Category: Spring 2018

Papayas: A Little Slice of Paradise


To Europeans and Australians, it’s known as pawpaw. Cubans call it fruita bomba, whereas it’s mamão in Brazil. Christopher Columbus called it “the fruit of the angels,” while other early explorers nicknamed it “the tree melon.” The exact origins of the papaya are unknown, but it is widely accepted that this fruit of many monikers is native to the tropical region of the Americas.

There are two types of papayas, Mexican and Hawaiian. The papaya’s introduction to the Aloha State was likely in the 1820s, but it wasn’t until 1911 that the namesake type we know and love today came to the islands by way of Barbados. Oahu-based botanist Gerritt P. Wilder harvested seeds from a single papaya fruit while visiting the Caribbean island, and pocketed them before heading back home. This smaller papaya was named ‘Solo’ in 1919, and was the only commercially-grown variety in Hawaii by 1936. The name came from the notion that this fruit was perfect for a single person, as opposed to the larger Mexican varieties that could feed a group. (Maradol papayas, a Mexican cultivar, can weigh upwards of 10 pounds.) These smaller papayas became a chief export of the islands, thus earning the title of Hawaiian papayas.

If you’ve ever picked up a papaya in a mainland grocery store to come home and eagerly cut it open, only to be disappointed— you’re not alone. Hawaiian papayas are difficult to ship and highly perishable, due to their fragility and fickle shelf life. Also, they do not increase in sweetness after they are picked, resulting in a bitter or bland selection. While states like Florida, California, and Texas produce them in small quantities, the bulk of the ones you find on the mainland are imported, either from Hawaii or internationally. A truly tropical fruit, the plants need certain conditions to thrive—and Hawaii is prime real estate for papaya production.


Lovers of sunshine and porous soil, papayas flourish in the superstar growing conditions the islands offer. They grow on what appears to be a tree, but is actually an enormous herb, and can be harvested during any season.

With a flavor profile falling somewhere on the melon spectrum, papayas—when perfectly ripe—are luscious, mildly sweet, and have a creamy, yet juicy, mouthfeel. A raw, ripe Hawaiian papaya that’s ready to eat will be deep yellow (with a little green) on the outside, vibrant yellow-orange in the middle, and firm with a bit of give. Cut it lengthwise, scoop out the seeds, and dig in—just discard the skin.

The small black seeds are edible, too, but not nearly as palatable. They taste similar to a black peppercorn, and are ground and used as a substitute for such in some regions of the world. Or, they can be pulverized into a smoothie for an extra health boost. Green papayas, which are often shredded and used as a base in Southeast Asian–style salads, are simply unripe papayas with a comparable taste to jicama or mild cucumber.

In addition to being delicious, they boast a bunch of health benefits. Low in cholesterol, calories, and fat, papayas only taste indulgent. The fruit is packed with antioxidants, enzymes, phytochemicals, and minerals, and contains approximately 150%- 300% of your daily recommended vitamin C, depending on the size. Papain is an enzyme exclusively found in papayas, and is an effective digestive aid that’s prized for breaking down proteins— which works wonders for your skin and hair.


With a distinctly tropical flavor, myriad health benefits, and yearround harvest potential, papaya production across the archipelago rose steadily throughout the 20th century and continues to do so today. In the 1950s, however, the industry had a stroke of bad luck. The infamous papaya ringspot virus (PRSV) hit Oahu hard, and halted nearly all production on the island. During this time, papayas found a new home in the Puna district of Hawaii Island. After decades of uninterrupted farming, PRSV eventually ran rampant through Hawaii Island in the 1990s, and papayas faced the brink of extinction. To combat PRSV, two genetically modified (GM) varieties of papaya were introduced to Hawaii in 1998, after being developed by Cornell scientists and researchers from the University of Hawaii. These GM seeds were distributed to the disheartened papaya farmers in Puna—for free. One of the GM varieties, the Rainbow papaya, is often thought a GM success story within scientific communities, and many growers attribute it to giving their farms a second chance.

However, non-GM advocates have pushed for legislation against the introduction of future GM papaya varieties, and a handful of farms solely grow organic, non-GM plants—primarily the Kapoho variety. Genetically modified foods are a hotly debated topic, especially in Hawaii, and papayas are no exception. Whichever side of the debate you’re on, it’s safe to say that biotechnology has played a key role in the industry’s growth—and it’s important to note that GM papayas were developed by public-sector scientists, as opposed to for-profit corporations. Both GM and non-GM varieties are chock full of the aforementioned good stuff, like vitamins, minerals, and enzymes, and continue to make the industry a lucrative one.


Controversy aside, papaya production is booming, and stays in high demand. According to data from the National Agricultural Statistics Service, Hawaiian papayas brought in over 9 million dollars in 2016. Clocking in around 50 cents per pound, that’s a whole lot of fruit. And despite threats like PRSV, growing the fruit is a pretty quick and easy undertaking—it only takes about a year for the low-maintenance plants to start producing fruit.

