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ASK ANYONE WHO GREW UP in Hawaii what they love about crack seed, and the salivary glands at the back of their jawlines will react with a quick, strong tingling as they remember their favorite, small-kid-time treat. 

Rock salt plum! Lemon peel! Honey ginger! And across the board, everyone will have an opinion about the tart and super salty li hing mui. The funny thing is, very few people know what the specific “crack seed” is anymore. 

Here’s a quick history lesson on this favorite local treat: Li hing mui (旅行梅) means “traveling plum,” which was the perfect thing to take on a long trip across the Pacific Ocean. These preserved fruits — particularly li hing mui — were brought to Hawaii in the mid-1800s by immigrant workers from Zhongshan, China. 

Although li hing mui is dried to the point that each one resembles a rock, most of the other preserved fruits are moist or soft. In one preparation, the seed of the fruit is cracked open to enhance the sweet and salty flavors of the syrup it is soaked in. This is the original version of “crack seed,” which is rarely, if ever, sold anymore — probably because it could potentially injure your mouth if you don’t eat it carefully. 

When it was widely available, crack seed was weighed and served in brown paper bags. Snackers would eat the meat of the dried fruit, then suck on the seeds and seed fragments, then turn the paper bags inside out to enjoy the sticky flavored syrup left behind. (The emergence of plastic bags was a much cleaner alternative.) 

Although Chinese candy stores sold every kind of Asian preserved fruit imaginable, including crack seed, the term “crack seed” came to be the general term for anything sold in there. These treasured local snacks have evolved over the years, but Hawaii’s craving for that flavor profile has not. In fact, it’s amazing to see what big business these humble treats have become. 

Through high school and college, I worked at what was then one of the oldest crack seed stores (and an original Ala Moana Center tenant), Crack Seed Center. If you were around in the 1980s, you might have seen me amidst the 50 or so glass jars filled with every variety of the preserved, dried fruits: about a dozen different kinds of wet and dry li hing mui, a dozen gingers, three kinds of rock salt plum, wet and dry lemon peel, several versions of shredded mango and mango seed, even a few different presentations of olives. We even had rare, special items like baby seed, apple seed, cherry seed, kam cho mui (aficionados will recognize it as the one that looks like horse poop) and, yes, even traditional crack seed. 

The dry seeds tend to be much saltier than all the rest, cured in licorice and a blend of salt, sugar and other unknown spices to create unique sensations of sweet, sweet-sour, or extra salty. 

The wet seeds tend to be sweeter, with a more jammy profile. True old school seed shops will add simple syrup to kick up the sugar flavor, or salt — preferably rock salt — to offer a more salty-sweet plum with crunch. 

If you’re new to crack seed, I usually recommend you start with the milder wet ones and work your way up to the ones with more concentrated flavors. If you start with li hing mui, you may feel like you’re eating pure salt. 

Due to the extreme salty, sour, or sweet sensations, many people use crack seeds in home remedies when sick. The most common one is li hing mui or lemon peel for sore threats, as the salt helps to soothe the scratchiness. Many of my customers swore by eating red cured peaches with brandy when dealing with a cold, but I usually cut up a preserved lemon and throw it into hot tea. 

The seeds are typically shipped from Asia in 25-pound bags. Back then, the li hing mui bags would always have a lot of the salt, sugar and spices at the bottom. My coworkers and I used to save the powder to add custom touches to our rock salt plums, apricots and mangoes, as well as for kakimochi upon request. 

It was probably this unique touch that made the Crack Seed Center seeds much more delicious. Actor Robert Conrad, when in Hawaii filming “Jake and the Fat Man,” would often send his assistant to buy five pounds of rock salt plum #85 at a time — his favorite munchies between takes. 

We also experimented with li hing powder on our own snacks, as an exclusive perk for people who worked in the store. Oddly enough, we never thought to market the intensely salty powder as a separate ingredient.

You can imagine our surprise — and regret — many years later, when some genius figured out how to sell that precious powder, even to the point of grinding li hing mui seeds to make more of it. Today, you can find the powder sold in bags at stores, used as an enhancer for almost everything, including: salad dressing, margaritas, fruit sprinkles, cookies, barbecue ribs, gummy candies and shave ice. Mixed with simple syrup, it makes an amazing and addicting addition to the popular Icee drinks. 

The combination of old school snacks and contemporary snacks continues with a recently booming trend in mincing dried lemon peel and sprinkling it on gummy candies. Lemon peel is also salty, but has a milder flavor than li hing mui, plus the citrus essence. 

Lemon peel on candy has become such a huge trend that even the wholesalers can’t keep up with the demand. Seed City in Pearlridge is often sold out of lemon peel. Sing Cheong Yuan in Chinatown, which also owns the Crack Seed Store in Kaimuki, sells bags of lemon peel pre-minced so you can sprinkle it on your favorite confection to your liking. 

My niece, Morgen, loves to eat her li hing mui in a different way now: Big Island Candies in Hilo takes the seeds and dips them halfway in chocolate, which helps to temper the initial extreme saltiness and balance the flavor as you chew the meat of the fruit. 

One of my new obsessions is getting a bag of kakimochi pre-mixed with li hing powder from Aloha Gourmet Products (sold in stores like Longs, as well as online), crushing it coarsely, and sprinkling it on poke — any kind of poke. It sounds odd, but it works. The subtle crunch of kakimochi adds texture to the fish, as well as an infusion of comforting flavors from my childhood. 

Prepackaged seeds can be found at grocery and drugstores all throughout Hawaii. For a true crack seed store experience though, go to a store that scoops your order straight out of the jar. [ eHI ]




DORA IS STRINGING YELLOW ‘ILIMA with a long lei needle, one she says she was born with in her hand. She sits behind a fold-up table at a lei stand beneath a sign bearing her name outside the Honolulu Airport. Along a strand of similarly christened lei stands identical to Dora’s is Sophia’s, Arthur’s, Martha’s, Irene’s and about a dozen more, all with their full rainbow of aromatic goods on display.

The original Dora is her grandmother, ninety-six years old and still making lei. She began the business at age fourteen, selling from Aloha Tower and later moving to Keehi Lagoon Park. Then came another Dora, Dora’s daughter, or Dora’s mother, depending on which you’re talking about. That Dora had fourteen children and supported them all with lei making. One of those children is coincidentally the Dora that currently runs the lei stand, who herself has been stringing lei for sixty years, and who has taught all of her children, and now grandchildren, how to make lei. 

The history of lei making is the history of humankind. Neck chains of shell and bone have been discovered in the most ancient of human graves, suggesting that the primitive man may too have felt compelled to adorn himself with attractive elements of the natural world. If this is true, lei traditions have been around for 17,000 years.

It is perhaps because the people of Hawaii have for so long perpetuated the practice of making, wearing, and giving lei and with such ardent spirit that it has become the epicenter of modern lei culture. Lei can be used for any occasion that involves flowers; weddings, graduations, funerals, a gift for the hostess or for a date to the prom. It’s entirely acceptable to buy a lei for oneself or to wear one for no occasion at all. Men wear lei as casually as women, always draped over the shoulders, never hanging directly down from the neck. One should not refuse a lei, nor present a closed lei to a pregnant woman due to the taboo that it is bad luck for the unborn child. 

Lei can be made out of much more than flowers. The Hawaiians of old would make a lei out of anything; cloth, shells, boar’s husk, nuts, seeds or feathers, also fresh materials like berries, fruit, or vegetables. The grandest, most chiefly lei was made of human hair and ivory. 

In caring for a lei, most will do well in the coolness of a refrigerator or wrapped in damp newspaper or paper towel and placed where it is shaded and breezy. To properly dispose of a lei, simply return it to nature, being mindful to remove the natural material from the string; not all lei stringing is decomposable.

While in old Hawai‘i, materials were gathered entirely from the immediate environment, and in more recent times, flowers were grown in backyard gardens and harvested to string and sell, the business of lei making is changing. Purple orchids from Thailand are imported to Hawai‘i en masse; they’re cheap and wilt slower, a huge bonus when working with such delicate, perishable goods for such little profit to begin with. Also, new generations are finding that it’s easier and better paying work to find a job doing almost anything other than growing and selling backyard flowers to lei makers. 

“I like making double carnation, no one makes that anymore,” says Dora, “Vanda leis should be treasured now. Gardenia are so hard to find, most people now don’t even know how to string them.” 

Dora gets most of her flowers from vendors that come to the lei stands at the airport once a day, but there are still people like “Mama” who approaches her with plastic bags strung along both her arms. She is probably closer to the age of Dora’s grandmother than to the age of Dora herself and she catches the bus from Wahiawa everyday, transferring two times, to sell bags of flowers grown in her backyard and in the backyards of her neighbors to the lei makers of the airport. Dora greets her warmly, buys one bag for $15, and “Mama” moves down the line of stands. 

