Category: Features




MY DAUGHTER HAS A DOLL HOUSE with a dining room. There are images of gold-framed artwork on the walls and a tasseled rug on the floor. It is quite formal, as dollhouses are concerned. It came with a rectangular dining table and four wooden, high-back chairs. Playing alongside her, I set up the table and chairs in the dining room. She moved the furniture into the kitchen—the only place she has ever eaten meals in her young life—and carried on.

I am part of Gen. Y (those born in 1981-1996), also known as the Millennials, and I grew up on the East Coast in a middle-class home with a formal dining room. A china cabinet in the corner displayed teacups, plates, and bowls (that I never remember being allowed to use) behind glass doors. The centerpiece of the room was the dining table, complete with a lace runner and a large vase of dusty, fake flowers. It was an outlier room of our house, sparse and breakable in a home otherwise warm and lived-in. We hosted Thanksgiving in the dining room, with the table’s leaf extended and a slew of mismatched chairs pulled up, but the other 364 days of the year, the room seemed exiled from the rest of the house.

Perhaps more than any other room in the home, the dining room has struggled with its identity over the years. The concept of separate eating areas originated with the Ancient Greeks and Romans. They (just the men, that is) would gather on 7-15 stone or wood “couches” arranged against the walls, each with its own little table. Reclined on their left elbows and propped up on pillows, the men would use their right hand to eat and drink. The center of the room was kept open for serving food, entertainment, or drinking games. The concept of these early dining rooms spread throughout the Mediterranean and persisted for over 1,000 years.

During the Middle Ages, only the upper echelons ate in dining rooms, and not every night—think: banquets in castles. The tables would have been long wooden boards set on top of supports similar to modern-day sawhorses with benches for seating. The most important people at the meal would have been seated in chairs upon a raised platform, which is where the term “the high table” derives from. Dishes of food were shared and eaten with fingers or with the “eating knives” some carried on their belts.

The Industrial Revolution brought with it more widely distributed wealth and larger homes with dining rooms began to appear in middle-class America. Just as the societal shifts of this period changed the way people ate dinner, they also changed the way they ate lunch. Prior to the Industrial Revolution, the mid-day meal was considered the most important of the day. It was served hot and called dinner. But as factory workers became less likely to go home for their mid-day meal, they packed leftovers or bread and meat in tin pails, and lunchrooms within factories emerged to take the at-home dining room’s place.

By the mid-19th century, dining rooms were a widespread middle-class symbol of respectability with the help of newly printed literature based on social etiquette and domestic economy. These books outlined how dining rooms should be used and furnished and further explicated that this was the women’s role within the household. It was at this time that gathering nightly for dinner was the mark of a traditionally valued family. With the belief that security and stability were vital and started at home, the Normal Rockwell-vision of a family gathering at the table became entrenched in society’s collective psyche.

The dawning of the 20th century brought with it a gradual shift toward the kitchen replacing the dining room as the main space for eating. Eating meals in the kitchen offered greater convenience and efficiency, albeit forfeiting the ritual and recreation of more formal dining—it was clear that Americans’ values were changing. By the 1950s and 60s, home designers literally broke down the wall and it became posh to merge dining and kitchen areas. In the ‘70s, we took it one step further and “open-concept” became a household phrase. These wall-less floor plans reached an apex in the 1990s, promising home-owning Generation X that cooking, socializing, parenting, and even cleaning would be made easier. Nearly all new construction incorporated some version of an open-concept floorplan.

By 2017, an Angie’s List survey showed that about two-thirds of homeowners who still had formal dining rooms were using them for other activities such as storage, crafting, or homework. Still others, about 13%, had completely scrapped the table and chairs and converted their dining room to a permanent guest room or home office. The Millenials were becoming new homeowners now. A generation blighted by massive student debt and many of us entering the labor force in the wake of the Great Recession, we were forced to delay major life purchases or limit what we could afford. The America that Gen. Y became adults in is not the same America that our parents, Baby Boomers or early Gen. X, bought their starter homes in.

Traditional, formal dining spaces are one of the most expensive rooms in the home to furnish. The cost of a large wood table and 8-10 wood chairs, wallpaper, china sets, and their accompanying cabinets, sideboards, linen, candles, and artwork does not come cheap. For a Millenial home buyer, it is hardly practical. In Hawaiʻi, where the average home’s price per square foot is $600, and the average formal dining room is 224 sq. ft., to consider paying $134,400 for a room in a house that is used but a handful of times a year, is unthinkable.