With a rich, complex history and a bright future, papayas are a significant part of Hawaii’s culture, agriculture, and economy. And lucky for us, these delightful fruits are easy to come by. Between weekly farmers markets, those fruit stands sprinkled down the highways, and high-end smoothie and juice operations, you can get this little slice of paradise anytime. So, let’s collectively tip our hats to Mr. Wilder for bringing this iconic fruit to Hawaii all those years ago.

See For Yourself: The Food (Systems) Scene in Hawaii


INTRODUCTION: Publisher Dania Novack-Katz recently asked Pomai Weigert to write about her personal experience with our food system in Hawaii. Dania is tired of hearing that we import 90% of our food with no focus on inspiration or progress update. Here, Pomai, who was recently named one of the most important women in Hawaii Agriculture by Forbes magazine, shares her insight and point of view.

When I was asked to write a personal essay regarding my perspective on the current food systems scene in Hawaii, I felt excited for the opportunity but also a tad bit vulnerable. Strengthening local food security has been a greater part of my life’s work and there are so many routes I could take this conversation.

This assignment had me recounting my whole career. All the connections I’ve made and rely on, all that has happened in the world and in Hawaii since I started working in agri-tourism in 2008… It’s only been 10 years but it feels like forever.

It made me recall a memory that often centers me, from when I was a young student at Maui Community College still trying to figure out what to do with my life. I took a class back then from Kahu Lyons Naone on the Hawaiian Moon Calendar. As we were studying worksheets and learning the names and phases of the moon, he said, “You can use these charts to predict and guide you, but the truth is in the sky. Don’t always believe what’s on paper. Believe what you see with your own eyes.”

I think about those words all the time. They guided me as I embarked on my career as a researcher and agri-business consultant for Hawaii. Every time I step on to a farm or ranch, teach a class, visit a place and meet with people- I think about what he said. I have seen many things in my line of work, things that will never be put on paper, things that can never be put on paper. Things that never get counted or caught, things that go unseen, unspoken, and undiscovered. This is the “dark data,” the data that’s gone unrecorded but is happening every day. When it comes to statistics, I’ve learned that what’s on paper is not always what’s on point. I’ve gathered my own data, written my own reports and am my own source. When they ask me how I know, I tell them it’s what I’ve seen.

This is what I’m going to share with you. This is what I want you to know. This is what I’ve experienced and been a part of for nearly a decade.

First, agriculture is a touchy subject in Hawaii — consider that a fact. There are many factors that contribute to this; differences in culture, class, history, generation, business, technology and value systems to name a few. Historically, Hawaii is a society that has been broken down and re-built on the back of agriculture over and over again. Like nature, things come and go in cycles. We are currently in a re-grow cycle. We have crossed over from a plantation template and are in a new era of agriculture and food.

You’ve probably heard most of the food production statistics we have, they haven’t changed much in 10 years. The buzz words still ring to the tune of 90% imports, food insecurity, “average age of the farmer is 60-something years old,” Big Ag vs. Small Ag. I know these by heart, but I don’t believe them anymore. I’ve seen different. I know different.

Today, the people that grow our local food are from all walks of life; all ages, backgrounds and belief systems, much the way many of our ancestors were when they came to Hawaii in the plantation days, looking for opportunity, promising to work hard and filled with hopes and dreams. It wasn’t easy and it didn’t come without sacrifice. Those things are still the same, but farming in Hawaii no longer consists of working on a plantation. Today, farming in Hawaii is a chosen lifestyle. There are new buzz words now: beginning farmer, aina based education, farm to table, agri-tourism, sustainability, locavore. I know these by heart too, and I believe them. I have seen them. I know them.

Our focus on locally grown food has also shifted; it’s no longer about what we don’t have, it’s about what we do. Communities across the state are adapting to different environments, people, and resources. They’re rallying efforts to grow food in ways that are bold & collaborative. They’re developing partnerships, challenging paradigms and transforming leadership. Drawing lines and picking sides is no longer the greatest priority. Succession and survival are, and not just physically but culturally, spiritually and emotionally. Growing food for Hawaii and buying food from Hawaii is a way of life many of us believe in—by actually doing it and supporting it. This isn’t just about food; it’s about life.

Over the last 10 years, new, non-traditional plans of action have been designed to meet our demand for food. Statewide programs like GoFarm Hawaii were formed specifically to generate a new generation of ag-producers that support Hawaii’s Sustainable Food Systems. Since 2012 they have trained 200+ new farmers, produced over 45K pounds of food each year, and fed roughly 500 families in Hawaii in 2017. They are not the only program doing this.