Dora is optimistic: “I don’t think there will ever be a time when all the flowers will come from elsewhere, people plant their own to keep costs down,” she says, “I take my little grandkids and gather when I can, it’s part of the culture.” When asked where she goes to pick her flowers, Dora smiles and points ambiguously, “The mountains,” she says. 

And yet, there is now constantly a great shortage of many of the flowers traditionally seen on Hawaiian lei. Flower availability depends on the season and who’s growing what locally. The phone inside the stand rings and Dora answers it, asks, “How much do you need?” then laughs hard and says with sincerity, “Good luck!”

She returns to her seat, returns to her lei stringing, she’s still smiling, “They wanted nine double chains of ginger today. It takes four bunches to make one double chain, that’s thirty-six bunches! I can’t even get one.” 

Though I am not an invited guest, and I’ve offered her nothing, before I go, Dora pulls a gardenia lei from inside the stand and ties off the ‘ilima lei she’s been stringing all this time and says, “Here, I have something to share with you,” and gives me both. And in that one gesture, she explains to me the enduring lei culture of Hawaii. [ eHI ]

Each of the eight main Hawaiian Islands is associated with a different lei based on the prevalence of materials naturally found there. The colors of these distinct lei have also become symbols for the islands, used in such ways as the gowns of the island princesses on Lei Day. 

  • Hawai’i Island, Lei Lehua, Red: The flower of the endemic tree, ‘ōhi‘a lehua, usually the first to grow on new lava flows. The tree is traditionally sacred to Pele, the volcano goddess, and lei made with the lehua flower resemble a strand of scarlet feathers. 
  • Maui, Lokelani, Pink: Though not native to the Hawaiian Islands, the flower of the Maui lei is a pink Damask rose. Introduced in the early 1800’s and immediately loved by the Hawaiian people, it was adopted as lokelani, or “rose of heaven”.
  • O‘ahu, Ilima, Orange-Yellow: A relative of the hibiscus but far more seldom seen, the ilima used to be called the royal lei because its use was restricted to high chiefs. The flowers are strung flatly across and hundreds are needed for a single lei.
  • Kaua‘i, Mokihana, Purple: This lei is made of the fruit of the mokihana, which grows only on Kaua’i. The berries are tiny and green, strung like beads on a thread, with a subtle fragrance of anise which becomes stronger as they dry.
  • Molokai, Pua Kukui, Silver-Green: Tiny clusters of white flowers and silvery green leaves of the native kukui tree are braided or bound together to make the lei of Molokai. Nuts of the kukui tree can also be found strung into a lei.
  • Ni‘ihau, Pupu, White: Tiny white and sometimes red sea shells, grown by an creature resembling a small snail which lives on the rocky shoreline of Ni’ihau make up this lei. Usually multiple long strands are worn together, sometimes with strings of alternating colors.
  • Lāna‘i, Kauna‘oa, Orange: Perhaps the most unusual of the islands’ lei is made of the kinked, threadlike vines of the Hawaiian doddler. The kaunaoa is in fact a parasite which spreads a net over the tops of its shrubby host plants and can be easily gathered and twisted loosely together to form a lei.
  • Kaho‘olawe, Hinahina, Silvery-grey: The now uninhabited island was once represented by the silvery grey leaves and tiny white and yellow flowers of the beach heliotrope, hina-hina. Since it is very difficult to obtain, its silvery grey color is now most often rendered with spanish moss.



THE DAYS OF PROLIFIC LO‘I KALO in Hawai‘i are a distant memory, dwindling from 35,000 acres grown across the Hawaiian Islands at the crop’s peak to the less than 350 acres currently in production. Hawai‘i Census data shows a loss of half during the seven-year stretch from 2000 to 2017, down from 7 million pounds to just over 3.5 million pounds. Since Hawai‘i eats nearly double the amount it produces, kalo imports from Fiji and other Pacific locales are needed to help fill the gap.

These shrinking numbers don’t faze the fiercely loyal community of kalo growers, activists, advocates, and fans. Despite setbacks, a kalo comeback is being made manifest in countless different ways, thanks to an army of supporters working to reinstate the plant in its rightful place as Hawai‘i’s most vital staple.


In 2009, the Hawai‘i Department of Health shut down restaurants and independent poi and pa‘i ‘ai makers claiming that traditional preparation methods violated local food and safety laws. The mandates that pa‘i ‘ai and poi be pounded in a commercial kitchen—and that the porous pounding implements be sterilized—starkly infringed on Hawaiian tradition. From a practitioner’s perspective, the papa ku‘i ‘ai (wooden board) and pohaku ku‘i ‘ai (stone pestle) carry the mana (spiritual power) of those who use it, and sterilization is akin to sacrilege.

After tireless rallying and education by founders and allies of the permeative Legalize Pa‘i ‘Ai movement, on May 5, 2011, SB 101 was unanimously passed by the Hawai‘i Senate and House of Representatives. The Pa‘i ‘Ai Bill (aka, Poi Bill) succeeded in providing pa’i ‘ai and poi with their own set of conditions—such as permitting sun bleaching of implements as an alternative to chemical sterilization—free from the narrow restrictions of general health and safety laws.

Not only did SB 101 mean more kalo could be shared and sold among neighbors and local communities, the movement surrounding the bill invigorated interest in learning to prepare poi and pa‘i ‘ai. In Hawaiian immersion hubs like Kamehameha Schools and cultural preservation centers like Kaua‘i Historical Society, opportunities abound for people of all ages wanting to learn how to pound kalo root—and fashion kalo pounding tools—the way Hawaiian ancestors once did.


Hawai‘i’s cherished root vegetable is enjoying a mainstream renaissance thanks in large part to the Legalize Pa‘i ‘Ai movement. Once reserved for dinner tables, potlucks, and backyard pa‘inas (parties), kalo as an ingredient or stand-alone dish can now be seen everywhere from five-star hotel banquets to late-night club menus. Poi, pa‘i ‘ai, kūlolo (kalo pudding) and lū‘au (cooked kalo leaves) are showing up in donut shops, food trucks, and farm-to-table restaurants— not simply for their unique flavor and versatility, but also because chefs and business owners are responding to the growing demand for a return to Hawaiian roots.

While kalo’s culinary coolness is doing a lot to raise awareness at present, the road from peripheral plant to central staple is still long and winding. Unlike the low-cost, readily available staple of rice, at up to $10 per pound the high cost of store-bought poi and kalo’s more complex cooking requirements remain barriers to regular table integration. For farmers, crop threats including climate change, shrinking farmland as a result of commercial and residential development, and short-term leases make for uncertain kalo-growing futures.



Vast stewardship from multifarious kalo advocacy groups throughout the Hawaiian Islands is helping fuel the mission to restore kalo as a universal food source. Recent initiatives on Maui are battling for streamflow restoration at Nā Wai ‘Ehā—once the largest contiguously cultivated loʻi kalo growing region in Hawaiʻi, diverted after the fall of commercial sugar cane—in hopes of irrigating starter wetland taro farms. Nonprofits like Kumuola Hawaii in Mānoa, O‘ahu offer cultural experiences where visitors can tend to plants and join workshops that make absorbing the rich history behind kalo interactive and fun.

Onipaʻa Nā Hui Kalo, a statewide organization of kalo farmers, has been uniting community volunteers around the restoration of lo‘i kalo for more than two decades, with thriving projects on every island except Kāho‘olawe. In Maui’s Haleakalā National Park, Kipahulu `Ohana spearheads ongoing restoration of ancient wetland lo`i. At University of Hawaii at Mānoa (UH), the students of Hawai‘inuiakea School of Hawaiian Knowledge run Ka Papa Lo‘i ‘o Kānewai, a one-acre kalo farm that hosts 25,000 volunteers annually for educational outreach. Ho‘okua‘āina on O‘ahu’s east side teaches at-risk youth life skills and delivers Hawaiian cultural values-based coaching through kalo cultivation.


Though Hawaiian kalo varieties once numbered in the several hundred, with distinct strains featuring a full spectrum of flavor, textures, and colors, 90 percent of commercial kalo here is dominated by a single strain—the muted purple Maui lehua hybrid. With this devastating loss of diversity, and modern mono-cropping practices, kalo is becoming increasingly vulnerable to disease, pests, weather, and other crop disruption forces.