The Norman Rockwell vision of the family gathering around the dining room table, mother in an apron serving a meal that took all day to prepare, is no longer the status quo, nor even an accurate illustration of middle-class America. With many families unable to afford for one parent to stay home to cook the meal, set the table and serve, the image now seems almost pretentious.

The rituals that humans partake in revolving around food and mealtimes directly reflect societal values and generational needs. For Millenials, pre-pandemic, this equated to more flexible dinner options for day-to-day—a boom in food delivery services and at-home meal kits provided vast and international options. We were eating with roommates well into adulthood, or extended family, or alone. At restaurants, on floor cushions around the coffee table, at the kitchen island counter, in our car, while we watched our kids play sports. We were still breaking bread, often together, but trying not to get crumbs on the couch (a bit full-circle when we consider our Ancient Greek and Roman forefathers).

Enter: 2020. The interior designers could not have predicted it—without warning, around the globe, we became trapped inside our houses together and the lack of walls felt suddenly suffocating. Families were spending more time together than perhaps ever before. Home became the hub for the workday, school day, playtime, each and every meal, exercise, and leisure. We weren’t hosting dinner parties—if we were even having them before. We blew kisses through closed windows during the holidays, had Zoom birthday parties, socialized through text threads. Those who still had dining rooms rejoiced, for they had a room that offered one of this pandemic’s most coveted commodities: seclusion in a house full of people. But in turn, these dining-room-blessed homeowners did the only thing that made sense: they utilized their dining rooms as something more useful.

Our experiences inside our homes during COVID will undoubtedly shape the real estate market for generations. Many will never return to a traditional office setting. Many children are still attending school from home. Although things are no longer as dark as they were in 2020, potential buyers will be considering the “what if” factor when looking at properties. If we are ever in this situation again, would the home be able to accommodate? Connected living spaces and open floor plans aren’t going anywhere—they remain the best way to maximize square footage, improve traffic flow, increase access to shared light and for many who live in small spaces, they are the only option (because to have walls, you need space). But, with a new appreciation for outlets of privacy, the real estate market is highlighting homes with “hybrid rooms” or “flex space,” a bonus room in a home that could be used for any number of activities, including, when the occasion arises, formal dining.

After a very long season of trying to create more space in our finite homes and feeling crossed between wanting to gather and also yearning for solitude, we emerge irrefutably changed. Perhaps now more than ever before, we consider what space means for us and how we wish to fill it.

Friendships are rekindling, families are reuniting. Many who spent the bulk of this pandemic alone are reminiscing about the days of dinner parties and sitting around a table for an extended meal and the conversation, connection, and culture that comes along with it. COVID forced many of us to begin cooking for ourselves and each other again—for some, it was the highlight of the day. A recent survey found that over half of the Americans who began cooking more in the past year say they will continue this trend on the other side of the pandemic.

Perhaps it took families being forced to gather nightly again—around the dining room table, or the kitchen table, or the couch—to remind us of the value in eating together with intent. When eating together is the event, when we carve out meaningful time to de-stress, catch up and connect, there are quantifiable positive effects physically and psychologically, for adults and children alike. We perhaps found that to force formality was to restrict us, but that just the act of eating in the same space, phones down, eyes meeting, we felt healthier and happier. It is possible that after its relatively brief hiatus, a renaissance of gathering for the dinner bell is now occurring.

Our homes might no longer have formal dining rooms, or maybe they never did to begin with, and the heart of the home might now be our kitchen counter or even the couch. And maybe as a family, we’re eating take-out or left-overs or bowls of cereal instead of a hot, home-cooked meal, but that doesn’t change the value in convening around food.

The dining room in my daughter’s dollhouse is still empty but the doll family gathers for meals at the table in the kitchen. They chit-chat, they pass the wooden food around, they smile at one another. They seem very happy. [ eHI ]

Lily Katz, Lihau Collier and Noah Katz at the dinner table. Waihe’e Valley, Maui



Private Chef Hilary Barsby of Healthy Maui Chef with a bunch of locally grown carrots.

WE FIRST START EATING them mashed out of a jar, then refuse to eat them even though our mothers insisted they’d help us see in the dark. Many years might have gone by when we ignored them altogether in cafeterias, let them grow cold alongside our chicken and rice at dinnertime. But the time has come to put the carrot on the center of our plates.