Aina based education models have also carved out a space for themselves in Hawaii’s food movement scene. Land and cultural stewardship have become one of the regenerative avenues many Hawaii Farmers and Native Hawaiians have taken to by incorporating cultural practices and values into their farm models and succession plans. We’re reviving native food production and creating stronger pipelines to distribute these staples to native people & local residents on every island. Each week, places like Waipa Foundation produce up to 1000+ lbs. of food and feed up to 300 families on Kaua’i every Thursday. I have yet to visit an ahupua’a in Hawaii that doesn’t produce some type of native staple for themselves and their region.

Women are also changing the game in the food systems industry. Nationally, women make up 40% of the farming community, and I suspect it’s at least that much here in Hawaii. Women have always been in agriculture, they just haven’t always been seen. They are the unsung heroes and boss ladies in this business and they are no longer “behind the scenes.” They bring a different energy, vision and vitality to an industry that has been male dominated for generations.

New niche networks in farming are sprouting up as we speak including veterans, retirees, and people with multi-disciplinary backgrounds. Not to mention all the “supporting” roles the food system encompasses: distributors, aggregators, retailers, restaurants, chefs, friends, family and more. Farming food is no longer the sole responsibility of the farmer, but has crept into the consciousness of the people they feed. Everyone plays a part whether they grow, sell, buy or eat.

These are the circumstances and this is the glimpse I want you to see, so that you know what is here and what is coming, so you can prepare, strategize and be brave. It is with my aloha that I share these words with you so that you may do good work, make good choices and prevail.

Pomai Weigert was born and raised in Hawaii. She is an educated world traveler, a global & local agri-business researcher and consultant, a local food rocker and an avid farm lover. She was recently named one of Hawaii’s Top 5 Women in Food by Forbes Magazine and was an inaugural Tedx Speaker for Maui. She has worked with many of Hawaii’s top agriculture and tourism outlets & organizations, shared insight, led training in both sectors and currently helps pioneer healthy food systems through the University of Hawaii.

Planting a Canoe

Photograph courtesy of: Kristin Hettermann

“Few people realize that Hawaii is the most isolated land area in the world- far more isolated than the Galapagos Islands. The importance of protecting endangered species is unsurpassed and it all begins with watersheds. It is crucial that our green mountain tops continue to survive and thrive because they capture and store the water for all of our streams, but most importantly feed all the species that live in Hawaii. Hawaii has over 400 endangered species and all of them would perish without a watershed.”
— Peter Merriman, Chef and Restaurateur

Maui’s Pu’u Kukui Watershed is a heartbeat of the Pacific Ocean- one of the most precious sources of water in the world. Receiving upwards of 365 inches of rain per year, Pu‘u Kukui is one of the wettest spots on earth and home to many native and endangered plant and animal species that exist nowhere else in the world. Translated to ‘hill of enlightenment’, Pu‘u Kukui is the highest peak of Mauna Kahālāwai. Encompassing more than 9,000 acres of the West Maui mountainside, the Pu‘u Kukui Watershed Preserve was created in 1992 and is one of the largest privately- owned nature preserves in the state.

August 19, 2017 saw a special day for both Pu‘u Kukui and Hawaii at large. Home from its momentous three-year global circumnavigation, having visited more than 150 ports in 27 nations, Maui welcomed Hōkūleʻa, the great voyaging canoe, and its crew to Honolua Bay, an auspicious occasion also commemorating the original departure site of its maiden voyage over forty years ago in 1976. Over 1200 keiki welcomed the ship at the shore, and 700 community members honored this momentous event by gathering together for a tree planting ceremony on the watershed above. At one time, koa trees were used to make voyaging canoes, but today there are few of these native trees remaining which are large enough to do so. This celebratory tree planting was aimed at sowing seeds for the future, in the most literal way.

“Today we’re gonna plant canoes…This idea of restoring a canoe forest has brought everyone together, which I think is the ingredient of the real movement of paying respect to our place, our ancestors, and really preparing a role for our children. When we plant trees we plant values of our ancestors. When we put a koa in the ground it means this land must remain sacred. This is a movement – it’s all people, no separations. Today we aren’t just planting trees, we are planting canoes, today we are planting the seeds for a whole new forest, to protect the soil that protects the reefs.”
—Nainoa Thompson, President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society

In total, 4,000 trees took root that day in the Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve ma kai conservation area – 1000 koa trees and thousands of other native plants. The idea to plant 4000 trees is a big idea, and ideas like that take not just a vision, but a powerful support team to help them come to fruition. The angel for this dream ended up being Peter Merriman, a pioneer of the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement that houses his signature restaurant just below the pristine watershed that forms the backdrop to Kapalua Resort. The intact native ecosystem at Pu’u Kukui is exactly the way it was hundreds of years ago and water from this mountain supplies residents and guests alike from Honokohau to Wailea.

It was by chance, as the most kismet partnerships often times are, that Peter Merriman struck up a conversation with a fellow passenger on a flight to Kona two years ago in December of 2016. The passenger happened to be Pōmaikaʻi Kaniaupio-Crozier, the conservation manager for the Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve. During that flight Pōmaikaʻi expressed simply the importance of native plant restoration and maintaining the health of the forests at Pu‘u Kukui.