Fortunately, the integrity of kalo is a high priority for many local policymakers. In 2009, the Hawai‘i State Legislature enacted SB-1099, a bill that protects the plant’s genetic biodiversity by prohibiting “the development, testing, propagation, release, importation, planting, or growing of genetically modified kalo” across the state. The thoughtful wording of SB-1099 highlights the undeniable importance of kalo as a cultural touchstone:

“Kalo intrinsically embodies the interdependency of the past, the present, and the future, the essence of procreation and regeneration, as the foundation of any sustainable practice. Kalo expresses the spiritual and physical well-being of not only the kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiian) and their heritage, but also symbolizes the environmental, social, and cultural values important to the State.”


As an ancestor of the Hawaiian people, kalo is regarded as the pinnacle life source with the ability to heal the body. Its roots, leaves, and stem are extremely adaptable in cooking: With the application of modern culinary techniques and technology, kalo inspires all kinds of creative uses, from chips and pancakes to veggie burgers, curries, desserts, and even bubble teas.

In addition to the multitude of nutrients it provides as a superfood, kalo is an alkali-producing food with a low glycemic index that serves to balance the body’s pH factor, assisting in both the prevention and treatment of disease. Kalo as medicine is playing a role in combating chronic diseases such as obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Along with other traditional Hawaiian diet staples of breadfruit, sweet potatoes, fruit, and fish, the addition of kalo can spark life-changing rejuvenation in people with high cholesterol, high blood pressure, and low blood sugar.

Kalo remains an enduring link tethering the Hawai‘i of today to a time when Hawaiians didn’t just eat the vegetable for energy, but also to nourish their spirits and stay connected with the ‘aina (land) and ‘aumakua (ancestors). As the push to revive kalo through new farms—and even backyard gardens—

marches on, the hope is that planting and harvesting kalo feeds the reciprocal relationship between man and earth, and consuming it sustains life and completes the cycle.

Many who enjoy kalo in its various forms today find the Hawaiian proverb “oi no i kalo m‘oa” to be truthful. Literally translated as, “one can eat cooked taro,” the sentiment celebrates the traditional belief that when poi is served, worry and conflict has no place at the table: “The work is done; one can sit at ease and enjoy himself.” [ eHI ]




BEST KNOWN FOR ITS STARRING ROLE in poi, the popular (sometimes polarizing) Hawaiian dish, kalo, was a staple starch in the precontact diet of Hawaiians and has been grown across the archipelago for a millennia. But kalo, also known as taro, is so much more than a complex carbohydrate: Specific varieties were reserved for royalty or ceremoniously offered to the gods, and it‘s integral to the genesis story of the Hawaiian people. To truly understand Hawaiis reverence for this root vegetable, let‘s dig a little deeper, shall we? 


Radiocarbon data unearthed within the last decade puts Polynesian settlers in Hawaii sometime between 1000–1200 AD. Their voyage spanned across the uncharted waters of the Pacific, aboard archaic canoes. The stars, trade winds, and sea swells were their only maps. Be it by luck, advanced algorithms, or some sort of divine intervention, paradise was found. 

With them came the flora and fauna that had sustained their people for generations prior. The roots, cuttings, and seeds were later coined as “canoe crops,” noting their wildly adventurous journey. Archaeological evidence indicates that kalo, banana, breadfruit, coconut, mountain apple, sugarcane, and yam were among these foods. They became the very heart and soul of Hawaiian culture, but kalo is arguably the most sacred, the most storied. 

Early texts describe the creation of the islands as a partnership between Wakea (sky father) and Papa (earth mother); who also gave birth to the beautiful goddess Ho‘ohokalani. Through royal ancestral union, or ni‘aupi‘o, Wakea and Ho‘ohokalani conceived a child, a son. He did not survive but was named Hāloa, or long breath. From his resting place rose the first kalo plant. Their second son, born healthy and strong, is said to be the first human Hawaiian. The Hawaiian word for family, ‘ohana stems from the word ‘ohā, the bud of the kalo root. Herein lies the unrivaled kinship that Hawaiians had— and still have—with both kalo and the land. 


Not too far a departure from Ireland‘s potato or the mainland‘s corn, kalo’s starchy root was always on the menu, regardless of age or class. (More colorful varieties and tastier pois were grown or reserved specifically for royalty, or ali‘i.) In addition to its energy-sustaining carbohydrate content, kalo is packed with potassium, fiber, calcium, and iron. When properly cooked, every part of the plant can be eaten. 

The cooked root, or corm, was commonly hand-pounded into a pulp, or pa ‘i‘ ai. The pulp was saturated with water and the fibers were strained, then the mixture was eaten fresh or left to ferment for days. Voila—the purple-gray paste known and loved as poi. 



Before the modern marvel that is refrigeration, a nutrient-dense food with an extended shelf life was something of a godsend. The pudding-like consistency and wealth of health benefits made it especially important for infants and the elderly. Early Hawaiians did not traditionally use utensils; poi was characterized as one-, two-, or three-finger, denoting how many you needed to scoop up a mouthful, and they could allegedly eat up to 15 pounds of poi daily.

Beyond its place at the table, kalo was used in medicine and ritual. The stalk could zap the sting from insect bites and reduce fever, while thick (think one-finger) poi was applied as a topical remedy. Rain water caught in the leaves of the ‘apuwai variety was considered sacred and aided in spiritual healing.


It can be reasoned that for a population of about 400,000 ancient Hawaiians, tens of thousands of acres were utilized to sustain kalo as a principle food source. The early settlers would have likely confined production to the wet, windward sides of the islands,but as the population spread out, they adapted to new natural resources and growing conditions. 

Wetland kalo was first planted near river mouths and marshes, then eventually in flooded fields known as lo‘i. This ingenious irrigation system followed the land‘s natural contours and the laws of gravity; fresh water was diverted down man-made canals that were reinforced by rocks to the uppermost lo‘i. The water flowed down from patch to patch, finally returning to the stream. The construction and cultivation of kalo lo‘i was back-breaking, muddy work, but it did yield a higher-caliber poi than its upland cousins.

While not all corms are created equal, farming in non-irrigated upland areas was just as important as lo‘i cultivation. Upland, or dryland, kalo thrived in regions with rich, mulched soils and reliable rainfall. These tougher corms could take up to a year to mature and became ‘table kalo,‘ cut and cooked into pieces like a potato.

For centuries, these sustainable traditions were upheld under the code of mālama ʻāina, or caring for the land. Kalo was the connection to everything—earth, ‘ohana, and the divine13—but it was with the fateful arrival of European settlers that this deep-rooted bond began to loosen. 


As with the totality of Hawaiian culture, kalo‘s lineage can be traced closely against immigration patterns. Polynesian settlers brought Hawaiian kalo to life; with the arrival of Europeans in the late 1700s, it went through its first major decline. Europeans lacked both a palate for poi and a regard for kalo‘s sacredness. The island‘s population and plant life were struck with new diseases brought from the west, reducing the supply and demand for kalo. 

An influx of Asian migrants in the mid 1800s soon took the reins on kalo farming and poi production. The ancient lo‘i systems began to mirror the design of rice paddies, and at the very start of the 1900s, Chinese farmers were growing 50% of the total kalo crop and mass-producing 80% of all poi. With this, the art of lo‘i and handcrafted poi was pushed even further out of sight. As demand for kalo continued to dwindle, many of those paddies made the final switch to rice production. An estimated 1,280 acres were being used for kalo production in 1900; rice occupied almost eight times that acreage by 1907.

In the 1930s, the University of Hawai‘i‘s College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources undertook a massive research project to collect, identify, and give safe haven to heirloom Hawaiian kalo varieties before they became merely a part of the past. It‘s believed that there were once 150-175 unique kalo plants in Hawaii, of which 84 were found and preserved during this effort. In the past three decades, a handful of those have been lost at the hands of natural disasters and budget cuts.

Proverbs are quite simple by nature, but sage in wisdom. Still waters run deep. Every cloud has a silver lining. E kanu i ka huli oi ha‘ule ka ua, meaning, ‘plant kalo stalks when it rains‘, is an old Hawaiian adage that says do the work when you‘re afforded an opportunity. Today, we‘re at yet another crossroads in kalo‘s history. This plant is woven into the fabric of Hawaiian culture, the thread that binds people to their land and ancestral roots. The opportunity to preserve the past, navigate the present, and fight for kalo‘s future is here. Let‘s get to work. [ eHI ]



KALO MAY HAVE DWINDLED, but it never disappeared from the islands. The question remains— will we continue to see kalo, a highly revered staple crop, decline? Or will we collectively lift kalo back into the spotlight of our lives where it deserves to be? The loss of kalo, due to eating habits and increased cost of the starch per pound, is akin to a loss of cultural identity in Hawai‘i. To support the future of kalo, we must consider the current and future patterns of our entire food system. We are at a major crossroads within science, education, and consumerism and our choices within the food chain will have a ripple effect for generations to come. To say the future of food is high-tech, genetically-modified, imported, fast, and processed speaks volumes about the values of the food system we’re building for future generations. As consumers, we can either continue to ride the wave of convenience by buying imported, packaged foods, or we can put in the work as a collective that is needed to create resilience. The work to radically change current consumption patterns will take many hands.

