Ark of Taste is a program of Slow Food International and is a living catalog of delicious and distinctive foods facing extinction. By identifying and championing these foods we keep them in production and on our plates. The Ark of Taste is a tool for farmers, ranchers, fishers, chefs, grocers, educators and consumers to seek out and celebrate our country’s diverse biological, cultural and culinary heritage. Since 1996, more than 1,100 products from over 50 countries have been added to the International Ark of Taste. Over 200 of these foods are in The Ark of Taste in the USA.
‘Ulu is the traditional variety of breadfruit grown through the Hawai’i archipelago for centuries. It was one of the ‘canoe plants’ brought by early Polynesian settlers from the Society Islands to Hawai’i centuries ago. The traditional Hawai’ian methods for preparing breadfruit are to roast the fruit in a fire until the skin blackens and chars or cooking it in an imu (a deep, covered pit lined with fire heated rocks) and then peeling and eating it. The mature fruit was also peeled, steamed or boiled, then pounded into a version of poi called ‘ulu pa’i ai. This versatile fruit can be eaten at all stages of development. Hawai’ian ‘ulu has a dense, firm texture and a mild, subtle flavor at the firm, mature, starchy stage when it can be used much like a potato. At the immature stage, when small and green and cooked as a vegetable, it resembles artichoke hearts in flavor. When soft and ripe it is sweet and custardy, and can be eaten raw or prepared into desserts and beverages.
White Kiawe Honey
Kiawe honey comes exclusively from the flowers of the Kiawe tree, a type of mesquite, that grow in the arid, volcanic lava environment of the leeward side of Hawai’i. The kiawe trees, the Hawai’ian word for mesquite pronounced “kee ah’ vay”, are particularly well suited to Hawai’i’s arid environment and rocky, volcanic soil. Although it has been termed an invasive species, Kiawe trees do not pose a major threat because their growth is limited to certain coastal climates and cannot grow above certain elevations. Kiawe honey comes from a single stand of trees that beekeepers have been working with for over one hundred years. The grove is unique because it is an isolated oasis of trees situated on an aquifer that allows the trees to grow to an enormous size. Kiawe honey is at high risk. Volcano Island Honey Company is currently the only beekeeper on the island who has the skills required to ensure that his bees only harvest nectar from Kiawe trees. The stand of trees from which the honey is produced is also threatened.
Poi from Kalo
The Kanaka Maoli, a Hawaiian indigenous population, are intimately connected to the Kalo, or more commonly known as the taro plant, from which this poi is made. Their creation myth maintains that kalo grew from the first-born of Father Sky and Daughter Earth, and that the plant is the greatest life force of all foods. Early Polynesian settlers brought Kalo to Hawai’i where it quickly became a staple of the regional diet. To make poi, the whole tuber of the Kalo plant is cooked and mashed with water. Poi is often referred to as the “soul food” of Hawaii. Poi is consumed both freshly mashed and after days of fermentation. Poi is nutritious as it contains fiber and vitamins C and B-1 as well as the minerals potassium, magnesium and iron. Medicinally, poi is ingested to settle the stomach and used topically mixed with ripe noni fruit as a poultice, which is applied to boils and infected sores. Poi is mostly homemade, and so the knowledge of this Hawai’ian food is in danger of extinction.
Kalo is the most important traditional food crop of Hawai’i. Kalo leaves and stems are used as a vegetable,and the gray to purple corms are made into poi (pounded kalo mixed with water) or pa’i’ai (pounded kalo, produced with very little water). Kalo is among the world’s oldest cultivated crops, and is thought to have originated in the Indo-Malay region before spreading globally. One of the most valued and cherished varieties of kalo is Manalauloa, known for its distinctive mouth feel and delicate, sweet flavor. Manalauloa is a Hawai’ian variety. The mother plants were originally brought from Malaysia by Polynesian voyagers centuries ago. It is what Hawai’ians call a “canoe plant,” one carried by voyaging canoes as they migrated and spread throughout Polynesia. Although kalo does not originate in Hawai’i, Hawai’ians took kalo to its peak in terms of primacy of use and varieties, producing over 150 varieties prior to 1778 and over 300 all together. Today, there are only about 60 varieties left. This variety, Manalauloa, is particularly prized and hard to find.