As Peter tells the story, it was the natural decision to support the pristine watershed that shines down on his property. By the time the plane touched down on the runway, the partnership was developed. And no better partnership could have been aligned. Three-time James Beard Award finalist for “Best Chef,” Pacific Northwest and Hawaii, Chef Peter Merriman is credited with beginning the farm-to-table movement in Hawaii over 25 years ago. Merriman showcases his farm to table style at his restaurants throughout the islands with the ever-present mantra to “Do The Right Thing!” for the land, community, and their guests.

Since that fortuitous discussion on the plane in December of 2016, Peter and his staff have put their passion and support into being pono, doing the right thing. Through the “Adopt a Tree & Preserve Our ‘ ina” membership program, diners are given the opportunity to purchase a native tree to be planted in the rainforest, participating in the preservation of one of the most beautiful and sacred places in all of Hawai‘i. The 3-tiered program offers the option between the A’ali’I native shrub ($50), Koa Tree ($100), or the Ohi’a Tree ($200) which are all vital to the island’s watershed.

Through Merriman’s commitment to donating $1 from each Caesar Salad sold in perpetuity (forever), this donation goes beyond supporting Friends of Pu’u Kukui, the non-profit organization dedicated to the conservation and maintenance of the Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve. It is a model for the community that demonstrates a dedicated and longstanding commitment that Merriman’s will uphold their responsibility. Merriman’s brought to light that water from Pu’u Kukui is everyone’s resource and thus everyone’s responsibility.

Upon the return of Hōkūleʻa to Honolua Maui, Merriman’s Kapalua hosted an intimate meet and greet event celebrating the Hōkūleʻa crewmembers and Maui Island. With attendees from Hōkūleʻa, Pu’u Kukui, Save Honolua Coalition, and Maui Native Nursery among others, the public event raised a total of $3,045, which was donated to Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve to help defray the cost of the tree planting event.

In total, Merriman’s provided more than $12,000 in monetary support to Pu’u Kukui in 2017. Outside funding from Merriman’s assisted in the planting of a 5-acre native mesic forest (with koa trees, lama trees, ‘a’ali’I shrubs and native grasses) and reducing the pressure of invasive weeds to the upper reaches. Also thanks to Merriman’s support, nearly 2,000 community members engaged to participate in marine awareness, erosion control, native planting, and mesic forest restoration.

“It’s important that we continue our commitment to Hawaii Regional Cuisine and our philosophy of giving back to Hawaii’s community – culturally, economically and ethically. We have always operated with the goal to leave the world a better place. Our donation program with Pu’u Kukui is very special and one that is important for the sustainability of Maui’s water supply and natural resources. Helping to conserve the Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve aligns with our on-going efforts to protect the ‘āina for future generations to come. The promotions we offer at the restaurant encourage giving back.”
—Peter Merriman, Chef and Restaurateur

The 1,000 koa trees in the native forest were a planting of canoes for future generations- providing natural resources as well as reminding the world of the Hawaiian commitment to Mālama Honua, to care for the land- from the summit of Pu’u Kukui, to the shores of Honolua Bay, to around the globe. The koas planted in this year one infant stage will soon be a seed source supplying future planting efforts. Over time, as trees become mature, future generations will have the opportunity to carve koa canoes as Hawaiians have in the past. Not all trees will be mature at the same time or even ideal shape or size, but those trees will always be seed sources and part of the fabric of native forest habitat supporting water recharge.

“I was worried about my children living in the urban setting and having no access to getting connected to the earth. When I watched them yesterday, on their own, quietly and softly, protecting the koa seedling, putting it in the ground gently. They said, “Dad can you bring me back, I want to see my tree?” The real seeds that are being planted into the hearts and minds of children, they are the leadership of the future. Every time there is an act of kindness like you see today, act of love and aloha, we aren’t doing it for ourselves, we’re not doing it for just Honolua, yes, it’s for Hawaii but really it’s for the earth. So what we had today was this community that came together to be part of the greatest movement ever. It’s a race, right, it’s a race about what we destroy compared to what we renew. So, today we win.”
—Nainoa Thompson, President of the Polynesian Voyaging Society, August 19, 2017, Pu’u Kukui Watershed Preserve

2018 Local Heroes

For the past 11 years we have asked our readers and the community to share with edible Hawaiian Islands magazine who they feel are some of our local heroes. This is not a best of contest based on popularity but from actual people in our shared community. These individuals or businesses are doing extraordinary work, day in and day out to help make Hawaii a better place to live and enjoy food and drink. This year, for the first time ever we had two ties.