Often under-appreciated, the carrot is the “old soul” of the vegetable world. The wild carrot’s roots are grounded in Persia (regions of which are now Iran and Afghanistan). First bred for their aromatic leaves and seeds—some of their relatives, parsley, cilantro, and dill, are still cultivated for these purposes—over centuries, the vegetable was gradually refined out of its bitterness, increasing its sweetness and minimizing its original woody core. What we’re now familiar with, the “garden” carrot, has a single origin in Central Asia but it didn’t stay there.

Carrot seeds from 2000-3000 BC have been found in Switzerland and Southern Germany and the Romans ate a root vegetable called pastinaca in the 1st century AD which may have been a carrot or its sibling, the parsnip. The wild carrot was a white or ivory color. In the 10th century, the root of the carrot was purple and it disseminated along the Silk Road. In the 11th century, a Jewish scholar described them as red and yellow. There’s a theory that the orange carrot was first cultivated by the Dutch in the 17th century to honor the colors of the Dutch flag at the time as well as William of Orange but experts say that the modern predominant color first appeared in Spain and Germany in the 15th or 16th century.

The oldest surviving medical textbook in England is from the middle ages and references carrots and again and again as an herbal remedy. Time has not changed that. A nutritional powerhouse, carrots are fibrous, packed with beta carotene (your mother was right about seeing better in the dark), potassium, antioxidants, and have been linked to lowered cholesterol. Not to mention they’re cheap, accessible, and easily stored, it’s no wonder carrots are now cultivated and consumed worldwide.

“Carrots are an often overlooked vegetable,” says Maui-based private chef Hilary Barsby. “I love them because they can be used in a variety of different dishes. For example, a traditional marinara sauce that I learned from an Italian Chef friend calls for a few large carrots thrown into the pot with the sauce. The sweetness from the carrot helps to balance out the acidity of the tomato.”

And while she knows how to utilize the natural sweetness of carrots and their almost sweet potato-like texture when pureed in desserts and other sweet dishes, Chef Hilary also understands that different varieties of the modern carrot comprise of varying characteristics.

“[They’re] incredible versatile… Carrots can run the gamut in terms of sweetness. I find the white and lighter yellow carrots tend to be the sweetest, with the dark orange and purple varieties having a much more earthy flavor. The freshness of your carrots will also determine overall flavor, texture, and sweetness.”

No longer the bland and disregarded side dish, carrots have inched their way into a more central role in our modern cuisine. Chef Hilary even points out that in the trend of non-traditional carbs, carrot mash and carrot “noodles” have begun popping up on menus. The carrot’s roots are deep and if history is any indication of the future, their presentation may continue to change but carrots will be staying on our plates. [ eHI ]


Carrot Macadamia Nut Pie

Raw Carrot Salad



FARMING PUMPKINS IS A TEST of your patience, and part of that means leaving them on the vine longer than you may want to. They reward you with a bounty of tasty fruits that will store through the Winter without refrigeration. If you have properly fed and watered them, done your best to select the right varieties, and counteracted pests, they will thrive will a lot less care than more vulnerable edible plants. With squash, you do much of the work upfront, and then let them go.

One of the problems that growers face is this “hang time” where the vines, blooms, and fruits are vulnerable to anything from feral pigs, rodents, falling branches, floods, windstorms, theft, and insect damage. Throw in that some varieties can also get a sunburn that creates a scorched patch on the squash that will scar the fruits in such a way that it will not store and must be eaten immediately. A lot can go wrong in a season, but a lot can also go right. One of the ways that you can increase your success is by recognizing when to pick the squash fruits, and then explore how to cure them. In many climates, squash cure on the vine. What I mean by that is that the squash skin toughens, and the stem dries on the vine. The whole squash plant will die back, exposing pumpkins that were hidden below the once lush leaves. In Hawaii, and other tropical and sub-tropical areas, squash vines do not die back for a very long time unless you have stopped watering it or killed the roots of the plant. Leaving the question, “can I harvest them now?” on your mind.

When you grow annual squash plants that have become perennial due to climate, one of the biggest challenges is knowing when to pick. So many people pick way too soon, selecting shiny skinned fruits and then become unsatisfied with the flavor, or lack of flavor. There are traditional recipes in places like Italy and the Philippines, that call for immature fruits. If you are reading this, and have harvested your squash too young, consider those recipes as an option. If you are looking for mature, robust tasting squash, with a dense color and flavor, it is all about patience.