The local food movement is the leading edge of a change that ultimately will transform the Hawaiian food system from imported to sustainable and local. It will take education, joint community efforts, and a willingness to participate.


The sustained success of kalo won’t happen without fundamental changes to the industry. According to many Hawaiians, the hope for kalo remains with the sentiment that it is our kuleana (responsibility) to maintain and protect the gifts of kalo and Hawaiian knowledge of growing and cooking it for the benefit of future generations. These values symbolize the spiritual and physical well-being of not only the kanaka maoli (Native Hawaiians) and their heritage, but also the environmental, social, and cultural values important to Hawai‘i.

The future of kalo lies in our ability to build these values into the places where we consume and purchase food. With this in mind, the future needs to support local farmers, access to land for farming, garden education in our schools, and community infrastructures such as food hubs and cultural resource centers. If we can restore Hawaiian farming of kalo around the islands, we can bring back health to the land, people, and communities. The plant alone is amazingly versatile, nutritious, and delicious in many forms. These innovations can point to a different kind of future—a future that includes an abundance of locally grown food embedded within the Hawaiian values of health and integrity for Hawai‘i’s people and land.


Biodiversity was once the key to kalo longevity through naturally and selectively bred Hawaiian varieties that were cultivated for generations. This important indigenous food crop depends on humans to keep it alive and thriving. We need to do what we can to keep kalo around for the next generation to inherit the benefits of this traditional and culturally significant food. Safeguarding the kalo collection comes with many challenges, and modern threats are more manageable with proper intervention and good horticultural practices.

Sharing information through creating a network of farmers, researchers, and gardeners could prove helpful in documenting cultivar characteristics, best-growing conditions, preferred growing sites, pest and disease resistance, and productivity under a range of conditions, sites, and growing practices. Additionally, we could establish huli (mature kalo) banks with clean (disease-free) plant stock on each island to revitalize lo‘i kalo diversity. Through prevalent techniques that are environmentally and culturally aligned, the future can include collaboration among science and education institutes that are based on a foundation of respect for plants, culture, and people. This would also include thoughtfully engaging with communities to understand what, specifically, is needed to proactively protect and steward kalo and other traditional crops. Impactful programs can emerge to strengthen the ongoing restoration of kalo, agricultural landscapes, and Hawai‘i’s food system.


To perpetuate the ancient traditions around kalo production, it will take hands-on education to encourage the next generation of farmers. We can no longer separate ‘ai pono (healthful eating) from the productivity of our ‘aina; we must solidify this relationship. In valuing our local food system, we need to redefine farming as not a low-class job to avoid, but as a viable career. Educators must begin to highlight kalo farming as what it is—holistic, fun, and nurturing. Contemporary Hawaiian culture-based charter schools are leading the way, as farming has been painfully absent from local public education for the last century. A resurgence of career technical education pathways like agriculture and culinary classes that feature kalo through experiential elements is needed. Schools could even feature their own dry or wetland lo’i kalo to explore not just agriculture, but history and culture as well.

The more opportunities there are in getting students’ feet wet in the lo‘i or getting their hands emerged in the soil, the more youth will want to step into the future by connecting with the past. Imagine agriculture teachers sharing newly harvested kalo plants with students after teaching them how to build a proper lo‘i kalo, or culinary teachers sharing creative kalo gnocchi and pa’i ‘ai pizza recipes alongside traditional recipes like laulau and luau stew. By nurturing the connection between the land, food, and our youth, we can restore the health of both the ‘aina and the families who inhabit it.


It is through producing one’s own food and feeding others that people can thrive. The technologies developed by Native Hawaiians not only allow for sustainable and prolific food production, but also encourage the growth of cooperative community relationships. Envision a future where individuals come together to help strengthen, contribute to, and benefit from resilience within our food system.

Imagine a regional food hub that holds community poi, pa’i ‘ai, or laulau days where folks can share labor and rewards with their neighbors. A place where you can share tools, seeds, crops, and other resources. A center that shares family-based cultural experiences based on Hawaiian traditions, like how to hand-carve a papa ku‘i ‘ai (wooden poi board) and a pohaku ku‘i ‘ai (stone pestle) with natural materials gathered from the land. A communal kitchen where you can share rituals of cooking and eating with your neighbors. Activities like these can draw Hawaiian communities closer by celebrating kalo for all it was and continues to be for our island.


Education, better consumerism practices, and community infrastructure can help propel kalo cultivation far into the future to ensure a vibrant internal and external market. Instead of local families quietly holding the burden of buying local poi at $10 to $15 per pound, they can participate in traditional practices to preserve a culture. The market also rests on our ability to grant tourists their desire for an authentic Hawaiian cultural experience through sampling kalo products.

As we plant more of this ancient dietary staple and work to align education, community infrastructure, and our markets, greater attention to indigenous thought and relationship with kalo will grow. Let us celebrate this culinary tradition to sustain the kalo industry far into the future. [ eHI ]









HIDDEN IN OUR CAKE, chips, crackers, crust, cookies, and cereal, flour has found a calling. One of the most important cuisine ingredients in many of the world’s cultures, and for some the defining ingredient, flour has become a staple. Many say that humans first became civilized when we began raising food instead of hunting for it, storing grain for later use and preparing it in different ways. There is evidence from 6000 B.C. of wheat seeds having been crushed between simple millstones and flour was made. Grains were traded for other necessities, a system of commerce was put in place, and eventually, crops from very distant fields could provide food for cities (or in our case, islands).

Flour is inexpensive and plentiful and is commonly made from wheat grown across huge swaths of midwestern America. In Hawai‘i however, flour in the traditional sense will most likely never be produced. Land here is far too limited and expensive to devote to a crop such as wheat on the commercial scale. Taking into account the warranted concerns over Hawai‘i’s food security, sustainability, and the questionable nutrition of conventional flour, pioneers across our islands have begun experimenting with turning nontraditional crops into unique forms of flour.


Something smells sweet in Hilo. Maria Short has always had a passion for baking. A student of the culinary arts and a former pastry chef for restaurants, catering companies and patisseries, she met her husband, Dien, as a pastry chef instructor, teaching Merchant Marines how to bake. Together they endeavored on Short N Sweet Bakery, opening in Hāwī on Hawai‘i island 15 years ago then moving to a larger facility in Hilo in 2010.

“Several years ago, a friend started producing macadamia nut oil. He came to me with the by-product of the oil production, macadamia nut ‘cake’ and because I don’t like to waste food, especially macadamia nuts, we started making the flour in small quantities,” Maria explains. “Since then, Dien has been able to source enough macadamia nut cake that we need a commercial mill. It’s amazing to me that what we are producing now would have been used as compost or worse yet, thrown away.”

The macadamia nut flour has a warm, toasty flavor and a hint of sweetness. It was successfully used in her shortbreads, pie crusts and puff paste. Maria’s resourcefulness was kindled.

“Once we got the mill we started thinking about all the other agricultural by-products that are considered waste and we came up with the Okinawan sweet potato flour. The sweet potatoes that we mill are the ‘offs.’ They are normally undersized, or not pretty enough for the retail market, so they were just being tilled under.”

Short N Sweet’s now famous Hawaiian sweetbread is made in the Portuguese style and utilizes their hydrated sweet potato flour for a soft texture and an earthy yet sweet taste. Maria has plans to experiment with ‘ulu, green papaya, coconut, kalo, and banana flours in the future.

Less than an hour away, on the slopes of Mauna Kea Volcano, Ahualoa Farm’s macadamia nut trees sparkle under the sun. Parallel to Maria Short’s technique, they take their mac nut pieces and press out the oil (which they also bottle and sell); flour is the result. The culinary possibilities are then endless: panko crust on fish, pesto, an addition to smoothies, pie or pizza crusts. The flour is made every week and is sold at farmer’s markets and retail stores across the islands to allow for the creative home chef to experiment with macadamia nut flour too.


Lourdes Torres calls them her “star ingredient,” though they’re a bit jumpy. For the last four years, she has run Sustainable Boost on Kaua‘i, producing nutritionally dense flours and powders that are low impact and high yield. Among less eyebrow-raising flours such as green banana, turmeric, ginger and pacific spinach, Lourdes also produces a cricket and taro blend.