Ohi’a Lehua Honey
The honey extracted from the Ohi’a Lehua tree is unique to Hawai’i. The Ohi’a Lehua grows at many elevations but thrives in the rain forests of the Kau regions of the island. It was the first treeto grow directly out of the hardened black lava covering the island of Hawai’i. The flowers of the tree are called Lehua. The Ohi’a Lehua blossom produces a smooth, white honey that is thick and creamy. It i s most distinguished for its texture, which is creamy and yet slightly crystallized. The flavor is sweet, but not overpowering. The taste could be described as floral, rather than herbal, with undertones of salted caramel, and more distinctive overall than other light honeys such as clover or kiawe/mesquite. Ohi’a Lehua honey is only produced in Hawai’i. It is produced commercially in limited quantities by only a handful of small privately owned apiaries who are kept busy ensuring its purity. Many of these private producers are families who feel a personal calling to keep this honey on the market. These families get a lot of support and praise from the local community for providing them with the honey that they remember from their childhood.
Pa’akai Sea Salt from Hawai’i (Alaea)
Traditional Hawai’ian table salt, called Pa’akai, is an unprocessed salt that is rich in natural seawater minerals. The Alaea Pa’akai salt is reddish-brown in color due to the addition of a red volcanic clay called Alaea. This addition does not alter the salt’s taste or smell, but does significantly increase its health benefits; it is composed of over 80 unique minerals. Alaea salt has a delicate and smooth flavor that is mellower and less salty than regular table salt, and its texture is intensely crunchy. Customarily Alaea sea salt was used by Hawai’ians to cleanse, purify and bless tools, canoes, homes and temples. Alaea is also used in several traditional Hawai’ian dishes such as Kalua Pig, Hawai’ian Jerky and Poke. Because the salt is harvested by hand, it is expensive and hard to find on the mainland. Traditionally, salt making communities have a prohibition for selling this salt—it can only be given, not sold.
Ele Ele “Black Hawai’ian” Banana
The history of the Maia Maoli Ele Ele or the Ele Ele Banana is intertwined with the earliest history of Hawai’i. Ele Ele is thought to be one of the first canoe plants brought to Hawai’i with the original settlers from the Marquesas islands in the mid 700’s. In Hawai’ian, maia means banana and maoli is a group in which Ele Ele is a variety. Maoli covers about 25 differenttypes of bananas, many extinct and many endangered like the Ele Ele. Ele Ele is slightly longer and fuller than the average commercial banana. The Ele Ele’s richness of flavor and firm but less starchy texture separate it from other Maoli bananas. When slightly overripe the center of the Ele Ele will sometimes gel creating an extremely sweet treat. Its ability to stay sweet and maintain its firm yet not starchy texture is a fairly unusual and coveted aspect. While the Ele Ele’s unique flavor is on the sweet side, the still green banana is often cooked and used as a vegetable. The ripe fruit has slight citrus and cream overtones. The Ele Ele is endangered and at risk, because it is very susceptible to nematodes, borers and a host of banana specific pathogens. It’s been in rapid decline since 1992. As of 2014, the Ele Ele was sold at very few farmers markets and only one grocery store.
Hua Moa Banana
The Hua Moa is a delicious creamy-tasting banana with unusually large, picturesque fruit. It has a rich Polynesian background and was very important to the peoples of those islands. It can be sustainably grown both in Hawai’i and in South Florida, but much needs to be done to help preserve and maintain this unique and delicious banana.This unique banana variety, which is in season from June to December, is closely related to plantains. The fruits are unusually thick, resembling small, elongated melons up to 4 inches thick and sometimes reaching 10 inches long. Individual fruits can weigh over one pound. Another unique characteristic of this fruit is that unlike other true plantains, which must cooked before being eaten, the Hua Moa can be left to fully ripen and can be consumed like a sweet dessert banana. Originating in Polynesia, possibly in the Marquesas Island chain, the bananas were spread throughout the South Pacific islands by indigenous islanders using outrigger canoes. They became hugely popular in Tahiti and the Hawai’ian islands. Then in 1960, the Miami-based fruit explorer William F. Whitman brought a Tahitian variety to Miami, fruited it, and distributed plants to other local rare fruit enthusiasts. These farmers started calling it the Hawai’iyano and it has been marketed this way for many years.
Ko – Sugar Cane is in The Ark of Taste
Five varieties of Ko Sugar Cane have been recently accepted into Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. The varieties (as described on the Slow Food USA website) are as follows:
Halali’i is a green and yellow or light orange striped cane with slightly variegated leaves. It is said to be a tough cane, thriving in the most marginal of climates, and that it does not tassel freely.
Uahiapele is a brownish-red, reddish-purple or purple stalk frosted with a white wax bloom and green leaves. Its name means “the smoke of Pele”, the Volcano goddess in Hawaiian mythology, and is often used to refer to dark, smoky colored items.