In Hawaii, squash takes a lot longer on the vine than in other zones. The cooling trade winds maintain temperatures that rarely rise above 80 degrees in upcountry and upper 80’s in lower altitudes. For squash, this is very mild. In California, for example, we worked harvesting heirloom pumpkins in the lower 100’s; somewhere around 110 degrees. Pumpkins are durable, but as harvesters, we felt vulnerable. When I first started harvesting the squash that I had grown in Hawaii, I did not know when to pick it. Through my research, I found an interesting bit of information from Naples, Italy. It described a technique where fruits were “cured” in the sun for 10-14 days, then moved to the shade for storage. I followed this recommendation religiously. It shocked people to learn that I had waited a full month before presenting these squash to chefs. My further experiments in aging squash brought them to optional flavor. A month or sometimes two months of aging created depth of flavor, and intensified flesh color that plated beautifully. I learned this by eating squash every day, cutting open both perfect, and damaged squash to study what is going on inside, and topping that off with reading online.

So back about the curing. Hawaiian landrace/heirloom varieties of kabocha squash are not necessarily orange or yellow. Many are greenish black, and they will remain that way from beginning to harvest. Try to look past the color, and more to the duration of time, and the skin appearance. A young fruit will shine with a glossy glow. Think of the Summer zucchini in the markets. If you take your thumbnail, and gently press, you can easily make an indent in the skin. You want to utilize this strategy when you first begin harvesting squash in Hawaii or other tropical zones. Some simple rules are that shiny, skin that you can indent with your nail means it is too soon to harvest.

What you will be looking for is a duller surface. Think paint finishes here: Glossy, semigloss, and matte. Make sure not to harvest at the glossy stage and focus on the other two stages. When you do harvest, do not break off the stems. Leave a couple inches of stem to dry on the pumpkin. This is like a “piko” or belly button for the pumpkin. Many of the squash that do not store properly were inadvertently damaged by the grower by removing the stem, which makes them vulnerable to an interior rot in tropical places. This is quite true in tropical and subtropical places, and more flexible in places where squash cure in the field. In general, I recommend leaving a couple inches of stem, let it dry, then once dry, you can clip it further before selling the produce.

After harvesting the squash, try moving them to a sunny, but protected table or part of the field where they can sit in the sun for 10-14 days. This toughens the skin and dries the stem. Then move them to a shady spot, or a storage shed with good air circulation. I found storing them in bushel baskets was not ideal for long term storage, but good for a couple of weeks if kept dry with good air circulation. Old tables under ironwood trees were my “go to.” In wet weather, you want to make sure to check on them, roll them around and check for any soft spots, or “wounds.” Eat any damaged ones as quickly as possible, as they will not be able to be stored for as long. It goes without saying that there are a multitude of types of damage that the skins can suffer. Time and experience will teach you which ones will store, and what types of damage causes internal rot in squash.

Knowing what you grow is key with squash. Some are closer to either the melon or gourd side of the family tree. They look different, taste different, and have different possibilities for use in the kitchen. I remember the squash Sibley (Pike’s Peak) C. Maxima was a real surprise. Presenting with a golden yellow flesh, and melon like perfume that intensified if left for a month after harvest. Know it, live it, and breathe it, and make note of your findings. These unusual heirloom varieties can be marketed with great success if you understand through firsthand usage, just what makes it special, and how to bring it to its optimal flavor, and color. [ eHI ]




BACK IN SUMMER 2016, on a trip to visit as many Kaua’i farms as possible, we stumbled across a Farmer named Cody Lee Meyer who was trying to grow local garlic. As most cooks in Hawai’i already know, along with quality cooking oil, sourcing local garlic is but a mere dream.

But Cody is tenacious and, lucky for us, never gave up. He took copious notes and , tried again and again, year after year, to find the magic formula. and he has had some success. Here he shares his edited notes of what variety seems to grow best on Kaua’i along with other helpful tips.


WORKS: purple stripe hardneck varieties like Metechi and Chesnok Red
DOESN’T WORK: softneck varieties (most commonly found in grocers)


January through June


Best performance was witnessed in sand mixed with compost; garlic prefers loose soil versus soil that compacts easily (like clay). Loose soil allows the bulb to grow easily.


Put garlic seeds in the fridge months before planting. I typically put them in the chiller/fridge in the first week of October. When the seeds (cloves) begin to put out roots, it’s time to plant. This can happen anytime between early January to late February. Each garlic variety has its unique awakening time in the fridge based on, what I believe, is solar declination. Seeds must be in a dark, low-humid, and cold (35-40°) area of the fridge for the hibernation period.