“I want to bring back some incredibly nutritious and delicious foods that have been living in obscurity,” says Lourdes. “The United Nations has been talking about insects as viable crops for decades. They should not be seen as only a food for famine, but instead as a super sustainable crop which provides the highest quality protein of any food on the planet. They utilize only a tiny bit of natural resources and produce a ton of nutrients.”

The concept of insects as food tends to be misconstrued, especially in America. While our precious lobster, shrimp and crab get a hefty price tag and a quality of indulgence, they are actually closely related to insects, just the sea-dwelling variety. Crickets are the most easily digestible protein on the planet, provide ten times more Omegas than salmon and an incredible amount of B12. Lourdes raises hers on a rich, plant-based diet and the final product is almost undetectable in foods, save for a mild, nutty flavor. She adds the flour to guacamole, oatmeal, hummus, soups, and calls it “magic dust” for smoothies.

“Some are predicting that insects will save the planet and I share that belief,” Lourdes says. If edible crickets could lose their stigma, it would mean more people eating eco-friendly, high quality protein, produced using less water and space, and resulting in less greenhouse gas emmissions than beef, chicken or pork farming by a long shot. There’s nothing “icky” about that.


Kiawe is not native to Hawai‘i, in fact it’s quite invasive. Originating from South America, the tree was first introduced in 1828 and over the years has proven to out-compete many native grasses and woody plants, and has been a literal thorn in plenty of bare feet. However, it also fights to control erosion, provides a fantastic wood to cook over, and, in Wai‘anae, can even be made into gold.

In 2006, Vincent Kana‘i Dodge met a couple from Arizona who were taking a farm tour on the west side of Oahu. They shared that mesquite trees, a cousin of kiawe, were edible. Not only could their bean pods be ground down to a sweet, nutritious flour, but they are diabetes-friendly and growing in throngs on the Wai‘anae Coast, where the obesity epidemic is more apparent than anywhere else in Hawai‘i. So began Vincent’s quest to educate himself on how to turn kiawe into quality food for his community.

In 2009, he traveled to Tuscon, Arizona to take a Desert Harvesters mesquite milling training. Three years later he visited the Wichi people of Argentina who have been eating kiawe daily for a thousand years. Vincent acquired a small mill and began grinding kiawe bean pods into flour. He calls it Wai‘anae Gold.

Although kiawe has only been in the Hawaiian Islands for 200 years, it is an ancient, nutrient-dense food. Vincent finds it no coincidence that the trees paint the Wai‘anae Coast so abundantly today. He believes they are a gift from māmā ‘āina, growing in the driest conditions, providing shade, and waiting to be recognized for their benefits.

“Eat what your land and your ocean provide for you. Eat what is in your front yard and what is in your backyard. Eat the plants and animals, fish and creatures that you have a relationship with. They know you and they will be your medicine,” says Vincent.

Wai‘anae Gold as well as ‘Āina Bars, a no-bake power bar made with kiawe flour, are sold online and in select stores across the islands. Vincent loves making kiawe banana pancakes with Wai‘anae Gold; recipes also include corn bread, mochi, crepes and banana bread, and can be found on the website.


Also known as breadfruit, ‘ulu is “super” in many ways: super-sized (picture a spiky basketball), super versatile, and a highly nutritious superfood.

On Maui, where the four waterways of Wailuku, Waihe‘e, Waiehu, and Waikapū all converge and encourage lush growth is Noho‘ana Farm. Hōkūao Pellegrino’s family has owned the two-acre property in Waikapū since 1848. Along with over forty varieties of kalo growing in his fields, Hōkūao is also producing small batches of nutrient-dense, naturally gluten-free flour made from ‘ulu.

“The process is a lengthy and tedious one. You need a lot of ‘ulu to make a small amount of flour,” says Hōkūao. But it’s worth it. ‘Ulu maintains its nutritional value through the process of becoming flour. It’s loaded with fiber, antioxidants, iron, protein, and Vitamins A and C. Also, unlike some other nontraditional flours, ‘ulu can be used at a 1:1 ratio. “We predominantly mill our flour at the finest grade, or what we say in Italian as doppio zero (00). We find that when the ‘ulu flour is ground [this way], it holds better in comparison to wheat flours.”

‘Ulu’s versatility is one of its shining points. In its green state, ‘ulu is much like an artichoke in flavor. When ripe, it’s starchy and cooks like a potato. When over-ripe, ‘ulu is sweet. Made into flour, ‘ulu can be used in endless recipes and has more flavor than traditional wheat. “We have made flat bread pizzas and different pasta noodles but have found greatest success in making an ‘ulu gnocchi with garlic,” Hōkūao says. “One of our favorite things to make with Palaoa ‘ulu or ‘ulu flour is a Tahitian lime and vanilla banana bread.”

Hōkūao is also an educator and advocate of traditional Hawaiian agriculture. With ‘ulu having been brought to Hawai‘i as a canoe crop, its history in the islands is long, yet we are still learning to utilize it in different ways.

Hōkūao explains that if Hawai‘i is to be a model for global food security, we should be striving to grow crops with a high nutritional index such as ‘ulu. “As Hawai‘i moves towards being a sustainable archipelago once again, it is critical that we expand the cultivation of traditional food crops such as ‘ulu and kalo and the knowledge of our kūpuna as our foundation.”


The first people to reach the islands that would one day be known as Hawai‘i did not come alone. They brought with them the seeds of the plants which sustained them, plants that would eventually become known as canoe crops. Kalo, or taro is perhaps most notable of them all. Rich in fiber, iron and B Vitamins, taro is a superfood and a culturally cherished staple in Hawai‘i.

Brynn Foster is the mind behind Voyaging Foods, an artisan milling company based on O‘ahu. She produces canoe-crop flours made of taro as well as breadfruit and sweet potato.

One of Voyaging Foods’ core values is to support farmers and food-growing land in Hawai‘i. “We believe working with local farmers involves an interdependent relationship rather than purely transactional. We want to see more examples of partnerships that provide a livable and thriving system for our farmers,” Brynn says. “Sourcing Hawaiian-grown taro is a non-negotiable for us.”

As with any taro product, cooking should always be involved, as the plant is toxic in its raw form due to calcium oxalate, which is also a natural pesticide. Brynn soaks her taro, then steams, peels and slices into chips. Once the water is removed, the taro is shelf stable and can be milled into flour. The finished product can be used for baking or as a thickener in stews, smoothies or oatmeal. It can be bought at Whole Foods Market as well as online where cookie and “Tarocake” mixes are also for sale.

“Hawai‘i is starch dependent and food insecure. We grow only a few varieties of taro commercially. To protect our islands from introduced bio hazards, pests and viruses, we need to grow and process our own food,” says Brynn. “Biodiversity is a solution to climate issues and food security. Taro has more than 80 varieties highly specialized to these islands. This indigenous knowledge is important for our modern diet […]” Canoe crops such as taro are as synonymous with Hawai‘i as big surf and hula. They will continue to be a fixture in the diet of the islands even as the methods with which we utilize them evolve and adapt with Hawai‘i’s food security in mind. [ eHI ]

We understand that after reading the story about Unique Flours in Hawai‘i, you’ll want to know where you can try tasting and using the flours mentioned. Here are some resources for you.

Note: Please contact them before visiting. Supply in demand and very limited amounts make some of these products seasonal.

45-3279 Mamane Street
Honoka‘a, HI 96727 808-775-1821
Visit or shop on-line. They also have locations on Oahu and Hawai‘i Island at selected farmers’ markets. Selling macadamia nut flour and other products.

P. O. Box 970
Wailuku, HI 96793
Limited supply of seasonal products. Best to order on-line or send them an email.

213 West Waiko Road
Waikapu, HI 96793
Selling ‘ulu flour in limited qualities at special events. The farm is not open to the public

374 Kino‘ole Street
Hilo, HI 96720
Visit the bakery and buy baked goods using sweet potato flour and roasted macadamia nut flour.

On-line store.
Taro powder and taro mixes.

On-line store. Some retail locations.

Kauai based farm not open to the public. Some retail locations at Farmers’ Markets on O’ahu and Kaua’i.




LEMONS ARE JUST BEGINNING to get the respect they deserve. In Hawai‘i, we’re fortunate enough to have a large number of varieties to grow, market and use for a massive number of culinary creations. There are almost 14 million tons grown worldwide, with India and Mexico as the largest producers. In Hawai‘i we grow and sell less than 100,000 pounds and import another 4 million pounds still. Pretty shameful considering how lemons go to waste in the state.

Most who study horticulture believe the lemon originated in northern India as a naturally occurring hybrid between sour orange and citron. The lemon made its way to Italy in 200 AD, then Iraq and Egypt by 700 AD. By the end of the 12th century it had spread all around the Mediterranean. In 1493, Columbus brought it to Hispaniola and from there it went with the Spanish to California in 1751. Don Francisco de Paula Marin first brought the lemon to Hawai‘i in 1813 with traders bringing other varieties coming in 1823.

