by Ken Love
About the Twelve
Fruits With Potential Value-Added and Culinary Uses Project
Development of a Sustainable Polyculture Production and Marketing
System for Exotic Tropical Fruits
12 Trees Project is funded by the Western Sustainable Agriculture
Research and Education (WSARE) USDA-CSREES competitive grants
program. Fifty-four Hawaii Island chefs, fruit buyers and
were invited to select the types of fruit they would like to see
commercially available, based on their desire to utilize the fruit in
culinary applications. In selecting the final 12 fruits, considerations
were given to seasonality and harvest times so that the availability of
harvested fruit and on-farm labor needs were spread out over the year.
trees were planted and brought into production at a demonstration
orchard at the Kona Pacific Farmers Cooperative on Napoopoo Road in the
South Kona District. During the course of the three-year project, fruit
from this orchard, as well as additional fruit purchased from area
farmers, were donated to the West Hawaii Community College culinary
Culinary student chefs developed recipes to be published on
the project web site http://www.hawaiifruit.net/12trees.html
and in a book in the final year of the project. Members of the
cooperative as well as members of the Hawaii Tropical Fruit Growers -
West Hawaii association and any other interested growers were
encouraged to plant these trees. The goals of this project were to
increase profitable agricultural diversification and to develop a
consistently high quality, year-around supply of tropical fruit for
What follows is a random collection of thoughts concerning the
individual fruits chosen for the 12 Trees project. These thoughts
include horticultural and personal observations, marketing annotations
and a few thoughts on the potential or lack there of in culinary
circles. I’ve also included my thoughts on alternatives to the 12
fruit which I find have greater potential for enjoyment as well as
profitability than the original 12 choices.
project has ended, the Hawaii Community College, West Hawaii Culinary
School has continued directing students to use the 12 Trees Project
fruit as part of their curriculum. Students who graduated after the
first year of the project have continued to use the fruit once they
started their professional careers. After exposure to the 12 chosen
fruit, they have developed an increased interest in many other unusual
fruit grown in the Kona district.
At the beginning of the
project, I didn’t agree with many of the choices that the 54 Big
Island Chefs made and more than 3 years later, tend to feel the same
way. I have also altered my opinions on a few of the fruit based both
on horticultural and marketing experiences.
a delicious fruit, I’m quite sure it has value as a commercial
crop with some aggressive marketing. The tree does not like lower
elevations where it will seldom fruit.
It does flower and even with
hand pollination, the fruit is small, hard and often suffers damage
from borers – if it fruits at all. Older trees at the project
site which had fruited at the 1800-foot elevation on my farm in
Opihihale South Kona, have never fruited since being moved to the
project at 430-foot elevation. Over 3 years after transplanting, they
have grown fine with copious foliage growth and flowers. They have
never set fruit even with hand pollination.
beginning of the project I would have said that cherimoya is the best
tasting of the annona family of fruit. Today I would vote for rollinia.
I suspect once we have enough production and chefs get a taste of the
fruit, it might move cherimoya to the back seat.
Atemoya although it
has fairly consistent production with a few commercial farms in the
state, never really delights people the way cherimoya or rollinia does.
The advantage of atemoya is that it will produce well at most
elevations. It is a cross between cherimoya (Annona cherimola)
and sugar apple (Annona
The sugar apple, which is also called sweetsop, is very popular in
Florida and the Caribbean. It is seldom found in Hawaii. Although there
are a few producing trees, the number of fruit on a tree is far less
than the same size or age of a cherimoya tree. The sugar apple is often
asked for at farmers markets, by visitors and local Filipinos who are
always on the quest for atis, one of the favorite fruits of the
Philippines. At sometime in the future, it would be beneficial for
someone to plant a wide range of the sugar apple cultivars in hopes of
finding one that will be more accepting of Hawaii’s
microclimates. As for me, I’ll stick with rollinia, (Rollinia mucosa and
There are a number of advantages over the other annonas. It does well
at most elevations, I’ve seen it produced from 300 feet to 2400
feet. With irrigation or enough rain, it produces more and consistent
fruit than cherimoya. The fruit tastes like a caramel and light lemon
flavored cherimoya. The only fault it seems to have is the fruit size
is from very small to very large. There seems to be little consistency
in that area, which is the same with most annonas. Still, the smaller
fruit has the same texture and taste as the very large fruit. Something
I don’t find with cherimoya, which can be overly sweet and gritty
in some sizes and smooth as custard in others’. The fruit
although its been untested by chefs as well as most growers can be used
in any dishes that chefs currently use cherimoya or atemoya for Crème
Brulee and ice cream or sorbet would have an extra complexity
from the rollinia that could be highly desirable.
