A lost piece of luggage and the consequent voucher placed me in the middle of a solo adventure in a Hawaiian paradise last month. A full week to myself on the island of Maui to explore and do whatever I pleased. It would be my first visit to Hawaii, and seeing that I had only my own desires to consider my plans naturally were food focused. I find that travel and immersing myself in the food and culture of a new place is the purest form of continuing education as a chef.
As I “googled” and planned from my AirBNB, I contemplated whether I should spend an entire day passing around the 600 plus turns and estimated 54 one lane bridges on the famous Road to Hana. The journey itself replete with dynamic vistas, rainbow eucalyptus trees, and one waterfall and pull off after another had just about sealed the deal, and then I found what I didn’t realize I was looking for… a website for Ono Organic Farm and their tropical fruit tasting adventure! The more I read, the more I was certain this was one adventure well worth a drive for this chef and the perfect capstone to my journey along the Road to Hana. A couple clicks later and I had bought my ticket. I could hardly wait!
The day finally came and I was up before the sun programming an address into the GPS and setting up a Road to Hana app on my phone. I set off on the road from Lahaina and headed towards Paia and with the tasting ticket in hand, start time, a rough estimate of mile marker, and a picture of what the mailbox looked like to indicate which driveway I needed to take up to the farm – I was on my way. I drove along the curvy, picturesque road mile after mile through sun bursts and rain showers pulling over at many of the road side treats along the way. I climbed in lava tubes, played on black sand beaches, ate Aunty Sandy’s fresh banana bread in Kanae, sampled Coconut Glen’s vegan lilikoi (passionfruit) ice cream and continued ever onwards toward the farm. It was sheer bliss and yet it was just the beginning.
After many hours, the afternoon sun and designated mailbox eventually indicated I had reached my turn off. Up a steep and windy dirt road, the tiny rental car chugged and bucked through 50 acres of pure organic paradise along the southeastern slopes of Haleakala volcano; my excitement continued to build as the driveway kept winding ever upwards. As the dirt road came to an end I was greeted with a covered seating area and an impressive display of exotic tropical fruit with people milling about eagerly. The Road to Hana had led me to my final destination- the Ono Organic Farm.
Here I would spend the afternoon with a small group of people for an exotic tropical fruit tasting adventure including samples of at least a dozen in-season tropical fruits, home grown coffee, and home grown and roasted cacao beans. As we waited for the rest of the people to find their way, I savored a mug full of delicious, fresh, hyper-local coffee and gazed in wonder at the table laden with brightly colored tropical fruits in the middle of the covered area.
It wasn’t long before we began our tasting adventure and much to my delight began to work through every single one of the items on the display table. I learned so many wonderful things and tried over a dozen fruits the likes of which I have never seen, even with my many years of working in the food service industry or that could be referenced in my trusty “Food Lover’s Companion” book. Surrounded by the lush jungle where four generations of the Boerner family have been organic farmers, I sat eagerly, notebook in hand and jotted as many interesting tidbits between samples as I could. In the Hawaiian language, “ono” means most delicious and each sample of hand-picked premium fruit I tried further proved Ono Organic Farm was aptly named. The day ended with a tour around the farm and even more opportunities to try items straight from the source! When it finally came time to get back in my little compact rental to begin the long journey home, I left with a full belly, a full heart, and a notebook full of culinary inspiration.
If you ever find yourself on the Road to Hana and favor the food-focused itineraries like myself, I highly recommend a visit to Ono Organic Farm! While I couldn’t possibly begin to list all the amazing information shared that day on the farm, I have jotted down some of my favorites! Here are just some of the many fun fruit facts I learned during my tropical fruit adventure in Hana!
A purple, thick-skinned berry with an astringent skin, but sweet gelatinous flesh, similar to a grape. This berry ferments fast, so is a very rare find outside of areas that grow it. Often used in jams, jellies, and tarts.
This small round fruit has a thin, brown shell surrounding a translucent white, juicy fruit around a center black seed. It is sweet and perfumy in flavor and is related to the soapberry family, of which lychee and rambutan are also a part.
A small bell shaped fruit with waxy red/pink skin, that grows wild and has a soft, slightly crunchy texture and distinct rose taste. Not actually a relative of the traditional apple tree though. They said a tree only produces fruit just two weeks of the year!
The world’s largest fruit from the same family as breadfruit which has pebbly skin and can grow up to 100 pounds! It houses gold fleshy pods when ripe and has a sweet flavor like that of Juicy Fruit bubblegum.
A purplish fruit roughly the size of an apple named for the starburst shape of the core. There is a thin layer of natural latex in the skin, so do not bite into it – instead slice it up. This latex keeps insects from stinging and burrowing into the fruit. Avoid the rock hard, black seeds as well! Another rare find as it bruises and ferments easily!
This fruit is in the custard apple family, related to the cherimoya and soursop. Roughly the size of a bell pepper with a green, petal textured skin. It is soft, sweet, tangy and creamy like a sorbet- almost like a blend of mango and vanilla. The flesh is studded with large black seeds which you should not eat.
This fruit is creamy & rich like an egg yolk and great for soups, raw pies, and curries. Tear drop shaped, golden yellow with a big seed in the middle (toss this); also, known as canistell. It had the texture of cooked pumpkin, but with a tangy taste.
Durian fruit is harvested fresh on their farm in October, but most of the durian is shipped to the mainland. Durian fruit has a semi-hard, spiky shell and has an incredibly nauseating smell, indeed is often outlawed in certain venues, such as public transit and airlines. Each fruit can have one to six pods of custardy like flesh around one center seed. A durian blossom has six parts and each part must be pollinated to bear fruit!
This little brown fruit has a texture similar to a pear, but tastes like brown sugar! The skin is edible, but a little fuzzy.
Maui Gold Pineapple grown over island is very sweet and has low acid. Ready to eat when the top twists off easily! White pineapple is another varietal, that is even more sweet and not fibrous, but is hard to grow.
When planting papaya, they put three plants per hole as there are male, female, and hermaphroditic plants. The hermaphroditic plants are the ones that bear the traditional “papaya” shape, while the female plants bear a round fruit and males do not produce. The papaya of the female fruit trees tend to have fewer seeds. There is a large center cavity filled with grayish-black seeds which are edible, but extremely peppery! I have never been a big fan of papaya, but it was recommended to pair a slice of fruit with a squeeze of fresh Tahiti lime juice and it was absolutely delicious! It completely changed the flavor to me.
A sweet, pale yellow lime that is actually a cross between a key lime and a lemon. Accents fresh papaya incredibly well!
This tree was incredibly bizarre looking like it had an infestation of small pickles growing all over it! We were welcomed to pick one and try it…it was very much like a pickle in texture, but was terribly sour, like atomic war head. I thought my face was going to turn inside out! Used for items like chutneys, relishes, preserves or to add a sour flavor to curries or soups.
There were a variety of bananas grown on the farm. Cuban red bananas are a starchier banana and often used for cooking, while the apple bananas are small and sweet and the most commonly eaten banana in the islands. The ice cream banana was another that has a “fluffier” texture. It takes 18 months for a tree to produce stalk of bananas. At harvest plant throws off shoot “babies,” so the whole tree is cut down with the stalk of bananas to force nourishment to the baby trees.
Unfortunately, a beetle infestation has made it to the islands that bores into coffee trees killing it in just a couple of weeks. Most places on the island had stopped production (or at least tours) to get rid of beetle. It apparently had hit the Big Island hard as well, so if you have been wondering why the Kona coffee prices are so high right now…that is why!