Early territorial reports from 1904 to 1906 (including a USDA Citrus in Hawai‘i publication) listed Eureka and Lisbon varieties. These and other publications mention Villa Franca and Sicily, which I’ve yet to be able to identify in Hawai‘i. The rough Jambiri came as a rootstock in the 1920s and started to produce prolifically by 1934 when the grafts died off. Ponderosa, its seedling American Wonder, and a sweet lemon were all mentioned by 1934.

Often called “local lemon,” Rangpur and Kona are actually orange-colored limes. The Rangpur lime came to Hawai‘i as a rootstock but those grafts also died off. Over the next 175 years, the trees evolved so that Rangpur has a puffy orange skin and very thorny branches. An offshoot of the Rangpur, the Kona lime has a tight skin and very few thorns.

There is also a primitive subgenus of citrus called Papedas, some of which came to Hawai‘i as rootstocks and now produce here. Ichang papeda is often mistakenly called or sold as Japanese Yuzu. Yuzu, however, also fits into this subgenus as does Suidachi, Yuko, Kabosu, Khasi, Melanesian, Kalpi and the popular Kaffir lime.

Top L to R - Pink Variegated Lemon, and Yuzu Lemon, bottom - Ponderosa Lemons
Top L to R – Pink Variegated Lemon, and Yuzu Lemon, bottom – Ponderosa Lemons



Kalpi is arguably one of the most common lemons in Hawai‘i. A natural hybrid found in the Philippines, one could only presume that it came here with the immigrants. The name comes from the Bicol region of southern Luzon. These trees are found all over the state and very prolific. They are often confused with small Italian lemons that are very recent imports and the larger rough-skinned Jambiri lemon. Kalpi is sometimes called Malayan lemon.


This lemon was first found on a fruit-hunting trip by Frank N. Meyer, who was sent to China by the USDA’s David Fairchild. Of the more than 2,500 species Meyer introduced to the United States, this is the only one that bears his name. The Meyer lemon has dramatically increased in popularity over the past 20 years in part due to Alice Waters and Martha Stewart featuring them. They do very well in warmer climates like Hawai‘i where other lemons may struggle with the heat.

The improved Meyer lemon is a selection found in the 1950s that is resistant to tristeza virus. It was released in 1975 as an improved version. Ever-increasing in popularity, it is sometimes referred to as the Sweetheart citrus.


Called sweet lemons and, to a lesser extent, limes, this fruit is found in some areas of Hawai‘i. “Sweet” is somewhat of a misnomer as the fruit is generally insipid with only a very slight taste. A number of varieties were introduced from India, Brazil and Mexico but they have never achieved any commercial value. The fruit is not without fans and there are a few named cultivars.


This rough-skinned lemon, originally from northeast India, was commonly used as a rootstock for citrus coming to Hawai‘i. Those grafts died off and the plant became a popular backyard tree. Recent studies, using molecular markers, show that it is a cross between mandarin and citron. The tree is somewhat resistant to a host of pathogens and extremely resistant to leaf spot although sensitive to Phytopthora and waterlogged roots. It is tolerant of both cold and also does well in Hawai‘i, which is hotter than the average citrus climate. Its unclear if the fruit arrived in Hawai‘i with Marin in the early 1800s or later with the first Portuguese immigrants. The Spaniards are credited with bringing the fruit to Florida and the new World. There are a number of named cultivars; Estes, Milam, McKillop, Nelspruit 15 and Lockyer although it’s not known if these are in Hawai‘i. About 98% of the seeds planted are true to form and the tree is fast growing and early maturing. Some texts list the Volkamer or volckameriana lemon as being a type of Jambiri. Rangpur and Kona lime are also given the Jambiri name at times.


Ponderosa and its protégé American Wonder are among the most popular lemons grown in Hawai‘i. Elsewhere it’s considered an ornamental because of its thick foliage and very large “showy” fruit. It came from a seedling grown in 1887 by George Bowman in Hagerstown, Maryland. It appeared in many nursery catalogs in the early 1900s. Sometimes classed as a citron hybrid, ponderosa fruit is extremely large. It has been confused with pomelo at some of Hawai‘i’s farmers’ markets, although one taste makes it is obvious that it’s a lemon. There are some commercial plantings and the tree is often used as a rootstock for other lemons.


The first Eureka originated from seed in 1858 in Los Angeles and was propagated in 1877 by Thomas Garey, who called it Garey’s Eureka. Its popularity rapidly increased, in part due to the tree being virtually thornless. The University of California lists 14 types of Eureka lemons. Depending on the source, Hawai‘i seems to have a few of these: Old Line, Frost Nucellar, Allen-Newman and the Variegated Pink-Fleshed Eureka. The pink came from a regular Eureka prior to 1931 when budwood was distributed. Pink Lemonade Eureka has become very popular in Hawai‘i over the past 20 years.


Perhaps the most popular commercial lemon next to Eureka, its relevance in Hawai‘i has always been marginal as the trees are more tolerant of the cold and produce much better in cooler areas. The tree is most productive in California. Thick foliage better protects fruit from the sun. The thorns are considerable. The yield is about 25% greater than Eureka.

There is some disagreement as to the origin of Lisbon. What is known was that seeds were sent from Portugal to Australia in 1924. The name Lisbon is not used for the lemon in Portugal. It was listed in nursery catalogs as early as 1843. It was introduced to California in 1849 and again from Australia in 1874 and 1875. Although continuously imported to Hawai‘i, Eureka seems to be more popular. The University of California lists 12 types of Lisbons.

There are hundreds of other lemons around the world, which have not made their way to Hawai‘i. With citrus greening disease (HLB) in many locations around the world, it’s doubtful many of these will ever come to Hawai‘i. Lemons and lemon hybrids like Sicily, Femminello, Genova, Monachello, Perrine, Marrakech, Pear, Galgal, Karna, Sanbokan and Snow could be found in HLB-free areas or could be tissue-cultured and given a chance to thrive in Hawai‘i’s microclimates. Each of these unusual varieties represents a potential for niche marketing as fresh fruit or in value-added products for Hawai‘i’s agriculture entrepreneurs. [ eHi ]

Sliced Meyer Lemons
Sliced Meyer Lemons




FOR THE SURFRIDER FOUNDATION, the answer is “yes.” Case in point: Ocean Friendly Restaurants.


Following a small program launch by the San Diego Chapter, Surfrider’s Hawai‘i Chapter volunteers launched the Ocean Friendly Restaurants (OFR) program in the islands on Earth Day 2016. The goal was to find a new way to focus on legislative reform by helping to reduce the plastic footprint coming from restaurants, particularly take out containers, plastic bags and utensils. The OFR program recognized restaurants leading the way in environmental protection by operating without foam and plastic.

“Some politicians argued that banning styrofoam or single-use plastics would hurt businesses. Consumers vote with their wallets, so we wanted to work with businesses and support the ones who were doing the right thing,” said Stuart Coleman, Hawaiian Islands Manager for Surfrider Foundation.

Within nine months of its launch, volunteers had certified over 100 Ocean Friendly Restaurants across the state. Surfrider has also been instrumental in banning styrofoam on Maui and Hawai‘i Island.


The success of the OFR program in Hawai‘i helped the Surfrider Foundation launch the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program on a national level. Now, Hawai‘i is one of the top OFR states in the country, and there are more than 500 restaurants certified nationwide.

In 2017, Town Hospitality Group, led by Ed Kenney and Dave Caldiero, was awarded the Business of the Year by Surfrider Foundation – Oahu Chapter. All four of the company’s restaurants – Town, Kaimuki Superette, Mud Hen Water and Mahina & Sun’s – earned OFR’s Platinum certification and were among the first to join Surfrider’s OFR Program.

Kenney recently joined Jack Johnson in a promotional video for Surfrider highlighting Ocean Friendly Restaurants, lending their star power to the cause. Kenney is vocal about the plastic pollution epidemic and has lent testimony to support this issue through legislative action.

Several other OFRs—like The Nook, Koko Head Cafe, Mama T’s Umeke Market, Fete, Farm to Fork, and Tin Roof—have also supported plastic-free legislation.

The momentum doesn’t stop at the legislature. Earlier this year, Ocean Friendly Restaurants partnered with The Traveling Plate on a statewide fundraising promotion highlighting dishes from participating OFR restaurants.

The Mill House, Duke’s, Highway Inn, Moku Kitchen, and Pint & Jigger have all hosted Ocean Friendly Pau Hanas, offering special gatherings as a way to build community and celebrate Surfrider’s volunteers.