profitability of all of these fruit can be considerable if a grower
develops good relationships with chefs and stores. We’ve had no
problem to sell any number of annonas both wholesale and at retail
farmers markets. In my experience of marketing fruit in Hawaii,
I’ve only seen rollinia sold at a 2 grocery stores and at perhaps
half dozen farmers markets. I’ve never seen chefs experiment with
it and quite frankly; I tend to eat or sell the ones I grow rather than
send samples to chefs. I do pot the seeds and plan to increase my
production as well as consumption. Savvy growers will plant rollinia
instead of cherimoya and plan to market it aggressively.
of my earliest childhood memories was enjoying a wheel of dried figs
from Greece. I was amazed at the taste and texture of something that to
my 5-year-old mind was also to be played with. It wasn’t until I
was much older that I understand the difference in fresh and dried figs
and I still enjoy working with both. The USDA germplasam depository in
Davis Calif. has 139 types of figs in their collection, only a handful
of which are growing in Hawaii. This presents us with many
opportunities for growers, chefs and those who develop value added
products. Some of the figs taste very different from others. Figs were
by far the most profitable of the 12 Trees Project fruit, sometimes at
10 times the value of Kona coffee growing in the same amount of space.
This is with much less labor. The fig tree at the project started as a
foot long cutting from my Brown Turkey tree in South Kona. Within a
year it produced its first fruit. Within 7 years it produced over 4000
fruit in 1 year, in part, due to aggressive pruning and shaping. Since
figs produce only on new growth, its always advisable to prune to keep
the tree short and let it grow outward rather than upward. If you turn
your back on it for more than a month you’ll wind up with 25 foot
shoots that head straight up. The trees lend themselves to espalier as
well as being weighted down or tied to stakes, which is the common
method in Japan.
Figs lend themselves to a virtually
unlimited number of culinary delights and value added products. A quick
study at any international food show such as Food Ex in Tokyo each
March will reveal hundreds of fig products from Portugal, Turkey,
Greece, Japan, Iran and Iraq. A small dried whole fig from Iran is
popular in Japan used in baked breads and other confections. A few
products we produce with seconds and culls include fig macadamia nut
spread and dried fig pieces in locally produced honey. These sell out
quickly at farmers markets in Kona.
There is always the
question of what would happen when there are hundreds of acres
producing the amount of figs that our test tree produced. The 4000 plus
figs were sold to 4 restaurants with an average 3-month waiting list.
There were two times during the year where we had an excess of figs,
some of which were sold to small restaurants. We requests from chefs to
be able to add figs to the menu and from restaurants on other islands,
I’m convinced that we have a way to go before the market would be
saturated at which time the need to focus on value added products would
Many growers in the area who have figs
wondered how they could better rid themselves of birds who often peck
at the ripe figs. We found that silver or gold Mylar tape, Christmas
garland or tinsel, pie plates, aluminum foil or any reflective material
hung in the tree served as an effect deterrent for up to 3 months. At
that time the birds came back. When we added or moved the reflective
material the birds disappeared again. We found this necessary, on
average, every 3 months. Old CD ROMs hung from string on the trees were
very effective. In the future I hope to conduct tests using ultrasound
deterrents. If I had an extra acre now, I would screen the whole place
in and plant figs.
is one of the most delightful fruits I’ve run across. It’s
more labor intensive to harvest and package than some of the others but
it has great potential. With a taste that reminds people of black
cherry and Concord grape or jaboticaba, it is usually enjoyed fresh off
the tree. One of the problems is in fighting the birds that also love
the fruit. Fortunately older trees are very prolific and there is
usually enough to go around. Using Mylar tap and metallic reflective
materials is effective but not as much so as with figs.
fruit is largely untested by the majority of chefs around the state.
