That’s a bit of a toughie. The macaroon springs from the macaron, which means the origination point of the macaroon is somewhere in Italy. The French macaron was developed sometime in the 18th Century, so it’s safe to assume that the idea of the macaron/macaroon had pretty well spread around all of Europe by the beginning of the 19th. However while almonds and/or almond flour might have been commonplace in the south of Europe, they were by no means everyday groceries in the North. Almond trees don’t grow very well in cool, wet climates, which meant that if more than a few people in, say, the British Isles were going to enjoy the meringue-based sensation known (locally) as the macaroon, they were going to have to find another nut to base it on.
As it happened, an exotic new item was just coming up from the tropics that filled the bill perfectly. That nut wasn’t really a nut (as I’ll explain in more detail later), it was the giant seed of a tropical palm tree, the so-called coconut. Coconut meat made a big bang among confectioners in England starting in about the mid-1800’s, the time when all sorts of strange nutmeats were being brought in by ship from all over the world. It combined perfectly with all that New World sugar that everyone was so excited about. The trouble with coconut was that it didn’t ship all that well. The nuts themselves were round and mostly empty on the inside, making them costly items to transport, and when traders tried to extricate the meat and pack it in barrels, they found it spoiled quickly. Thus for several decades coconut only entered Europe in dribs and drabs.
That all changed when a Ceylon-based French company, J.H. Vavasseur & Co., invented a method for shredding and drying coconut, which made it a snap to pack and ship. The European taste for coconut exploded, and by the turn of the 20 Century, the Vavasseur company was shipping in an estimated 60,000 tons of shredded coconut annually. Exactly who first combined some of that coconut with egg whites and sugar to create the modern coconut macaroon is a mystery, however it’s thought that it was a Brit, and more than that a Scot. It’s been said that coconut macaroons were invented by a confectioner in Glasgow somewhere around the year 1900, though that claim is to my knowledge undocumented. Coconut was starting to catch on in America about that time (we were quite late to the coconut party), so it’s possible that it was invented here.
Wherever it was invented, one thing is certain: the true bastion of the cookie-like coconut macaroon is America. Or at any rate that’s my story, and I’m stickin’ to it.