Hawaii Food Basket –
Hawaii Island’s Food Bank
Hilo Office
40 Holomua Street
Hilo, HI 96729 808-933-6030

Kailua-Kona Office
73-4161 Ulu Wini Place
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Kauai Ono
Chef Justin Smith

Hawaiian Organic Noni
P. O. Box 267
Anahola, HI 96703

Pastry Chef Dessert (TIE)
Leoda’s Kitchen and Pie Shop
820 Olowalu Village Road
Lahaina , HI 96761

Manoa Chocolate Hawaii
Kailua Factory
315 Uluniu Street, Suite 203
Kailua, HI 96743

Food Shop Farmers Market
Upcountry Farmers’ Market Maui
Kulamalu Town Center
55 Kiopea Street
Pukalani, HI 96768
Saturday’s 7:00am – 11:00 am
Market Manager: Neil Coshever

Beverage Artisan (TIE)
Ola Brew Co
74-5598 Luhia Street
Kailua-Kona, HI 96740

Shaka Tea
Bella Hughes
Harrison Rice

Growing Happiness

I met my first centenarian on Maui. She was 104 on the day I met her, and though her body looked conspicuously flat beneath her bedsheet, her smile spread all the way to her eyes when she saw me. She was in a good mood that day, her nurses told me. Our conversation wove in and out of sensibility as we talked about family, the decorations in her room, and the sound of the rain outside the window at night. The animation in her face seemed to be a tenuous miracle; inside her small, fragile body a curious spirit bobbed in and out of sight behind century-old eyes.

Most of us are lucky to have met one or two centenarians in our lives, but Dan Buettner – best-selling author, National Geographic explorer, and founder of the Blue Zones – has been far more fortunate. He went looking for centenarians eighteen years ago when he became interested in the mystery of longevity, and the question of which geographic areas are home to the healthiest, longest-lived populations on Earth. As Buettner and his team poured over years of population statistics, they used a blue Sharpie marker to circle potential longevity hotspots on a map, narrowing down the possibilities until they were left with five specific locations – Okinawa, Japan; Sardinia, Italy; Loma Linda, California; the Nicoya Peninsula, Costa Rica; and Ikaria, Greece. These five regions would eventually become known as the Blue Zones. Buettner then went on to analyze the lifestyles and diets of the people who lived in these regions, rounding up the commonalities, and offering them up to the rest of the world as a guide for best-health practices.

Having successfully pinned down the issue of longevity, Buettner then turned his attention to the even larger enigma of happiness. Using the same statistical approach, he’s combed the world over once more, this time looking for areas where people are not only steadily surviving, but positively thriving. His latest book, The Blue Zones of Happiness, profiles Denmark, Costa Rica and Singapore as three of the happiest places on Earth and elucidates the lessons to be learned from these flourishing countries.

Buettner has taken this research the extra mile with the advent of the Blue Zones Project. In this program he partners with Sharecare, an integrative health app, to help revitalize communities by spreading the knowledge of the world’s happiest and healthiest places. One of the leading principles behind the project is that people in the original Blue Zones, “…did not try to be healthy through behavior-change, but health ensued because their environment supported living longer, better.” (Blue Zones Project Hawaii Promotional Material.) Ashley Leahey, the Hawaii Statewide Engagement Lead for the Blue Zones Project describes the program as, “…a community-led well-being initiative that focuses on making small changes in our environment that nudge [us towards] healthier decisions. With that goal in mind, we work with restaurants, grocery stores, worksites, faith-based organizations, schools and individuals to make the healthy choice the easy, or inevitable choice.”

Blue Zones Project has now worked with communities in nine different states, including Hawaii, which signed on with the program in 2014. Hawaii currently has eight communities enrolled in the program; four on Oahu, three on Hawaii Island, and one on Maui. Hawaii Island’s three communities encompass the whole island; once West Hawaii (the most recently added community) completes certification, Hawaii County will become the first entire county in the nation to achieve Blue Zones Approval.

Blue Zones Project always operates within communities with the support of a local sponsor; Hawaii has the Hawaii Medical Service Association (HMSA) to thank for introducing Blue Zones Project to the state. Elisa Yadao, Senior Vice President, Chief Communications and Community Engagement Officer at HMSA, explains that the Blue Zones Project involves, “…reengineering the way work places are laid out, incorporating health considerations in food policies for schools, prioritizing health when deciding about zoning policies. This approach really only works when it is community driven so in bringing Blue Zones Project to Hawaii we really wanted to make sure we focused on community priorities.”

With that in mind, the project doesn’t pop up just anywhere; communities must apply and be selected to become a part of the initiative. “Blue Zones Project needs to see that the community is excited, ready and that Blue Zones Project can make a difference in your community,” says Leahey who helped spearhead Central Maui’s application. She brought together local business owners, politicians, and community organization representatives to give a winning presentation on why Central Maui was a good fit for the program.