The few who we have been able to supply with samples are anxious to get
more both to use as fresh fruit on buffet lines and in dessert
confections. The shelf life is rather short and post harvest care is
essential with grumichama if it is going to be marketed as a fresh
fruit. Single layer clamshell packs containing fruit with the stem on
was the most desirable form of presentation at a grocery store in Kona
and for delivery to chefs.
Picking the fruit with the stem
on is somewhat cumbersome but helps to increase the shelf life of the
fruit. If I’m picking the fruit with the intention of processing
it into a puree, I tend to keep the stems off. Frozen puree can last
more than a year. Removing the 1 to 3 seeds needs to be done by hand as
none of the processors or juicers were effective as the soft seed would
be damaged and the puree would contain too much grit or seed material.
This could be strained but was more time consuming than removing the
seeds by hand. We would sit down to watch a DVD for 2 hours and process
enough fruit to produce 10 cups of puree.
jelly, syrup and various sauces with the grumichama, all of which
tested well and sold out at farmers markets. I’m looking forward
to working with this fruit and experimenting with ice cream and fudge
seems to be a largely misunderstood fruit with new chefs on the island.
I believe this is due to the common confusion between calamonsie, or
calamondin, fruit with the kumquat.
The calamonsie is a lime often
grown by the states Filipino farmers. It is round and about the same
quarter sized diameter as the Meiwa kumquat. Chefs are more familiar
with the Nagami or elongated kumquat commonly grown in California.
Where as the skin and pulp of the calamonsie is very sour, the kumquats
have a much sweeter skin and taste. There are over 100,000 kumquat
recipes listed on Internet so the fruit is obviously well known in most
areas. Many of these recipes are considered classics. I feel this
fruit was chosen by chefs because of these classic recipes as well as
the culinary versatility of the fruit. When I had extra fruit I would
bring it to the local Chinese restaurant where they would use it with a
variety of dishes. We also processed the fruit and made marmalade,
jelly, and bottled whole fruit in a light syrup to preserve it. In
Japan it is commonly used to flavor the distilled alcohol, shochu or
processed into a brandy like liquor. In Taiwan, it is dried and candied.
Highly versatile, the kumquat has a bright future for chefs in Hawaii.
One of my favorite fruits, the loquat history is as interesting and
complex as its flavor.
spent at least a month out of each year for more almost 10 years
studying this fruit in Japan, I’m convinced that it’s
potential in the US as a fresh fruit or for culinary use and in value
added products is virtually unlimited. At the Biwa (Japanese for
loquat) Club in Southern Chiba Japan, about 4 hours from Tokyo, there
are more than 2000 items for sale made with the fruit or reflecting the
image of loquat. Many streets in Tokyo have loquat trees planted as
part of the landscaping, some of these from the late 1940’s.
one of the most popular fruits in the world, there is a name for loquat
in many languages except English although the fruit is sometimes called
Japanese medlar. The fruit is mentioned in Chinese and Japanese
historical documents dating back 5000 years. Europeans first exposure
to the fruit was in the late 1600s. Spain is currently the top
producing country. There is continuing research throughout the
Mediterranean region as well as all over Asia.
thought that early Chinese immigrants first brought the fruit to
Hawaii, perhaps even before Captain Cooks time. The fruit and trees
were described y early visitors to Maui.
Many of Hawaii’s
residents who have limited knowledge of the fruit do not find it that
exciting, often complaining that’s very small, sour and has large
seeds. This happens because most of he trees are seedlings, which have
become invasive in parts of the state.
