Hawaiian chili peppers are small chilis, growing up to an inch long on a large bush that can reach up to four feet in height. The peppers grow pointing up to the sky. Hawaiian chili peppers mature to a bright red color and are available year-round. The small peppers are very big on spice, and rank high on the Scoville Heat scale – around 200,000 SHU. In Hawai‘i, these small but potent peppers are also known as Bird Beak, likely due to the method in which these peppers were spread throughout the tropical islands – by birds eating the peppers and depositing seeds in their droppings. The shape of the pepper – resembling a small bird beak – may also have something to do with the name. Like other members of the pepper family, Hawaiian chili peppers are high in vitamins C and A. The high amount of capsaicin in the Hawaiian chili peppers serves as a stimulant, with anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. Capsaicin is also used as a pain reliever for those suffering from arthritis or migraines. It is thought that Hawaiian chili peppers came to Hawaii by way of Don Francisco de Paul Marin, a Spanish horticulturist who came to Hawaii at the end of the 18th century. Marin was also responsible for the first mangoes in Hawaii. Additionally, it is most likely the Portuguese who are responsible for the popularly-used Hawaiian condiment, chili pepper water. Hawaiian chili peppers are likely native to Central and South America, as are most members of the Capsicum genus. The two most popular members of C. frutescens are the Tabasco and cayenne varieties. The Capsicum peppers’ small size makes them ideal snacks for birds, who do not have the same reaction to capsaicin as humans do. Birds are another likely suspect for how chilis reached the island chain of Hawaii. Hawaiian chili peppers are known to local Hawaiians as nīoi, or nīoi pepa. The plants produce an average of 100 peppers each, making them prolific growers.The most popular way to use Hawaiian chili peppers in Hawai‘i is for making ‘chili pepper water’ or ‘fire water’, a spicy sauce used as a condiment on everything from eggs to rice and even in cocktails. Chili pepper water is made by combining garlic, a handful of Hawaiian chili peppers, salt, and water. The concoction is put in a jar, shaken a bit, and left to sit in a cool, dark place for a month before it’s used.
Author: Chef Gage Smith, Brown's Beach House and Hale Kai, Fairmont Orchid, Hawai'i
1tsp.Hawaiian Sea Salt
2Cloves of Garlic
2Fresh Ginger Slices
15Hawaiian Chili PeppersSliced
Add the ingredients to a small pot and bring to a quick boil.
Reduce the heat to simmer for five minutes.
Remove from heat and cool. Once cool transfer to a sterilized bottle.
Let sit for at least five days before use. The longer it sits the more the flavors will infuse — it gets better over time.
This will keep in the refrigerator for about a year.
Photography by DreamstimeAt the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen, we love the way cooking over fire can transform a meal. This summer, we reached out to a different farm on each of the Hawaiian Islands, selected a fruit or vegetable from that farm, and grilled them over a fire. Add an unlikely dipping sauce to go along with it, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable pupu. In keeping with the themes of this issue – COOK, FIRE, and NO RECIPE – we improvised everything based on what we had in the fridge.With hundreds of different varieties of bananas growing on Hawai‘i Island, we found our favorite bananas at The Kamuela Farmers’ Market. Simply peel and place them on the BBQ. We rubbed our bananas with coconut oil then seasoned them with sea salt. Create dipping sauces like chocolate, chopped macadamia nuts, toasted coconuts, and enjoy!
Photography by Barry FrankelAt the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen, we love the way cooking over fire can transform a meal. This summer, we reached out to a different farm on each of the Hawaiian Islands, selected a fruit or vegetable from that farm, and grilled them over a fire. Add an unlikely dipping sauce to go along with it, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable pupu. In keeping with the themes of this issue – COOK, FIRE, and NO RECIPE – we improvised everything based on what we had in the fridge.Our friend Cody Lee Meyer is now farming at Timbers Resort where they grow all kinds of radishes. Black, watermelon, red… choose your variety, cut them in half, grill and chill. Make grass-fed compound butter and add salt.
Photography by Barry FrankelAt the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen, we love the way cooking over fire can transform a meal. This summer, we reached out to a different farm on each of the Hawaiian Islands, selected a fruit or vegetable from that farm, and grilled them over a fire. Add an unlikely dipping sauce to go along with it, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable pupu. In keeping with the themes of this issue – COOK, FIRE, and NO RECIPE – we improvised everything based on what we had in the fridge.Ho Farms produces baby tomatoes of all different sizes and colors. Stick them on a skewer and it’ll be less than two minutes till you’ve got a great pupu! We added za’atar, fresh mint, grilled lemon, olive oil, and smoked sea salt. A perfect little summer salad.