While many people are aware of the extensive history of sugarcane in Hawai’i, fewer people recognize that the Hawaiians cultivated some 50-60 varieties of sugarcane prior to European arrival. In fact, the modern sugarcane that spurred plantations and production around the world originated in the Pacific in Papua New Guinea. Because Hawai’i was an essential breeding area and experimental station for early sugarcane production, many modern sugarcane hybrids have distant ancestry of Hawaiian sugarcanes in their pedigree.
Hawaiians were perhaps the most innovative farmers in the Pacific, likely due to the broad range of soil types and ecological habitats located in the islands; across these diverse ecosystems they cultivated foods in a variety of ways. Sugarcane was often an essential part of the cropping system, and could be found cultivated along flooded terraces of Taro, forming hedges of windbreaks in extensive Sweet Potato plantations, growing in mulched pits on fresh lava rock, or in a variety of other settings. Hawaiians used sugar much as we do today. The soft, sweet stalks could be chewed on directly as a quick sugary snack. The juice was extracted and used in a range of culinary preparations. Sugarcane juice was used to sweeten medicinal concoctions or as an active ingredient in fermentation. Today it has a wide range of culinary applications. The pressed juice is often used directly in mixes such as for a Mojito. Spears of the pith can be used in cooking meat or flavoring other dishes.
The different varieties developed by the Hawaiians excelled in different habitats, vary considerably in their appearance, and also vary in their taste, sugar content, and mineral quality.
The dramatic history of sugar plantations around the world is what comes to mind when people think of sugarcane. Unfortunately, with the advent of focused breeding programs aimed at maximizing monoculture production the heirloom varieties developed by Hawaiian agriculturalists have been overshadowed by commercial hybrids, and many have already been lost to history. These commercial varieties have been so well engineered for their purpose that they became useless for backyard growers. The tough rind and relatively low sugar content that has been bred into the commercial canes is optimized for large scale mills and plantation-style agriculture, and prevents any small scale usage of these accessible varieties. However, the Pacific heirloom varieties, exemplified by the Hawaiian varieties, are soft, thick, and extremely sweet – ideally suited for low-infrastructure usage.
A core collection of about 30-40 known Hawaiian canes still exists through several small organizations devoted to Hawaiian ethnobotany. These organizations promote their usage and disseminate cuttings of the varieties to all who inquire. Although the remaining varieties are stable and cared for in several collections, they are not widespread outside of these collections. Currently there are only two known producers using the heirloom cane varieties for moderate scale production, both of which make high end spirits.
Grown in the districts of North Kona and South Kona on the Island of Hawai’i, Kona coffee is distinguished for having great strength, fine flavor and delicious aroma. These outstanding taste characteristics have been recognized for generations. In an 1866 letter to the Sacramento Union, Mark Twain wrote: “Kona coffee has a richer flavor than any other, be it grown where it may and call it what name you please.” Almost 150 years later, noted coffee writer Kenneth Davids described the taste of Kona coffee as “delicate, subtle, and sometimes extraordinary.” Coffee has been grown in Kona since 1828 when the Reverend Samuel Ruggles introduced coffee cultivation near Napo’opo’o in South Kona. In the later part of the 19th century, coffee production expanded significantly in Kona with the development of hundreds of small coffee farms—primarily by Japanese immigrants. At present the “Kona Coffee Belt” —an area extending about 22 miles long and two miles wide from North Kona through South Kona at elevations of between 700’ to 2400’ above sea level —is home to more than 650 coffee farms with an average size of about 5 acres. The very limited area in which Kona Coffee is grown on the Island of Hawai’i ensures this crop will not be taken over by industrial agricultural interests. Small average farm size ensures that Kona’s coffee farmers have an incentive to cultivate coffee in a way that is sustainable and maintains the quality for which Kona Coffee has become known. The economic viability and future of “Kona Coffee” is at risk because of deceptive labeling practices occurring in the State of Hawai’i and on the US Mainland. Each year, millions of pounds of “Kona Blends” (90% of which are foreign-grown commodity coffee of undisclosed origin) are sold to consumers. As a result, the market is flooded with packages of coffee which consumers are led to believe to be “Kona Coffee” but are not. Kona’s coffee farmers lose millions of dollars each year because of misleadingly labeled “Kona Blends”. The labeling on the US Mainland is even more damaging, with little or no genuine content in many packages of coffee displaying the “Kona” name. The risk is that “Kona Coffee” will become a generic term for an undefined style of coffee while the exquisite flavor of Pure Kona Coffee disappears.