These trees can be thinned, top worked and grafted with newer varieties
developed in Japan.
get fruit that that is really a taste treat and desired by chefs, a
fair amount of labor is required. Once you’ve tried a
“perfect” loquat, there is no turning back! Ideally the
fruit should be orange colored, very sweet and approach tennis ball
size weighing more than 3 ounces. In Japan fruit sold in the spring is
sized with 12 of the largest fruit going for as much as $50.00! Hawaii
can produce loquat at different times of the year than any other
location where it’s grown. We could produce the fruit for New
Year celebrations, which in past years, the Japanese Loquat Cooperative
has expressed an interest in.
In Hawaii the fruit must be
grown inside bags to protect it from fruit flies, birds and from
sunburn. This, only after both the flowers and fruit has been thinned
which helps in producing larger sized fruit. Higher elevations are
better for the larger sized fruit but it will produce in lower areas.
If we had enough production of loquat in November and December, I feel
that opening the Japanese market would not be a problem. Getting the
support of the Japanese would not be as much of a problem given we
follow their growing guidelines and stick to the varieties of loquat
they like. Getting the USDA agencies to approve it could be a setback.
thousands of loquat products in Japan, Taiwan, China, Spain, Algeria,
Israel and other producing countries have never been mimicked here.
Value added products are another option for growers in Hawaii.
a doubt, the most controversial fruit on the list. The Mysore was the
#1 choice of the 54 chefs although it could have been any locally grown
raspberry. It is also on the state noxious weed list for all islands
except the Big Island, meaning that it is illegal to plant outside of
the Big Island. Here, it is on a number of invasive lists. I would not
recommend growing it but not for the reason of potential invasiveness.
I feel the plant is highly misunderstood and should be separated from
other rubus plants. It does not send up shoots from the roots like
thimbleberry or other raspberries. Birds seldom spread it, and the
seeds are hard to germinate. In more than 15 years in South Kona, I
could only get a second plant by rooting the tips of the long canes.
The problem comes from the fishhook type thorns, which can make it
extremely painful to harvest. It’s a lot of work for little or no
profit. The fruit tastes very good, chefs like it, and it is nice to
have a fresh raspberry growing in a tropical location, but this plant
is a pain to harvest. I would hope that in the future a thornless
strain could be developed.
is a delightful fruit that is also a lot of work. I might not have
chosen it if it were not for its history as part of Hawaiian Regional
Cuisine. The poha is always in demand by chefs and has not achieved its
rightful place among the states more popular fruit. This due to the
nature of the plant and the time it takes to harvest and husk enough
quantity to make a difference. I do think that a dedicated poha farmer
could find other growing systems that would facilitate ease of harvest
and cut into the labor intensiveness of preparing fruit for sale. What
surprised me during the course of the project were the time trials for
harvesting and husking the fruit. Even at $7.00 a pound, poha was not
profitable. It routinely sells for $2.50 to $3.50 in local markets. I
buy it all and can easily resell it at $7.00. Best on the cost of
production with $12.00 per hour labor and benefits, the cost to produce
the $7.00 of poha was more than $9.00. It’s very time consuming.
We tried a number of different growing systems: trellises, raised beds,
fences and a volunteer plant. There was no discernable difference in
the amount of time to harvest and husk fruit from any of these systems
although the experience does give me a number of ideas to try in the
future to save harvest time.
Chefs enjoy working with the
fruit and creating a number of different dishes. The fruit could be
considered an identifier in much Hawaiian Regional Cuisine. While
larger jelly makers on Oahu and Kauai will call when looking for 3000
to 5000 pounds, I have a tough time getting 50 pounds for a big Island
restaurant. Although considered invasive, there is just not enough of
the fruit to go around. Then again, if the price paid was in keeping
with the time involved, maybe there would be.
the project started, I would often say that I would have never chosen
pomegranate for this project! Don’t get me wrong, I love them but
there are so many coming in from Calif. and so many products from a
number of producing regions that we have kind of a glut of pomegranate
thanks to all the publicity and network marketed items that are now in
the marketplace. Still, the chefs wanted locally grown fruit. Since it
was a known fruit for many chefs, and they had experience working with
it, they wanted fresh. What I learned since the start of the project
was that the USDA Germplasam Repository in Davis, Ca., has 189 types of
pomegranate in their collection. This opens many possibilities for
growers here who wish to work with the plant. The fruit sells well at
farmers markets with most people saying they just eat it fresh. A few
people mentioned that they make juice from it. One of the advantages in
growing it here is that the plant does well in dry lower elevations.