Photography by Barry FrankelAt the edible Hawaiian Islands test kitchen, we love the way cooking over fire can transform a meal. This summer, we reached out to a different farm on each of the Hawaiian Islands, selected a fruit or vegetable from that farm, and grilled them over a fire. Add an unlikely dipping sauce to go along with it, and you’ve got yourself an unforgettable pupu. In keeping with the themes of this issue – COOK, FIRE, and NO RECIPE – we improvised everything based on what we had in the fridge.Cold smoked plain yogurt with Hawaiian Volcano Guava Smoked Sea Salt.NOTE how we cut the pineapple so it’s easy to grab, dip and eat. We liked the contrast of the hot, juicy pineapple and the cold smoked yogurt.
1lb.Fresh Sashimi-Grade 'Ahi SteakChilled and Cut Into 1-Inch Cubes
1½Tbsp.Soy SauceShoyu - Plus More To Taste
3¼tsp.Hawaiian Salt 'Alaea - Plus More To Taste
¼CupMaui or Yellow OnionThinly Sliced
½CupGreen OnionsGreen Parts Only - Chopped
1Tbsp.Toasted Macadamia NutsFinely Chopped
2CupsSteamed RiceFor Serving
In a bowl, combine the cubed ‘ahi, soy sauce, sesame oil, salt, Maui onion, green onions, gochugaru, and toasted macadamia nuts and gently toss with your hands or a wooden spoon. Adjust the seasoning to your liking.
KAHANU GARDEN AND PRESERVE, in Hāna, Maui, is home to Pi‘ilanihale Heiau, a National Historic Landmark and the single largest archaeological structure in the Hawaiian Islands. Plant collections at this powerful Hawaiian place are largely those of ethnobotanical origin; in other words, plants that reflect the agricultural customs, lore, and uses within a culture. Most of the ethnobotanical plants at Kahanu Garden are Pacific Island and Hawaiian heritage plants.
Prominent among them is Kahanu Garden’s mai‘a (banana) collection, which represents varieties bred from plants that were painstakingly transported across the Pacific. The collection includes many rare varieties that are valued as food, building materials, medicine, and for use in ceremonies such as the annual welcoming of makahiki, which recognizes the rising of the Makali‘i (Pleiades) into the heavens.
Prior to the 1778 arrival of Westerners in Hawai‘i, a wide variety of Polynesian-introduced “canoe plants” including bananas were planted in some of the most remote, and idyllic locations throughout the islands. These plantings were intended to provide food for travelers on long journeys, or even as sacred gardens reserved for a special purpose such as in times of political instability when one had to flee home for solitude in the forest. These bananas also were reserved for use as a kind of offering presented to ali‘i (ruling chief ) or as a highly regarded gift.
Unfortunately, since that time, many of these remote indigenous crop gardens have been overgrown by invasive species. With their disappearance come the loss of unique biological material and the stories of their origin. Those losses are akin to removing pieces of the puzzle of Hawai‘i’s early history.
In recognition of the threat of losing indigenous crop diversity, NTBG recently adopted a strategic goal to collect and curate all extant cultivars of Hawaiian canoe plants. The number of those early varieties is a fraction of what it once was, and research to verify each is ongoing. The current status of many of these rare varieties is debated, and requires much more than simply placing a few new plants in the garden.
Meanwhile, for all the indigenous crop varieties that still exist, NTBG serves as a safe haven where they can be preserved and shared for future generations. The fact that most of East Maui is still free of the Banana Bunchy Top Virus (BBTV) is an important reason that Kahanu is a safe haven for these Hawaiian banana cultivars.
A FEAST OF FRUIT
Walking through Kahanu Garden’s banana collection is a feast for the senses. Standing in rows, vigorous banana plants tower over a mixture of kalo (taro), ‘awa (kava), and wauke (paper mulberry). Growing in multi-layered crop plantings alongside the bananas, the plants recreate a landscape of Hawai‘i’s ancestors where heavy bunches of fruit cascade from above in a multitudinous display of colors, shapes, and sizes.
Consider ‘Pōpō‘ulu Huamoa,’ the variety that first greets you with its enormous sausage-shaped fruits. Beside it stands ‘Iholena ‘Ūpehupehu’ with deep salmon-purple leaves. Then, perhaps the biggest showstopper of all, a rare ‘Manini,’ the only traditional Hawaiian banana with all variegated leaves and fruit.
Each of these varieties is unique and reveals the diversity of Hawaiian bananas while underscoring the importance of NTBG’s collections. Bananas belong to the group of plants known as Zingiberales (gingers, heliconias, and related families), and NTBG is an official conservation center for the Heliconia Society International (HSI), which strives to conserve documented living collections of these plants.
With multiple locations in Hawai‘i, different NTBG gardens will be tasked with piloting different collections. Limahuli Garden on Kaua‘i’s North Shore preserves the main collections of kalo, while McBryde Garden is home to the ‘uala (sweet potato) collection, and Kahanu Garden is home to collections of mai‘a (bananas) and ‘ulu (breadfruit).
