased the Hawaiian Host scenic box used in this smackdown individually at Don Quijote at $2.99 (regular price), making that about $18 for a 6-pack. You can get the non-scenic HH box, which has the same classic, original chocolate Macadamia nuts for $2.49 on sale individually, but it’s not nearly as “pretty” on the outside as the scenic box, having less “made-in-Hawaii” appeal to it.

    You might wanna’ pick up the Sunday Honolulu Advertiser tomorrow, as that will have all the ads for sales. Retailers here often include Chocolate Covered Macadamia Nuts in their ads.

    I’ll check ABC Store’s price later this evening. Food Pantry (Waikiki) too.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2008 at 2:36 am
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    Can’t remember exact prices, but you might check out the Kaheka Don Quijote. The have a good mac selection, and their prices are decent, more so if they’re having a sale.

    Reply
  • August 17, 2008 at 11:29 pm
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    Debbie-chan, most of the Mac Nut Chocolates in this taste test were purchased at Don Quijote, with just few others from KMart.

    Nate, I just got back from Don Quijote today (Sunday 8/17/08), and they had the Hawaiian Host non-scenic box carry pack for $10.39 as a ‘Manager’s special’. This includes six 5 oz. boxes.

    The scenic box carry pack (six 7 oz. boxes) was 18.59. So that’s a good deal at Costco for the scenic box carry pack. Otherwise, if the box design doesn’t matter (the chocolates inside are the same, you just get a little less), you might wanna’ check out Don Quijote.

    Reply
  • August 18, 2008 at 6:23 pm
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    Pomai,

    thanks for doing all this legwork! I appreciate it.

    We’ll be going to Costco later this week.

    Aloha!

    Reply
  • August 30, 2008 at 12:11 am
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    wow great smack down challenge…good to know! we usually buy Hawaiian Host anyway. Just fyi, at Christmas we received for the first time as a gift, a box of Hawaiian Host Executive with whole Macadamias. it was great and gone in no time. i dont know where they sell it though?

    Reply
  • October 2, 2008 at 12:25 pm
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    A really incredible post! I sell chocolate covered macs on our site so it was really interesting for me to see the taste results. I may just have to adjust my inventory!

    Reply
  • November 24, 2008 at 11:25 pm
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    PLEASE help me find KONA COFFEE COVERED MAC NUTS! i will be forever indebted. i got them at the outdoor market in honolulu (while on vacation) from a nice asian couple at their booth…I have been saving them for months! haha! almost OUT :(
    TRY THESE- THEY ARE GR8.

    Reply
  • November 24, 2008 at 11:41 pm
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    Noe, last I checked, KMART (of all places) carries the Hawaiian Host Executive Whole Macadamia Nut Chocolates. The leather-clad box puts the “Executive” in it. It was $12 for a standard-sized box.

    HawaiianVacationsGifts, glad purveyors like you appreciate posts like this. This was one of the more exhausting efforts on The Tasty Island yet!

    hollyamber, do you remember which outdoor market or where exactly it was located, or what brand those Kona Coffee Covered Mac Nuts are? That’ll further help me help you find it.

    Reply
  • December 14, 2009 at 6:13 pm
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    Cool! I love Dark Chocolate!!! Which one is normally cheaper: Hawaii Host or Hilo Hatiie??

    Reply
  • December 14, 2009 at 7:12 pm
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    Freddy, there is no Hilo Hattie Hattie brand that I know of. I know their retail outlets SELL Choc. Macadamia Nuts, but never heard of their own label. On average, Hawaiian Host is usually the most expensive – even when on sale, which is expected given they’re the leader in the industry and considered THE name brand. I think they’re worth the extra, what? 50 cents a box? Great taste, quality and consistency in every box. Can’t go wrong with Hawaiian Host.

    Reply
  • December 26, 2009 at 6:25 pm
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    Is it just by coincidence that Diner A and Diner C’s (first two) comments under the Halves category are exactly the same? Or am I imagining things? :-D

    Thank you for doing a great in-depth comparison/test! I always wonder which to get while I’m visiting home….standing in the mac aisle of Longs Drugs and staring at the huge selection! Drats, I just finished giving away the last box too! Better think about ordering online now.

    Reply
  • December 27, 2009 at 12:25 pm
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    Ann, you’re right! I think I copied and pasted the results, and changed the scores properly, but forgot to modify the comments for Diner C. Oops. At least I put the correct scores. Just disregard Diner C’s ‘halves’ comments, as those are most likely Diner A’s. My bad.

    Speaking of Macadamia Nuts, Don Quijote brought in Hormel brand SPAM flavored Macadamia Nuts. I kid you not! I’ll do a review on it some time soon here. That’s a must!

    Reply

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