The famous botanist David Fairchild first sent pants to the US in the
late 1800s from the desert around Baghdad.
If I was going
to plant pomegranate now, I would look into many of the more unusual
varieties available through the USDA Germplasam Repository and plant
known varieties rather than air layers made from seedlings here.
first exposure to what I now call the Kona Lime happened many years
ago, while standing in front of the then Kona Farmers Coop office. The
inviting looking orange fruit seemed like a tangerine, peeled like one
and even had the little white strings often found.
I tease people
who try it now that it is what made my hair fall out. Originally
brought here as a rootstock for sweet citrus, the grafts died off and
people often forgot about the trees with the “sour orange”.
Some chefs found the fruit in the 1980s and started using it for
confections and in lime pies. A slice of lime is often found in ice tea
or drinks at Kona’s older restaurants. Student chefs at the
culinary school involved with the project found it useful as a base in
sauce, for juices and in desserts. Many of our newer farmers have not
realized that they have this lime and just think of it as a sour
orange. Once they find out that it is a lime, it seems to open a world
of possibilities both for recipes and marketing of the fresh fruit.
only drawback with the fruit are the numerous long and very sharp
thorns on the trees’. Some trees have little or no thorns and
they should be the ones that are propagated. Seedling trees often
produce fruit within a few years but the thorns sometimes make
harvesting difficult and, because of the thorns, often painful. The
marmalade we make from this fruit is some of the best I’ve had
acquired taste of this fruit makes it a hard sell at many of the
farmers markets but those who love it, swear by it. A test underway at
the Kainaliu experiment station will help to determine a number of
select black varieties of the usually red fruit. The black Surinam
cherries are sweeter and less resinous than the common red varieties.
This is one of those fruits that although on the invasive list, I cant
get enough of. As with poha, the large jelly manufactures are looking
for 3000 to 5000 pounds at a time. Without a processing facility,
it’s impossible to gather enough fruit to fulfill their needs.
Chefs and student chefs have been very creative with the fruit. The red
curry base made with its juice is very good. Fruit flies and birds are
a major deterrent to harvesting fruit in the wild. A number of
researchers feel this fruit has great potential as a cash crop for
Hawaii. I tend to agree but it can be labor intensive and, as the fruit
is fragile, it requires special care in post harvest handling.
Tree Tomato /
fruit with great potential, the tree tomato is rapidly becoming a
favorite of many chefs. Their fondness for tamarillo comes from the
fruits adaptability to be used both as savory and meat sauces as well
as sweetened for a dessert sauce. When I first started producing the
fruit I simply peeled it and cut it into salads, finding the taste much
better than common tomatoes. Now I make sauces and reductions for use
with scallops, vegetables or in other dishes. Simple jams and ketchup
made from the fruit are delicious. There is some confusion with the use
of both names. New Zealand named the fruit tamarillo, which has caught
on in many locations as they are large producers and fruit from that
country is often found at local stores as well as in mainland markets.
The fruit has been grown locally for many years and known as tree
tomato. If we increase production and local sales, it might be good to
devise a Hawaiian name in order to better promote and market the fruit
and recipes developed at resort hotels using it. Although not near as
profitable as figs, the fruit does have great potential, both
economically and for the chef’s to be creative and develop a
one of the first growers of this fruit, I’ve always had a
fondness for it in sauces and as a juice. Considered to sour or most, I
found it refreshing and extremely versatile for uses in sauces and
jellies. I still enjoy the fruit but after working with the father of
this natural occurring hybrid, kitembilla, (also called Ceylon
Gooseberry), I find that I’ve developed a fondness for this as
well, perhaps even more so than tropical apricot. I feel the Dovyalis
fruit which include a number of cultivars have great potential.