Outrigger Hotels & Resorts and Kahala Hotel & Resort have become ocean friendly hotels, where each restaurant’s outlets are OFR-certified.


Natalie Wohner, a University of Hawai‘i PhD student studying mechanical engineering and materials science, agreed to co-chair the Ocean Friendly Restaurants committee on Oahu last year. “The ocean gives me so much, so I wanted to find a way to give back to it and really make an impact,” she said. “Surfrider provides a channel for me to do that.”

Wohner has volunteered for Surfrider for the past three years. While she feels a sense of gratification and purpose, she also wishes there were more people to help lighten her load.

“People forget that we’re all volunteers in this very grassroots organization,” she says. “Right now, it’s primarily just me and Anny Barlow certifying all of the restaurants. We have done some great things, but would love to have more help.”

The neighbor islands have similar challenges. On Maui, Lorin Ifkovic serves as chair, and on Kauai, Ruta Jordans serves as chair. Both are actively looking for more volunteers to help identify Ocean Friendly Restaurants, then certify them. Hawai‘i Island currently does not have an active OFR chair for either Kona or Hilo.

“There’s always more work to do,” said Coleman. “But looking back ten years ago, working at Surfrider was a lonely place. Now, we have mainstream awareness of the plastic pollution epidemic and businesses and community members who want to help drive behavior change. Looking back at my time at Surfrider Foundation, Ocean Friendly Restaurants is probably the most impactful thing we’ve done.”


There are five criteria that all OFR participating restaurants must follow: they must only provide paper straws and to-go utensils upon request; they cannot distribute Styrofoam or plastic bags; they must follow proper recycling practices; and they must utilize reusable foodware for onsite dining.

In addition to these core commitments, the restaurant must also choose a minimum of two more criteria from the following list: refrain from the sale of beverages packaged in plastic bottles; offer discounts to customers who bring their own reusable cup/mug/bag, etc.; offer vegetarian or vegan menu options on a regular basis; serve seafood that is designated as “Best Choice” or “Good Alternative” by Seafood Watch, or is otherwise certified as sustainable; implement water conservation and pollution mitigation efforts; and put energy efficient efforts in place.

A restaurant that meets all of the above criteria will be recognized as a Platinum Level Ocean Friendly Restaurant.

For more information on the Ocean Friendly Restaurants program and its coalition of partners, the full list of certified restaurants, and how to get certified, go to: oceanfriendlyrestaurantshawaii.org.



THE WAY WE PRODUCE, consume and discard food is no longer sustainable. That much is clear from the newly released UN climate change report which warns that we must rethink how we produce our food — and quickly — to avoid the most devastating impacts of global food production, including massive deforestation, staggering biodiversity loss and accelerating climate change.

While it’s not often recognized, the food industry is an enormous driver of climate change, and our current global food system is pushing our natural world to the breaking point. At the press conference releasing the Special Report on Climate Change and Land, report co-chair Eduardo Calvo Buendía stated that, “the food system as a whole – which includes food production and processing, transport, retail consumption, loss and waste – is currently responsible for up to a third of our global greenhouse gas emissions.”

In other words, while most of us have been focusing on the energy and transportation sectors in the climate change fight, we cannot ignore the role that our food production has on cutting emissions and curbing climate change. By addressing food waste and emissions from animal agriculture, we can start to tackle this problem. How do we do that?

Livestock production is a leading culprit – driving deforestation, degrading our water quality and increasing air pollution. In fact, animal agriculture has such an enormous impact on the environment that if every American reduced their meat consumption by just 10 percent – about 6 ounces per week – we would save approximately 7.8 trillion gallons of water. That’s more than all the water in Lake Champlain. We’d also save 49 billion pounds of carbon dioxide every year — the equivalent of planting 1 billion carbon-absorbing trees.

What’s more, to the injury from unsustainable food production, we add the insult of extraordinary levels of food waste: nearly one third of all food produced globally ends up in our garbage cans and then landfills. We are throwing away $1 trillion worth of food, or about half of Africa’s GDP, every single year. At our current rates, if food waste were a country, it would be the world’s third-largest carbon emitter after the U.S. and China.

To ensure global food security and sustainable food practices in an ever-growing world, we need to reexamine our food systems and take regional resources, such as land and water availability, as well as local economies and culture into account. To start, the United States and other developed countries must encourage food companies to produce more sustainable food, including more plant-based options, and educate consumers and retailers about healthy and sustainable diets. Leaders must create policies that ensure all communities and children have access to affordable fruits and vegetables. And we all can do our part to reduce food waste, whether it’s in our company cafeterias or our own refrigerators.

Technology also plays a part. Developed countries should support and incentivize emerging innovative technologies in plant-based foods, as well as carbon-neutral or low-carbon meat production.

Developing countries, on the other hand, face high levels of undernutrition, as well as limited access to healthy foods. Many nutrient-dense foods (such as fruits, vegetables and quality meats) are highly perishable, often making prices significantly higher than ultra-processed, nutrient-poor and calorie-dense foods. The high cost of nutrient-dense foods creates a significant barrier to healthy diets, as seen in urban Malawi and many other countries.

By promoting enhanced production of healthy and nutritious foods while also improving markets in low-income countries, we can lower prices and increase accessibility of healthy and sustainable diets. Politicians can also tackle systemic inequalities by redirecting agricultural subsidies to promote healthy foods, as well as investing in infrastructure like rural roads, electricity, storage and cooling chain.

Change must happen at every level if we want to build a better food system. International participation and resource-sharing can spread regional solutions across countries. And working for change at the ground level — among individuals, communities, local and federal governments and private entities — can help fight hunger and food inequality firsthand.

Yes, our food system is broken, but not irrevocably so. The challenges are enormous, but by understanding the problem and potential solutions, we can effect critical changes in the ways we produce, consume and dispose of food.

Kathleen Rogers is President of Earth Day Network. Dr. Shenggen Fan is Director General of the International Food Policy Research Institute (IFPRI) and a Commissioner for the EAT – Lancet Commission.



SUGAR CANE HAS ENTERED A NEW ERA. The last harvest and closure of the Hawaiian Commercial & Sugar (HC&S) plantation on Maui in December 2016 marked the final chapter in a bittersweet century-and-a half of large-scale sugar production throughout Hawai‘i. Arguably, no other crop has had the influence and impacts of the sugar trade, changing the economy, water systems, eco-systems, land ownership, ethnic mix and politics of Hawai‘i. 

But sugar cane, or (its Hawaiian name), has a history that pre-dates the plantation era by about a thousand years. As a “canoe crop,” brought by voyaging Polynesians, sugar cane was widely cultivated for hundreds of years, utilized in a variety of manners, and, “played a vital role in the culture and livelihood of Native Hawaiians,” according to ethnobotanist Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln. 

As part of his extensive 2017 study, “Kō: An Ethnobotanical Guide to Hawaiian Sugarcane Varieties,” Lincoln opines that traditional varieties will be vital in developing restorative agricultural systems. “Contemporarily, there is a revived interest in indigenous crops and cropping systems,” states Lincoln on the UH-CTAHR webpage for sugar cane. “If the world is to embrace more resilient farming that utilizes fewer inputs and greater diversity, then heirloom varieties – such as – will be needed in developing new crops that will thrive in diversified, place-specific agricultural systems.”

The post-plantation era of sugar cane in Hawai‘i may indeed embrace cultivation of long-neglected varietals for uses both traditional and innovative. Thus, King Sugar, long the dominant economic and political force, may now assume a more subservient role in local agricultural production and cuisine. At the same time, fallow plantation lands afford prime opportunities to expand local food production of all sorts.


Human taste buds and palette identify six basic flavor groups: Salty; sweet; bitter; sour; umami and savory. Of the six, the widespread coveting of sweets and refined sugar has greatly influenced world trade and colonial expansion for centuries. 

Sugar cane originated in tropical Southeast Asia and the South Pacific. Research indicates it was cultivated in New Guinea several thousand years ago, and spread throughout Polynesia to India, where a crystallization process was developed, making it easier to transport. From there, it migrated with the Arabs, who brought the confection to Europe around 600 years ago. It was grown in the Canary Islands, and brought to the Americas by Christopher Columbus.

The voyages of Columbus and others did not, however, provide a short-cut to the lucrative Spice Trade with Asia. As colonization efforts spread from Europe to the Western hemisphere, the economic potential of growing sugar in tropical regions was realized and exploited. The ensuing Trade Triangle over the next few hundred years brought millions of African slaves to the Caribbean and the Americas, to work on Spanish, French, British, Dutch and Portuguese colonial plantations—all to satisfy the covetous consumption of processed sugar back in Europe.