By protecting all extant cultivars of canoe plants within our gardens, NTBG continues to grow as an invaluable resource for researchers, cultural practitioners, and as a place to safeguard Hawai‘i’s ethnobotanical and cultural heritage. As demonstrated by NTBG’s Breadfruit Institute and the collection at Kahanu Garden, NTBG plays a vital role in advancing solutions to global hunger.
Today bananas are the most widely consumed tropical fruit in the world and, as a result, don’t elicit the same sense of wonder that they did when first introduced to the United States at the World’s Fair in Philadelphia in 1876. Yet, as commonplace as bananas have become, it’s easy to forget it wasn’t always so. What is often overlooked — call it a “banana blindspot” — is how many varieties still exist and why they need protection.
Most commercially grown bananas are of the Cavendish group — varieties like Williams, Dwarf Chinese, and even Hawai‘i’s local favorite, the ‘Hawaiian Apple.’ The Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations estimates roughly 47 percent of global production is of the Cavendish group with more than 50 billion tons of bananas produced globally each year. In the United States and the European markets, Cavendish bananas virtually dominate the entire market.
So what is wrong with this picture? Imagine a single plant species represented by just one variety as the only thing growing for hundreds of miles. This type of agricultural system, driven by our demand to produce economies of scale, leaves little opportunity for diverse habitats and ecosystems to thrive.
With genetic uniformity in such large plantations, one disease can spread like a hot spark in dry tinder, completely destroying entire farms in one fatal swoop. To cite one example, a new Fusarium wilt strain called TR4 is currently an enormous threat to Cavendish banana production as it quickly spreads throughout the world.
When existing commercial varieties do not exhibit the resiliency to combat these types of new diseases, it is important that other banana varieties are available to preserve irreplaceable genetic diversity that can help feed the world.
How can we counter the negative impacts of large plantation agricultural system failures, the loss of major food crops, and the displacement of ecosystems? One answer can be found in Hawai‘i’s kūpuna (elders) who share an important sentiment — nānā i ke kumu (look to the source) — in addressing today’s complex problems. When considering how to preserve the irreplaceable diversity of Hawaiian canoe plants, in this case, bananas, NTBG will continue to look to the source as we document, collect, and protect the banana varieties that are an invaluable part of Hawai‘i’s cultural and botanical heritage. [eHI]
This article was originally published in the Bulletin of the National Tropical Botanical Garden, a not-for-profit, non-governmental institution. The mission of the National Tropical Botanical Garden is to enrich life through discovery, scientific research, conservation, and education by perpetuating the survival of plants, ecosystems, and cultural knowledge of tropical regions.
LETHA THOMAS, owner of Monkeypod Jam on Kaua‘i had been trying to get meetings with O‘ahu buyers for years. Then in January 2018 her company was selected to be in Mana Up, a Hawai‘i-based business accelerator program.
“I was able to get in front of buyers I had been trying to get a meeting with for years,” says Aletha. “Mana Up has the connections I needed. We’re getting to the point where we think we’ll double our sales [by this time next year] and part of that is due to the connections and education we learned from Mana Up.”
“You go into it wanting more sales, but it’s also about getting more organized and making sure you are more strategic in your decisions for the future,” adds Kimo Tuyay, co-owner of Maui Nui Venison, which makes venison jerky from invasive Axis deer humanely harvested on Maui.
These days small business owners like Aletha and Kimo can use all the help they can get when it comes to launching and scaling a business in the aloha state. Last year Hawaii ranked last nationwide for starting a business, according to a 2018 WalletHub study. Local businesses creating agricultural related products, which rely on fishing, ranching, and growing produce, face even greater challenges because their products are subject to the whims of Mother Nature and other external factors.
Thus, business accelerator programs, typically known for helping tech companies, are a godsend for businesses developing locally made products.
Launched in 2017, Mana Up was created with the ambitious goal of helping to create Hawai‘i’s next 100 product companies earning more than $10 million in revenue—all based in Hawaii. Mana Up does this through a 12-week accelerator program geared specifically for Hawaii-based companies by helping businesses with marketing, distribution, branding, scaling, and much more.
Cofounders Meli James and Brittany Heyd both have extensive backgrounds in the venture capital world and bring substantial, high-level contacts and partnerships to the program. Prior to launching Mana Up, Brittany, who is a lawyer, worked in the Obama White House on public policy and was managing director of 1776, a Washington, D.C.-based global venture capital fund.
Meli previously served as the head of new ventures at Sultan Ventures and program manager of XLR8UH, a nationally recognized startup accelerator run by the University of Hawai‘i. In addition to managing Mana Up, Meli serves as the president of the Hawai‘i Venture Capital Association.