Generally sour tasting and with nasty thorns, the fruit tends to
hybridize when different seedlings are planted in proximity to each
other. Trees of both fruit at the project site produce fruit with
different characteristics than their parent trees. I feel with a
significant amount of selection work, sweeter, thornless types would
evolve making it much more desirable as a fresh fruit. Not
withstanding, the chefs very much desire the tropical apricot and we
have no problem selling all that we can produce. This seldom leaves us
enough for jam making. Chefs at the resorts enjoy working with this
highly versatile fruit for sauces and gels. They often request it for
culinary events. I also feel this fruit as well as kitembilla could be
given local names.
I feel is needed most in Kona is a processing facility for fruit which
would include a community kitchen or a private company that purchases
fruit and produces frozen purees and products made from 100% locally
grown fruit. Currently many of the resort hotels buy frozen guava,
lilikoi and mango puree from the Montreal office of a French company!
Hotel chefs here often request frozen puree, which, we cannot produce
in quantity at local facilities and with the limited labor available.
We also receive a number of requests each month from mainland chefs. I
would urge county and state government in conjunction with the
university to make this happen.
are many other fruit that deserve equal attention to those of the 12
Trees Project. Over the course of this project we have been able
discuss in more detail the hundreds of fruit and thousands of varieties
with many growers and chefs. The difference in varieties is something
that is just beginning to make inroads with the chefs here. With 200
types of avocados, 200 types of mangos and more than 50 types of
bananas, there are many avenues for chefs to take their creativity.
There is not a sufficient quantity of many of these fruit types to
promote them across the board but growers who have the unusual
varieties can market them as a limited high value crop. With some of
the rare Hawaiian bananas, we’ve found that being able to give
chefs and grocery stores the fruit history in the form of a sign they
can post for their guests and customers. This greatly helps to increase
the value. In short, once growers are educated as to what they have,
they in turn can educate their customers who in turn pass the
information on to their customers. We’ve seen the value of some
rare bananas increase 300% in the past 2 years.
fruit that I hope we can work with in the near future include
jaboticaba, rollinia, acerola and white sapote. Developing value added
products from bilimbi, small starfruit and soursop would also benefit a
number of area growers. Jackfruit and breadfruit are others that
deserve special attention from researchers.
Much needs to
be done to dispel many myths regarding local fruit. Growers often
perpetuate these myths but more so by the stores who often resist
selling some types of fruit like pummelo and breadfruit. Many of the
buyers who have been in the produce business for 30 or more years still
operate on 30-year old demographics. To them, every home already has a
breadfruit tree or pummelo tree. It took some time to convince one of
the local markets to sell “ugly” local lemons, (jambhiri)
but once they decided to take a chance they found that the lemons sell
very well. I’m sure this would be true of many other fruit given
shelf space in the already squeezed produce section.
the ever increasing numbers of new farmers, those moving to the Kona
district who have little or no experience in tropical agriculture, an
opportunity exists in the form of new interest in the more unusual
crops grown, this in terms of using and marketing. For example
strawberry guava, which is considered highly invasive and can easily be
found in the wild, sells well when packaged and put into the market at
$2.50 a pound. An informal query of some of the buyers revealed that
they have the plant on their land but did not know what it was or that
it was edible. This was true for Surinam Cherry and a few other fruit I
I also found that many of the new farmers had little
knowledge of the differences between other types of fruit that were
commonly confused, like passion fruit and guava. Some new farmers
feared fruit that appeared to grow in unusual formations like
jaboticaba and wi apple. All of this experience tells me there is a
need for continuing education regarding tropical fruit. Horticulture,
post-harvest, marketing and the assistance in developing value added
products will contribute to the overall rural economic development and
sustainability of small farms found across the state. When agtourism is
added to the equation, a grower soon finds that priorities tend to
change in the direction of profitability. A number of new farmers in
South Kona now plant newly cleared land with agtourism in mind rather
than production crops. This greater diversity will lead to greater
profits and again, sustainability.
Back to the
Twelve Fruits Pages
Poha (Cape gooseberry)
Rangpur (“Kona”) lime