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11 PRODUCTS FARMED OR RANCHED ON THE ISLAND OF HAWAII (AND HOW TO EXPERIENCE THEM)
It’s likely you know that farmers on the island of Hawaii grow acres of macadamia nuts, brilliant tropical flowers and some of the world’s most award-winning coffee. But did you know that island growers, ranchers and ocean farmers also produce prized cacao and vanilla beans, singular honey varieties and acclaimed seafood? And that’s not everything. Read on.
In addition to bags of 100 percent Kona coffee – grown on the cloud-level slopes of Hualalai volcano – non-blended beans from the island’s Puna, Hamakua and Kau districts are popular luggage fillers of coffee connoisseurs. In recent years, roasts of Kau district beans have won numerous awards from coffee experts worldwide. Many island growers offer educational farm tours and tastings of their coffees. Annual festivals in Kona and Kau celebrate each district’s roasts with food, entertainment and, of course, lots of java.
A number of botanical gardens and farms – especially on the island of Hawaii's rain-kissed east side – offer visitors opportunities to get up close and personal with a profusion of tropical flora varieties native to the Islands and also found in tropics worldwide. Looking to take home potted orchids or send fresh-cut ginger, protea, olena, multiple varieties of anthurium or other island flowers? Most growers excel at shipping and packing even the most delicate flora for travel.
#3. Macadamia nuts
Macadamia nut farms on the island of Hawaii range from small, family-run operations to large-scale growers that also craft a variety of mac nut edibles shipped worldwide. Field tours of harvests are rare, but a few larger farms offer tours of their processing plants and demos of how their products are made. Tour bonus? From chocolate-covered mac nuts to an array of flavored nuts (Jalapeño! Wasabi! Kona coffee!) you can often sample much of the product before you purchase.
On the Kailua-Kona coast, the state’s Natural Energy Laboratory Hawaii Authority (NELHA) offers facilities for aquaculture and mariculture companies to conduct pioneering work, utilizing deep sea water delivered from pipelines positioned at depths of up to 3,000 feet, as well as pure sea surface water. The facilities farm everything from lobster, crab and seaweeds, to abalone, black cod (butterfish) and world-renowned kampachi for local and international consumption. The nonprofit Friends of NELHA offers tours of a few facilities several times weekly.
Hawaiian Vanilla Co.’s small, family-owned farm on the island's breadbasket Hamakua coast was the first in the U.S. to grow vanilla commercially when it opened in 1989. Its vanilla beans and value-added products made from those beans are still in demand by Hawaii chefs and consumers for their brilliant flavor and aroma. A “Vanilla Experience” lunch tour of the farm offers a full menu of inventive vanilla-kissed entrees and desserts, both subtle- and full-flavored.
Lilikoi. Poha and ohelo berries. Jaboticaba. Mountain apple. Tahitian lime. Lychee. The island of Hawaii's vast agricultural acreage offers smaller-scale farmers ample room to experiment with micro orchards of these specialized fruit varieties (and more) for jellies, jams, marmalades and chutneys. You’ll find jars on island supermarket shelves and at farmers markets. A number of island-grown tropical fruits even find their way into the dough of bakery-fresh Portuguese sweet bread loaves and warm malasadas. And grapes, grown on vines at the 4,000-foot elevation of Kilauea volcano, bring unique flavor to the vintages produced by a Volcano area winery.
What works for fruit farmers on the island of Hawaii works for vegetable farmers as well, with small- and large-scale growers embracing the island’s sweeping acreage and diverse climate zones to raise all manner of crops, and taking their fresh-picked produce straight to consumers and chefs. Multi-farm tours allow visitors to sample fresh produce while soaking in scenery and local history. A few farms even offer private tours.
#8. Grass-fed beef
With its long ranching history and more ranchlands than its neighbor islands, it’s no surprise the island of Hawaii produces much of the state’s pasture-raised beef. Praised for its leanness, juiciness when grilled, and naturally meaty flavor, grass-fed beef from the island of Hawaii is found on restaurant menus and in supermarkets islandwide. If you’re on island in October, one of the best opportunities to sample the breadth of the island's ranching bounty — which includes lamb, pork and other carnivore-appealing products made from locally raised livestock – all in one place is Mealani’s Taste of the Hawaiian Range, a grand annual culinary event on the Kohala Coast.
The island of Hawaii is home to several honey producers, crafting ambrosial large- and small-batch product from hives located throughout the island. But where island apiarists truly excel are varieties of honey brought to market – a result of the landscape’s many bee-enticing nectar sources. At retailers and farmers markets, you’ll find organic honeys naturally infused with hints of kiawe, mac nut, ohia lehua and other blossoms, in familiar gold and crystallized white varieties. Several farms offer no-stings-guaranteed tours of hives and processing facilities.
Home kitchen and restaurant chefs across the Islands scoop up the flavorful, wonderfully meaty gourmet fungi from Hamakua Mushrooms – the state’s only specialty mushroom grower – as fast as they can get them. A tour of the company’s environmentally controlled production facility near the town of Laupahoehoe on the island of Hawaii's Hamakua coast offers a look at Hamakua Mushrooms’ innovative growing technique, and palatal proof why its burly, versatile version of the king oyster mushroom – called the Alii (king) oyster – is much loved by fungi aficionados.
In the only U.S. state where cacao is grown commercially, artisanal single-origin chocolate made from cocoa beans grown on small farms on the island of Hawaii is fast becoming one of the most in-demand among connoisseurs. You can learn about – and, better still, taste – the array of chocolate produced by the island’s expanding cacao industry at the annual Big Island Chocolate Festival each May, or tour one of the island’s larger farms. Or you could just buy a bar of island-made chocolate and share (or refuse to share) it with friends. Your choice.
For information on the island of Hawaii, please visit http://media.gohawaii.com/hawaii-island.