Endeavoring to lead by example, HMSA was the first workplace in Hawaii to receive Blue Zones Approval. The health care insurer, with close to 2000 employees, enacted many changes as part of their certification process. At their Honolulu headquarters, for example, they installed filtered water coolers on every floor, got rid of vending machines, established a rooftop garden, encouraged the use of stairs over elevators, became a smoke-free campus, and began hosting a farmers’ market outside the building every Friday.

Leahey explains the logic behind Blue Zones Project implementation at worksites, “You spend the majority of your day at work, so if you have healthy snacks in the office and if your company is supporting well-being…and letting you go walking during the day, that’s what’s really going to impact the person.”

The same theory can be applied to children at school. Many schools on Hawaii Island have gone through the approval process, including Kua O Ka Lā New Century Public Charter School in Puna. The Hawaiian-focused K-12 school is located at an ancient Hawaiian village and is guided by cultural principles that encourage respect and connectivity with the environment and each other. Many of the school’s practices were already in line with the Blue Zones Project, such as their greenhouse and gardening program, their culinary arts program, and their morning protocol. Jane Howard, a Special Services teacher on the Health and Wellness Committee at the school, describes the morning ritual saying, “Every morning… we gather all the grades together and do wehena, which is a chant asking for permission to come in, asking for permission to learn, it’s based on traditional Hawaiian values…It gives kids a great sense of community and connection and that’s part of the Blue Zones, feeling like you’re connected to your ancestors.” The school has also offered a class on the Blue Zones Project, and one senior was inspired to make a Blue Zones Cookbook for kids as a senior project. The school is now working on becoming an approved worksite as well.

Blue Zones Project also leads volunteer programs in the communities. They organize cooking and gardening demos, hold Purpose Workshops designed to help attendees recognize their natural gifts and articulate a life purpose, coordinate “walking school-buses” where adult volunteers are paired with groups of children to walk to school, and organize walking groups called moais, which encourage gentle movement and socializing.

While the Blue Zones Project doesn’t promote a specific diet per say, the five original Blue Zones display significant dietary overlap, and also share key behaviors and attitudes towards food.

-PLANT SLANT: While most aren’t vegetarian, all five cultures eat meat sparingly, usually only a few times a month at a serving size of 3-4 ounces.

-“BREAKFAST LIKE A KING, LUNCH LIKE A PRINCE, DINNER LIKE A PAUPER:” While Americans often consume overly large portions of food and tend to eat their largest meal at dinnertime, most of the Blue Zones enjoy a large breakfast, a moderate lunch, and a small dinner.

-FOCUSED EATING: The absence of TVs and other distractions at meal times generally encourage more conscious eating and reduce the risk of over-eating. Meals are often prefaced by expressions of gratitude.

-A TOUCH OF ALCOHOL: All of the Blue Zones (except for the Loma Linda population which is largely made up of strict Adventists) feature moderate alcohol consumption, usually wine drunk alongside a meal.

What’s actually on the menu? Legumes are the true common denominator, featuring prominently in all five Zones. Black beans, soy beans, chickpeas, lentils, fava beans, and black-eyed peas are some of the staple legumes that make an appearance in the daily diets of Blue Zoners. Other foods that appear frequently throughout the Blue Zones include: sweet potatoes, fresh fruit, leafy greens, whole grain or sourdough breads, sheep or goat cheese/ milk, nuts, and herbal and green teas.

All of this is good news for those of us who live in Hawaii with year-round access to fresh fruits and vegetables. In The Blue Zones of Happiness, Buettner suggests emulating the Costa Rican habit of eating six servings of fruits and vegetables a day. He warns that this will likely affect happiness levels as well as health, “Research shows that people who go from no fruit or produce in their diets to eight servings a day experience a bump in their well-being equivalent to getting a new job.” He also suggests taking a page from Denmark’s book and opting for quality food over large quantities, “Design your menu based on the quality of the food you are eating. Choose fresh and local, fruits and vegetables. Eat out less often, but when you do, make it special.”

With the Blue Zones Project working with many restaurants in our communities, it’s easier than ever to choose a “special” place to eat out at. Laulima Food Patch in Kailua-Kona, the first Blue Zones Project approved restaurant in the West Hawaii community, felt immediate kinship to the project. “Our restaurant was almost designed for the Blue Zones Project,” says owner Bonita Lao, referring to the restaurant’s focus on fresh, local ingredients, including lots of produce, legumes and healthy grains. When asked why she was interested in becoming an approved restaurant, Lao says, “Working alongside the Blue Zones Project gives me confidence to encourage and promote better eating habits leading to a better future that will challenge, motivate, and inspire our younger and older generations towards positive, healthy change.” She says going through the certification process had a positive impact on Laulima’s staff as well; it led them to reevaluate lifestyle choices and serves as a good reminder of best health practices.