According to Meli, the accelerator program helps Hawai‘i companies become global companies, while at the same time bringing to the world what really makes Hawai‘i special.
Companies that apply to Mana Up must meet certain requirements, such as having a minimum of $100,000 in annual revenue, plans to scale beyond Hawai‘i, having a Hawai‘i-based founder and company, and a deep connection to the aloha state.
“PEOPLE STRONGLY BELIEVE IN THE ‘AINA AND THE MAGIC OF HAWAI‘I,” EXPLAINS MELI. “THEY’RE MORE CONSCIOUS ABOUT THE THINGS THEY ARE PUTTING IN THEIR BODY, AS WELL AS WHAT THEY ARE PUTTING ON THEIR BODY.”
Businesses from a range of industries, including apparel, jewelry, packaged food, alcohol, health and beauty, and more can apply to the Mana Up program. Cohorts are typically held twice a year and competition can be fierce. Of the 85 companies that applied to the first cohort held in January 2018, only 10 were chosen.
When it comes to selecting finalists for the cohort, Meli says the Mana Up team “looks at what the company is sourcing and if they are doing it sustainably.” Equally important she says, Mana Up looks at a company’s story and connection to the islands. “Are they sharing that narrative with both visitors and residents of Hawai‘i who can learn something new?”
Of the 31 companies that have participated in the three cohorts to date, 13 are food related businesses sourcing locally farmed or ranched food in their products. Ag-based companies in the cohorts include Manele Spice company, which sources Hawaiian salt from Moloka‘i, Kōhana Rum and Hawaiian Rainbow Bees, both based on O‘ahu, as well as Hawaiian Vanilla Company and Big Island Coffee Roasters, both on Hawai‘i Island.
“They are pretty much giving you all the information you need to increase your sales from branding to advertising to online sales platforms to physical meetings with big buyers in the state of Hawai‘i,” says Dawn Kaneali’i-Kleinfelder, owner of Liko Lehua Gourmet Butters and Café. “What you do with that information is up to you.”
Those entrepreneurs fortunate enough to be selected for Mana Up cohorts are maximizing the opportunities the program provides.
“Manoa Chocolate has taken on a new merchandising opportunity with DFS Galleria with video and imagery instead of just being on the shelf,” says Meli, adding that more than 17,000 shoppers visit DFS’ flagship Waikīkī store daily where Manoa Chocolate has their new enhanced display. “Voyaging Foods, [from cohort 1], are now on the menu at the Kahala with their gluten free pancakes,” says Meli.
Through a partnership with Mana Up and Hawaiian Airlines, products from other past cohort participants like Big Island Coffee Roasters and Kunoa Cattle are now for sale on the Pau Hana food carts on Hawaiian Airlines flights. That partnership also enables some Mana Up companies to be featured in in-flight videos. Kunoa Cattle is featured in a short video on the Hawaiian Airlines in flight entertainment channel, giving millions of Hawaii visitors a glimpse into a day in the life on the Kaua‘i ranch.
“With our partnership with Hawaiian Airlines we’ve been able to get these videos on the flights, which is great exposure for the companies,” says Meli.
“We could not have gotten that kind of awareness on our own,” adds Kunoa Ranch co-founder Bobby Farias. Kunoa Cattle has 4,000 acres of ranch land on Kaua‘i and O‘ahu, as well as the largest USDA-approved butchery for beef and pork on O‘ahu.
Being in Mana Up helped the ranch do more than gain exposure. Before participating in the cohort, Bobby says there was a misalignment between what he thought customers wanted and what products their target market actually wants. “Mana Up helped us with that.”
“Whether you are selling pies or steaks or rubber slippers, business owners are consumed with business problems, they don’t have the bandwidth to deal with branding awareness.
“I’m a rancher. My business is producing quality local beef in a sustainable way. Mana Up is forward focused on brand awareness. Connecting with them allows me to focus on what I do best.”
For other businesses involved in Mana Up, it’s not just about marketing, but also helping to scale their manufacturing so their business can grow.
Sheldon Cho says his Kona-based company Kaimana Jerky, which makes ahi tuna jerky, wants to do national distribution but faces challenges.
“Working with Mana Up we get to work through our staffing and manufacturing issues,” he explains. “They help us line up all our manufacturing processes so that our products have the highest level of food safety and can be sold nationally and internationally.”
Then there is the intangible benefit of growing your business in Hawaii. Sheldon’s father first started making fish jerky more than 20 years ago in Kona. Now Sheldon is raising his kids in the same community where he grew up.
“I enjoy entrepreneurship and building a business,” he says, “but I also enjoy surfing and living in Hawai‘i and enjoying the beautiful place we live in. I love what Brittany and Meli are doing to help Hawai‘i have a more sustainable economy and helping local businesses survive here and thrive.” [eHI]
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