Just a taste


POSTED: Wednesday, October 15, 2008

WAIKOLOA, Big Island » I'd like to apologize upfront for what I'm about to tell you. The three foods described here were among the most intriguing finds at A Taste of the Hawaiian Range, held Oct. 3 on the Big Island—the problem is, you can't have any. Not easily, anyway. Taste is an annual celebration of Big Island meat, from range-fed beef to wild boar, but also showcases fresh produce and food products. Some are not quite ready for release, others will always be restricted to limited production, which means they'll never be easy to find outside the Big Island. But all are worth a taste, so to speak, should you be in the neighborhood.


Pucker up for yuzu

This wrinkly, bumpy fruit looks like the lemon's beat-up cousin, but actually it's citrus royalty.

Yuzu, sometimes described as Japanese lime, is prized among chefs for its distinctive tartness, used in dishes from sashimi to pastries. The fruit and juice have long been imported. Although a few people in Hawaii do have trees in their yards, there's never been a consistent local source.

Lesley Hill and Michael Crowell of the Wailea Agricultural Group, best known for their original crop, hearts of palm, planted yuzu trees just a year ago and recently harvested their first fruit.

“;They are raggedy trees with tons of thorns, but they will grow,”; Crowell said.

And the fruit? “;They're ugly little things, but boy, they taste good,”; Hill added.

They hope to have enough fruit for marketing in about six months.

The Wailea group was founded in Honomu, just north of Hilo, to make use of land once planted in sugar. After hearts of palm, which debuted in the mid-'90s, came such crops as lychee, durian and tropical flowers. About two years ago, they began growing spices—cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and bay leaves.

Key limes and naval orange trees have just gone in next to the yuzu. “;We try to grow what we like to eat,”; Hill said, “;so at least we won't go hungry.”;

Hill and Crowell bring their products to the Saturday Farmers' Market at Kapiolani Community College. Call (808) 963-6360 or visit


Cookies with a twist

Aaron Sugino has been selling his cookies for about 18 years, part time, while he kept a day job. But a year ago, he turned to full-time baking, producing 13 types of cookies and wok-fried chips under his Blue Kalo line.

We're not talking shortbread and potato chips, though.

Sugino uses ulu, or breadfruit, from the 30 trees on his 5-acre Hakalau farm, about 14 miles north of Hilo. He also uses sweet potato (purple and yellow), cassava and poi.

He and his parents bought land for a taro farm in 1987, Sugino said, but at 15 cents a pound, “;it was hard to make back the fertilizer money.”; So they took to making poi, and from that came cookies, as he learned that the sour poi he couldn't sell could be worked into his mother's mac-nut-chocolate-chip cookie recipe. Formulas for ulu and the other starches soon followed.

The cookies are light and crisp, the chips distinctive not only in their mixed colors, but for the laciness of the fried ulu. He's also got a green mint-chocolate-chip cookie and a sugar-free line.

He hand-slices and cooks the chips himself. For the cookies, he has the help of his wife, sister-in-law, mother-in-law and aunty-in-law. They also make several varieties of mochi, manju and a banana-sweet-potato-poi-mac-nut bread.

“;Gotta diversify, yeah, now?”;

Blue Kalo products are sold at Sugino's outlet, 29-2111 Old Government Road in Hakalau (the old Fuji Bakery), or at the Kinoole Farmer's Market in Hilo. Call (808) 963-6764.


Tea tip-off

Camellia sinensis—tea—has been an experimental crop for several years, with about 20 serious growers on farms from sea level to 4,000 feet, in Kona, Waimea, Ahualoa, Honomu and Volcano.

The plants have grown in green and bountiful, but that's barely the half of it. Processing—drying, rolling, kneading, semi-oxidizing—is all part of the learning curve.

Slowly, this island-grown tea is coming on the market. Eva Lee of Tea Hawaii & Co. said tea from a three-farm hui has been served since spring at Alan Wong's restaurant on Oahu, and at Merriman's and Kilauea Lodge on the Big Island. Her teas are sold out of her Volcano Village tea shop, which also offers tours and tea-tasting sessions that teach the artistry of serving and sipping.

Lee is also developing value-added products, including a sweet tea syrup and tea-flavored chocolate truffles, which could be more widely marketed as they require far less processed tea leaf. She's also encouraging culinary uses of fresh leaves. Chefs have used dried tea leaves to flavor foods, but are now finding that fresh leaves can be used with dishes including fish, pasta and baked goods.

When it comes to tea for the cup, though, the aim is a premium product on the level of estate coffees, Lee says, which means proceeding slowly, staying small. “;At least for the moment.”;

A tea plant, she points out, can live for a couple thousand years, which gives them lots of time.

  To book farm tours or tea-tasting sessions at Hawaii Tea & Co., call 808-967-7637 or visit