These sentiments are echoed by Lane Muraoka, owner of Big City Diner’s six locations on Oahu. “It was the way I was brought up, the way I was raised,” says the Kailua local. Growing up, Muraoka’s mother was always testing out new vegetarian dishes on her kids; his grandmother grew all sorts of tropical fruits and his grandfather took them foraging for fern and bamboo shoots. Muraoka always wanted to offer more than your standard diner food. He wanted there to be healthy options – fresh fish, tofu, brown rice, green tea – alongside the burgers and fries. “I’m not a diet guy,” he says. “You just make healthy choices. So I thought Blue Zones was great, we can partner together, we can help spread the word, because a lot of diseases and illnesses are caused by poor diet or eating habits.” The two Big City Diner locations in the Koolaupoko Community were some of the first restaurants to achieve Blue Zones approval on Oahu.

Restaurants aren’t the only part of the food supply chain that Blue Zones works with; they also have a certification process for grocery stores. The Foodland stores starting joining the project after their main office became a certified worksite and they saw what a positive impact the program had on their employees. Participating Foodlands now have clear signage labeling Blue Zones foods and highlighting locally grown produce, they distribute recipe brochures that inspire customers to cook truly nutritious meals, and offer Blue Zones Project check-out lanes, where customers will find water, fresh-cut fruit, and granola bars instead of the usual candy and soda. Monica McLaren, Foodland’s Director of Instructional Design, describes the feedback from their involvement with Blue Zones Project as, “Overwhelmingly positive; customers often thank our employees and management in our Blue Zones Project approved grocery stores, and sales of specific Blue Zones items in those stores has increased.” They currently have eleven approved stores throughout the islands, with three more in the works.

The beauty of the Blue Zones is that, rather than worshipping an image of enduring youth, it puts the emphasis on honoring the aging process. The centenarians in the original Blue Zones are highly respected members of their communities, valued for their wisdom and experience. They hold active roles in their families and communities right up until the end of their long lives. They experience far less chronic disease then other cultures, not because they exercise and engage in trendy diets, but because their lifestyles require them to keep their bodies moving, and their minds engaged. They have a strong sense of connection to the people around them and approach the world with a sense of purpose and knowledge of their own self-worth.

It’s fitting that the Blue Zones story began with an interest in longevity, because everyone involved with the Blue Zones Project seems to have an eye trained towards the future. These people know that change will not happen overnight. They realize that increased well-being for the individual is rooted in the decisions and policies of the larger systems they belong to. The Blue Zones Project is not about quick fixes and instant gratification; it’s the gradual work of restructuring environments and mindsets so that community members find themselves living healthier lives by default, no special discipline or self-restraint required. It may take a generation or two before these well-being practices are fully incorporated, but as any centenarian can surely attest, there’s no shortcut to 100, you get there one day at a time.

Finger Limes

The finger lime plant (Citrus australasica) is also sometimes called caviar lime. It is a thorny understory shrub of lowland, subtropical rainforests and dry rainforests in the coastal border region of Queensland and New South Wales, Australia. It is also now being cultivated in Hawai’i.

The shrub grows to 3-7 feet in height and its leaves are small, smooth, and somewhat glossy. Flowers are white with petals 6–9 inches in length. The fruit is cylindrical, 4–8 inches long, sometimes slightly curved, and shaped like a fat finger. Finger limes come in a range of colors from green to yellow to brown to pink, with the pink being a little sweeter.

To eat this fruit simply cut the ends off and place it on a flat surface. Take a rolling pin and roll out the small, caviar-shaped vesicles, like squeezing toothpaste out from a tube. The fruit caviar can be used wherever you would use a squeeze of citrus.



Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
Course: Dessert


  • 9-Inch Skillet or Cake Pan
  • Sieve
  • Wax Paper
  • Electric Mixer
  • Knife


  • 6 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter Room Temperature
  • 8 Tbsp. Unsalted Butter Room Temperature
  • 1 Cup Lightly Packed Dark Brown Sugar
  • Cup Macadamia Nut Pieces
  • 1 Large Papaya Peeled, Halved, Seeded, and Cut Into 1-Inch Wedges
  • Cup Cake Flour
  • 1 tsp. Baking Powder
  • ¼ tsp. Baking Soda
  • ¼ tsp. Salt
  • ¾ Cup Granulated Sugar
  • 2 Large Eggs Room Temperature
  • 2 tsp. Vanilla Extract
  • ½ Cup Buttermilk Room Temperature


