Indonesian cuisine relies heavily on candlenuts as a base and thickener for spice pastes which are the foundation of the cuisine. This includes many of the various rendangs and sambals, such as Sambal Kemiri. Candlenuts are also used in Malaysian cuisine.

Thing is, in San Francisco candlenuts are kind of hard to come by. I have to buy them in the Asian supermarket, frozen, and they're quite expensive. So my question is, what's the best substitute for candlenuts using readily available ingredients in an American general market?

Here's a few I've thought of, some of which I've even tried:

  • Macadamia Nuts
  • Raw cashews
  • Roasted Cashews
  • Brazil nuts

The thing is, I don't have very in-depth experience with Indonesian cuisine, so even if it tastes OK, I'm not sure I'm getting the flavor right. Recommendations?

7 Answers 7


Macadamia is as close as you will find for the texture and oil content. As you are using it for spice pastes -the only use I have had for them- then macs are an excellent carrier. That slightly bitter and sometimes soapy aftertaste, I have yet to find a substitute for. What's a Laksa without that flavor component?

  • I don't know -- I suspect I've never had an authentic-tasting Laksa.
    – FuzzyChef
    Mar 31, 2012 at 18:49
  • 1
    @FuzzyChef: "[A]uthentic-tasting Laksa" is a misnomer. There is no official Laksa. Overseas Chinese communities throughout "The Straits" / Peranakan areas (Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Singapore) all cook it slightly differently. I say: If it was once a family recipe, it is good enough for me.
    – kevinarpe
    Dec 14, 2013 at 6:15

Author Lother Arsana has this to say in "Authenthic Recipes from Indonesia," (Periplus Editions):

"Candlenuts (buah kemiri) are waxy, cream-colored nuts similar in size and texture to macadamia nuts, which can be used as a substitute, although less-expensive raw almonds or cashews will also do. Candlenuts are never eaten raw or on their own, but are chopped, ground and cooked with seasonings and added to curries and spice mixes for flavor and texture. They go rancid quickly because of their high oil content, so buy in small quantities and keep refrigerated."

The NY Times published a Laksa recipe from the renown Violet Oon, which called for "candlenuts or macadamia nuts." One recipe by no means can set a standard for an entire cuisine. It does, however, indicate that if someone with the credentials of Violet Oon was willing to use macadamia nuts in place of candlenuts in laksa, then macadamia must be a fair good substitute -- even if the substitution was made simply for American cooks. Interesting article touching on laksa origins and the recipe here: http://www.nytimes.com/2001/06/06/dining/the-armada-s-gone-leaving-a-savory-memory.html?pagewanted=all

This blogger's post re "The Food of Indonesia" discusses equivalencies found in that book (raw macadamia nuts for candlenuts), and also the matter of not knowing for sure how close the substitution really is to original ingredient. This book, by the way, may be another version / print (as in, mostly dupe) of the book I cited above. https://cookbookiditarod.wordpress.com/2010/01/12/the-food-of-indonesia/

In response to your request for recommendations, I recommend you simply enjoy those substitutions which taste good to you and don't get too hung up on how the dish "should" taste. Even if you use candlenuts, all the ingredients available to you may differ some from those in recipe's origin, no matter how closely you try to follow the directions. That's inherent nature of cooking. For every recipe you try, there will countless more variations on it, even in region it was produced. I've found in my reading that even culinary professionals, who may argue authenticity of ingredients or dishes, will roundly agree that what matters most is how good your dish tastes. From the beginning of time, cooks everywhere have had to make substitutions based on what is available. It's actually one of the joys of cooking -- so åmake the best doggone version you can and enjoy it! That's my recommendation!


I live in Indonesia; candlenuts are not really an essential ingredient. Most food is cooked in LOTS of palm oil. The typical sambal is chili, shallot, garlic, tomato, salt, sugar, fried in LOTS of palm oil. Candlenut is fine if you have it but Indonesian food can manage just fine without it. So I'd substitute refined palm oil or coconut oil in it place, or omit it.

  • Good to know, thanks. Only refined palm oil? Not unrefined?
    – FuzzyChef
    Oct 28, 2020 at 22:20
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    Never seen unrefined palm oil outside of African shops (and those not in Indonesia). The palm oil in Indonesia is all industrially produced because it's not a traditional industry, but a relatively recent import.
    – thelawnet
    Oct 29, 2020 at 5:02
  • Wierdly, here in Oregon it's easier for me to get unrefined, because that's what East and West African folks use, and there's a fair number of them nearby. Also the US has bizarre historical issues with palm oil.
    – FuzzyChef
    Oct 29, 2020 at 5:43
  • Historically probably unrefined coconut oil was used, but I guess not in the same quantities as today as it would have been more expensive than palm oil is today. I don't think refined palm oil is common in Western stores as consumers don't like it; they put it in everything though. Either way you're looking at something with lots of saturated fats.
    – thelawnet
    Oct 29, 2020 at 6:15

I find blending 50/50 peanuts with coconut flesh works.. And it's cheaper


Could ground almonds be used since a thickening agent is looked for?

  • Dear Sue, thank you for your contribution to Seasoned Advice! Discussion of health and nutrition is off topic here, as we don't consider ourselves qualified to give health advice. So I removed that part of your post, but left in the actual suggestion for almonds.
    – rumtscho
    Apr 16, 2014 at 12:00

Brazil nuts work fine, also chopped and sprinkled onto the Laksa give texture and crunch


other recipes call for cashew nuts instead of candlenuts

  • 1
    Cashews were already mentioned in the question; do you have any new information to add? How do you that some recipes call for cashews "instead of" candlenuts - did they mention it as a direct substitution, or did you find two recipes that were identical in every other respect?
    – Aaronut
    Aug 4, 2013 at 13:13

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