I usually layer garlic seeds (bulbs) in reusable black totes, with cloth and a cup or two of rice in between each of the layers to absorb moisture. Check bulbs once a week to look for mold or root development. Rotate bulbs in tote if necessary.


When roots begin to form, pull out of the fridge. Separate bulbs into cloves, then separate big cloves from small cloves. I suggest planting big and small separately, as small cloves will yield only small bulbs or a ‘green garlic’ for harvest. Bigger cloves equal bigger bulbs. Do not peel all the skin off of the clove, as the skin protects the seed. Plant the cloves roughly one inch into the soil, roots down, and cover gently. I plant them roughly one shaka-width apart.


After a couple of weeks, a garlic shoot will appear out of the soil, followed by more leaves in the weeks to come. Now, here’s the fun bit: You can let the garlic do its thing covered in dirt and harvest what’s magically pulled out of the soil, or you can increase bulb size by uncovering the soil around the bulb (but do not expose the roots), and remove the brown leaf that’s at the very bottom of the plant and peel it from the bulb every couple of days. This decreases tension on the bulb, allowing it to grow with ease, and the sun exposure changes the bulb’s skin color from white to purple. I learned this from one of our Filipino landscapers; she said that’s what they do in the Philippines to make their bulbs three times bigger. (Big thanks to her.)


Garlic does not like weeds. Weed routinely to make sure garlic gets all the nutrients and water.


Irrigate every 3–4 days during growing season (January-ish to late April), unless it’s very dry. Luckily, on Kaua’i, our seasons pair well with the garlic’s water needs. In other words, no need to irrigate if it rains. Garlic likes to be dry a few weeks before harvest. This year, I planted the Chesnok Red in mid- January, cutting the scapes and halting irrigation in mid-April. It rained a few times and when it rained heavily for days, I kept removing the soil around the bulb to expose it to sunlight. I believe this keeps the garlic from getting soggy underground and becoming moldy or rotting.


Field curing happens when there’s no rain for a couple of weeks and the garlic can simply dry naturally in the field.

If rain is on the horizon and you are satisfied with bulb size, go ahead and pull out of the ground. Store in a dry, warm area to cure for a couple of weeks. You can keep the leaves intact and the soil on.


Cut the garlic flower a few days after it appears. The garlic flower is strong and spicy, great for culinary uses. Cutting the flower causes the plant to focus energy on the bulb and not seed/flower production, which supposedly increases bulb size by at least 20% and retains the spiciness.


A bulb that’s ready for harvest will show dimples, which indicate clover formation. Some bulbs will be uni-bulb, or one giant clove, which makes peeling that much easier.

Synopsis: I’ve planted over 30 varieties of garlic since 2012 at five locations on Kaua’i. Hardneck purple stripe garlic varieties are the only ones that have worked consistently. I found they like a south-facing slope with full sun. Sand mixed with compost and red dirt showed the best results yet.

Garlic has a mind of its own and knows when daylight is getting longer during the winter and spring. Even in the fridge, it knows. It typically terminates by the summer solstice, too, which makes me think garlic understands an electromagnetic wavelength from the sun that farmers need to become more aware of. It’s a pain to peel back that bottom leaf every few days, especially when we’re talking thousands of bulbs, but it helps increase the overall size and harvest weight. Garlic has never been an easy crop to grow in Hawai’i, but it does grow here. I will continue to experiment with this crop until the day I die, not only because I’m as stubborn as they come, but I’m also always trying to plant the impossible and fill the kitchen cupboard with 100% homegrown ingredients. [ eHI ]

The edible Hawaiian Islands Test Kitchen received several shipments of garlic from Farmer Cody Lee Meyer throughout the 2020 harvest season. Instead of keeping all the garlic for ourselves, we shared it with home cooks, farmers, and chefs all across the state. We asked each person to rate the garlic by answering the following questions:

  1. General thoughts on the garlic appearance, size, and color.
  2. Thoughts/opinions on raw garlic.
  3. Thoughts/opinions on cooked garlic.
  4. Would you buy local garlic for your business?
  5. Care to share a recipe or how you used the garlic?

Sign up for our blog, follow us on Facebook, twitter, or Instagram as we trickle out comments and recipes from everyone who participated. Cody Lee Meyer Timbers Farm Manager Timbers Kaua’i Ocean Club & Residences 3770 Ala’oli Way Lihue, Kaua’i Hawai’i




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.




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 ]



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.