  • Set a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat it to 375 degrees.
  • Melt the 6 tablespoons butter in an ovenproof 9-inch skillet over moderate heat.
  • Add brown sugar and cook, stirring until it is dissolved and bubbling. Remove from the heat.
  • Sprinkle macadamia nut pieces over the bottom of the skillet or cake pan.
  • Arrange papaya wedges in a tight pinwheel around the outside of the pan, filling in the center with any broken or odd-shaped pieces.
  • Sift flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt onto a sheet of wax paper.
  • Beat the remaining 8 tablespoons of butter and the sugar in an electric mixer at high speed for 2 minutes, or until well combined and smooth.
  • Add eggs one at a time, beating until each is incorporated. Continue beating 5 more minutes. With the mixer on the lowest setting, or using a rubber spatula, beat or fold in one-third of the flour mixture.
  • Beat or fold in vanilla extract and half of the buttermilk, then another one-third of the flour mixture.
  • Beat or fold in the remaining buttermilk and then the remaining flour mixture.
  • Spread batter evenly over the papaya wedges.
  • Bake for 30 minutes or until golden and the center springs back when lightly pressed.
  • Cool the cake in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes.
  • Run a knife around the edge of the pan and place a serving platter on top of the pan. Carefully flip the entire thing over. If any papaya is stuck to the pan, scrape it off with a knife and rearrange on top of the cake.
  • Let cool for 15 minutes before serving.



Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
Course: Main Course, Salad
Author: edible Hawaiian Islands


  • Pan


  • ½ lb. Fresh Ahi
  • 1 Tbsp. Oil
  • 1 Ripe Hawaiian Papaya
  • 1 Ripe Local Avocado
  • 4 Cups Cleaned, Dried Local Lettuce Such As Butter Lettuce
  • Fresh Lime Juice
  • Salt and Pepper


  • Salt and pepper the fresh ahi steak and grill the fish in a hot pan with oil. Cook to your taste but do not overcook. Most people like the ahi steak rare. Set aside to cool then cube it in ½” cubes.
  • Cut the papaya in half, seed and peel and cube it in ½” cubes.
  • Cut the avocado in half, seed and peel and cube it in ½” cubes. Squeeze lime juice and set it aside.
  • Arrange the lettuce on a platter and add ahi, papaya, and avocado. You can be as creative as you like by arranging the salad together. Top with a drizzle of papaya seed dressing ( )



Course: Pupu, Side Dish
Author: Chef Gary Johnson of Hana Ranch


  • Roasting Pan
  • Mandolin, French Fry Cutter, or Knife
  • Large Pot


  • 2 Fully Mature 'Ulus Not Ripe i.e. Still Firm.
  • 3 Cups Water
  • Frying Oil As Needed
  • Kosher Salt As Needed


  • Preheat oven to 325 degrees.
  • Take the 'ulu and place in a roasting pan along with 3 cups of water and cover tightly with foil.
  • Place in the oven and allow to steam for 1-1.5 hours until fully cooked. Remove 'ulu from pan and cool in the refrigerator for 2 hours minimum, until fully cooled. (This can be done ahead of time.)
  • Remove cooked 'ulu from the refrigerator, and peel outside skin. Using a mandolin, French fry cutter, or knife, cut into desired shapes, making sure to remove all seeds. Lay all fries out ready to be fried.
  • Heat frying oil in a large pot (or heat deep fryer) to 365 degrees, making sure there are at least 6 inches of oil in the pot. In small batches, add 'ulu fries to oil and cook each until golden brown, and remove from hot oil with skimmer onto a paper towel-lined sheet tray. While fries are still hot from the fryer, sprinkle kosher salt over them to taste. Make sure not to overcrowd the frying pot, or stack fried 'ulu fries too high after cooking (they’ll steam themselves and lose crispiness). 
  • Serve immediately.



Photography by Mieko Horikoshi
Course: Condiment
Author: Chef Gary Johnson of Hana Ranch


  • Large Pot
  • Blender or Vitamix
  • Sauté Pan Optional


  • 3 Quarts Tomatoes Peeled, Cored, Rough Chopped ( Fresh Preferably, If Using Canned - Strain and Discard Liquid )
  • 3 Quarts Papaya Peeled, Cored, Rough Chopped
  • lbs. Maui Onion Sliced
  • 2 Cups Apple Cider Vinegar
  • 3 Tbsp. Kosher Salt
  • tsp. Ground Dry Mustard Seed*
  • ¾ tsp. Ground Allspice*
  • ¼ tsp. Ground Clove*
  • 1 tsp. Ground Black Pepper*
  • Pinch of Ground Cayenne Pepper To Taste ( Optional )
  • 2 oz. Canola Oil Or Any Neutral Cooking Oil


  • Add oil to large pot and apply medium heat, then add sliced onions. Sauté onions in pot until translucent and have lost all moisture, but not browned. 
  •  Add remaining ingredients, bring to a low simmer, and maintain low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally.
  • Remove from heat, and blend (in batches) in blender or Vitamix, and return to pot. Cook for additional hour on low heat, stirring often to prevent sticking to the bottom of pot. Reduce liquid to thick viscosity, and remove from heat.
  • Taste and adjust salt, brown sugar, or vinegar if needed.
  • Cool and store in refrigerator for up to 30 days, or follow hot jar/canning method to preserve much longer.


*Note-For more flavor, all spices should be toasted whole in a sauté pan and ground in spice grinder just prior to use.