Across the globe in the Pacific, early traders in the Sandwich Islands capitalized on the native sandalwood tree. Desired in China for making incense and fine furniture, and ultimately sanctioned by King Kamehameha, Hawaiian forests were rapidly plundered in a short period, from 1810-1830.

On the heels of the sandalwood trade collapse, Hawai‘i became a hub for another extractive trade: whaling. In the early and middle 19th century, whale oil was widely used as a source for lighting, heating, and fuel for industrial machinery. As many as 400 whaling ships sailed the Pacific, using Hawai‘i as a port-of-call for provisions. This fostered expansion of farming and ranching, and Hawai‘i also supplied potatoes and vegetables to the West Coast during the Gold Rush and Civil War.

With the discovery of petroleum oil in Pennsylvania in 1859, and the decline of the Pacific whale population, the whaling industry dwindled. In its place arose sugar cane cultivation, the first plantations established in the 1830s. The Civil War shut down sugar production and importation through the South, allowing Hawai‘i to compete in the California sugar market. The Board of Immigration was established in 1866, focused on recruiting plantation workers.

By 1870, dozens of small plantations operated throughout Hawai‘i, spurring waves of immigration from Japan, China, the Philippines, Portugal, Puerto Rico and elsewhere to supply cheap, often indentured labor. As the industry grew, five major plantation hubs gained control. Dubbed, the Big Five, the consolidation of power equated to ownership and management of ancillary businesses—banks, insurance, shipping, utilities—and great influence in the governance of Hawai‘i.

Plantation work was hard, whether in the fields or the wood-powered, steam engine-driven mills. Workers cleared fields, planted and harvested cane, chopped and hauled wood, developed flume systems that delivered water, tended horses and livestock, built plantation camp housing and stores, and performed a myriad of other tasks. Elaborate railroad systems were constructed on O‘ahu, Kaua’i, Maui and Hawai‘i islands to transport sugar from the fields to the mills and docks.

Both Hawai‘i and the mainland United States suffered an economic depression during the 1880s, and King David Kalakaua plunged the monarchy in debt to the sugar planters. By 1890, nearly three quarters of all land in Hawai‘i was owned by foreign investors, the majority of it planted in sugar. 

When Kalakaua’s sister, Liliuokalani took the throne in 1891 as queen, she sought to introduce a new constitution to regain power lost to the “Bayonet Constitution” of 1887, which increased authority of the government while reducing that of the monarchy. 

American-born plantation owners believed they could only secure their business interests by establishing a new government and aligning with U.S. interests. Ultimately they prevailed in deposing the Hawaiian monarchy, which Queen Liluokalani reluctantly acquiesced to in order to avoid bloodshed. The Queen believed the U.S. government would, upon learning the facts, reinstate sovereign power. But her pleas went unheeded and in 1898 Hawai‘i was annexed as a U.S. territory. 

In the early 20th century, sugar and pineapple were the main economic drivers, with rice coming in third among export crops. By 1934, 130,000 acres of sugar plantations yielded 900,000 tons of sugar, quadrupling the output of 30 years before. 

Through World War II, labor disputes, and the transition to statehood in 1959, sugar held its sway. Only with the rise of tourism did sugar begin to topple from atop the economic pyramid. With tourism came real estate interests and rapid urbanization. Hotel and building jobs competed for workers, and the sugar plantations, now with union representation, struggled to compete. Ultimately, plantations sold off their land holdings for profit, as world sugar prices dropped and tariffs rose. 

In the late 20th century plantations shut down, one by one, on O‘ahu, Maui and Hawai‘i islands. Hoping to double their diminishing profits, Kaua’i’s Gay & Robinson plantation launched a last gasp effort into sugar cane-based ethanol biofuel production, which proved unsuccessful. Large tracts of agricultural lands were leased to the seed corn industry, while others were used for urban expansion. HC&S, the final sugar operation to close, recently sold its 35,000+ acres of agricultural lands to Mahi Pono, a California-based entity which has vowed to increase diversified local food production. 


Dr. Noa Kekuewa Lincoln’s extensive research shows that Hawaiians used sugar or , for a variety of essential purposes. It was chewed for quick energy and served as a “famine food,” in times of scarcity. It sweetened bitter remedies in the la‘au lapa‘au traditional healing practice utilizing medicinal plants. As a salve, it was applied to wounds to promote healing. 

Raw cane was chewed to strengthen one’s teeth. Warmed wai kō (sugar water) was a remedy used to treat infants. was also part of religious ceremonies and offerings. The Manulele variety was associated in the practice of hana aloha, to attract the attention of a distant person to induce them to fall in love. 

Cane juice mixed with charred kukui nut shells was used to make ink for tattoos, perhaps because it helped heal the skin. Sugar cane leaves were woven into thatch for interior walls of the Hawaiian hale, or house.

Sugar cane blossoms were utilized in lei making, especially the lei haku, or head lei. The flowers were also used to line slopes for the holua (land sled) tracks, to make them slippery.

Dr. Lincoln’s ethno-botanical expertise is both scientific and anecdotal, and serves to inspire preservation of heirloom species to fill the void left in Hawaiian agriculture in the post-plantation era.


Modern nutritional science and medical studies link over-consumption of refined sugar to a myriad of maladies, from tooth decay to diabetes, obesity to heart disease. William Duffy’s 1975 book, “Sugar Blues,” likens sugar-rich diets to drug addiction, and explicates refined sugar’s numerous risks to human health.

Fresh cane juice, however, contains complex sugars that provide the body with sustained energy and don’t leave behind toxins. Studies show that fresh cane juice, high in minerals and vitamins, has a number of healthful properties. It may improve digestion, possesses laxative properties, can help lower harmful cholesterol, strengthen the immune system, and help regulate blood sugars due to its low glycemic index. And, it tastes good!


Farmer’s Market shoppers on O‘ahu may have run into freshly squeezed cane juice drinks, thanks to the passionate efforts of self-described, “Sugarista,” Sourivahn Sivongxay of Hawaiian Sugarcane LLC. “Vahn,” for short, was born in Laos, is a sugar cane farmer’s daughter and farmer herself, restaurateur, entrepreneur and U.S. citizen, after her family took refuge in America.

Customers are drawn to Vahn’s hand-crafted, brightly colored dragon fruit (pitaya) lemonade, virgin mojita mint, and mango ginger spice, all sweetened to taste with healthy, fresh cane juice. She offers ice teas to those seeking something less sweet, chili lime blends to appeal to spicy-loving customers, and Li Hing Mui to tempt local palettes.

“Never in my wild dream,” Vahn exclaims, did she expect, “to be making fruits, plants or serving juices or beverages for a business.” Her drinks have become so popular that she is looking to expand.

Kōloa Rum CEO Bob Gunter moved to Hawai‘i in the 1970s and worked for ten years on Lihue Plantation. There, he says, he became enamored with plantation life. After a stint with Kaua’i Electric, he moved to Maui, but was eventually lured back to Kaua’i to explore possibilities of designing a rum operation.

Ten years ago, Kōloa Rum launched, and now may be found in 27 states and four countries. “We use the phrase, ‘It all started here’,” says Gunter, noting that Kōloa was the site of the first successful sugar mill in Hawai‘i. They are in the process of moving their distillery into historic Kōloa Town, with a dozen acres to be planted in cane around the facility. By next year they will have exhausted the supply of nearly 200 tons of sugar purchased from HC&S before their closure in 2016.

In “Old Kunia Camp” in Central O‘ahu, KōHana Rum has revitalized the old Del Monte General Store. Using the “Rum Agricole,” method, they produce their unique rums from fresh cane juice of heirloom varietals, not from molasses.

“We wouldn’t be here without Dr. Noa Lincoln,” who helped them select specific varieties, said KōHana brand manager Kyle Reutner. Working in conjunction with UH-CTAHR, they took long-forgotten Hawaiian kō and have out-planted 38 acres, up from just a quarter-acre first grown in 2009.

“We equate the difference to when people first taste an heirloom tomato,” says Reutner. “When you have better starting material, you have a superior end product.” He adds that they strive for minimal processing, hand-harvest with machetes, and says their rum is comparable to an estate-produced fine wine. KōHana rums are found in Whole Foods, specialty liquor stores, and in fine restaurants and bars throughout Hawai‘i.

And thus, with a nod to Hawai‘i’s cultural past, the new era of sugar has just begun. [eHI]

NOTE: The author acknowledges the great contributions of Dr. Lincoln in compiling information used in this article. Authored by: Noa Kekuewa Lincoln.  Lincoln, N. (2017) Kō: An Ethnobotanical Guide to Hawaiian Sugarcane Varieties. Retrieved from: http://cms.ctahr.Hawai‘i.edu/cane/Home.aspx